An artist can be anyone. There is art in movement like dancing or martial arts, in imagery like a painting or photograph- but is anyone who does those things truly an artist?Unfortunately no, they’re not. That would mean your awkward uncle dancing at your cousin’s wedding is a dance artist… and I wouldn’t say that he was so much a dancer as he was super drunk. On the other hand, Leonardo da Vinci, who was a very talented inventor, was also paid to do art- yet he didn’t view himself as an artist… But the world does… so… who’s right?
No one can tell you who you are. Your job does not define you, your passion and dedication define who you are. Don’t let people discourage you when you put pen to paper, or Adidas shell-toes to cardboard- you get after it. Practice with all your heart and don’t be discouraged when you find that your work sucks. You can go your whole life thinking that your work sucks, but fewer and fewer people will be able to see it. They’ll see the beauty in the work you’ve struggled to create, the technique and creativity it took to create something from nothing. With everything there will be critics out there, no matter how good your work is, and they will challenge you. They will slam you for mistakes you may or may not have known were there. They will question you on every decision you did or did not make, and you must be there to rise to the occasion. Be truthful to yourself. Accept that you may have made a mistake, accept that they will question your thought processes, accept that you are not as talented as you thought, accept that some people are just assholes.
Those critics are there to challenge you. They will push you beyond your limits, but you should use their valid or invalid statements to make yourself a stronger, better artist. Understand that once your work leaves the privacy of your home, it becomes a part of the public domain. Open to all to judge how they see fit. It isn’t for the faint of heart. The public, as a general mass, is cruel and harsh. A person is kind, but people are not. People will tear your work apart, figuratively and, if allowed, literally. Every work can be criticized for something, but allow it to happen. Allow your work to be torn down. Let it go, knowing that if, for one person, it brought them to where you wanted them to go, you’ve succeeded. Your hard work paid off for someone, as they will remember your work far longer than it took you to create it.
There are also a great many pitfalls on your journey to becoming an artist. One of the greatest difficulties is self-indulgences. Many have fallen into this trap- the key is knowing your audience. Is it for you, or for a wider audience? How wide of an audience are you trying to capture? For me, I try to make things for myself. I try to make things I’ll like, find interesting, funny, or thought provoking. I hardly make anything that I want someone else to find thought provoking, as in most cases it comes off pretentious, like I know something you don’t and I want YOU to think about this thing I already know about. A good work will be thought provoking on its own. There is no need for any work to hit the audience over the head with philosophical rhetoric or “hard hitting” questions that no one has the answers to. Your artwork should stand as its own message that others try to decipher years down the road, not an allusion to a greater idea or question.
If you wanted to allude to a greater idea, why not make your artwork about that idea instead? It’s like eating an onion to get to a piece of chocolate. Who’s going to do that? The one person who likes onion and chocolate together? Why hope they aren’t disgusted by the combination instead of just finding what you want to say and saying it. It’s chocolate, no hidden meanings- like it if you like, don’t if you don’t. There is so much to say when you know what you want to say that there isn’t a lot of room for backdooring from another idea, or adding thoughts from closely related topics.
So, TL;DR: Know what you have to say, work your ass off, and be prepared for people to tear your work apart. Be equally prepared to pick yourself up off the ground, and keep moving forward. Don’t despair friend. I’m right there next to you. Digging in, pushing forward. Some days you’ll feel like you’re not moving forward at all, but that’s OK. Dig in your heels, because if you’re in the same place that’s an achievement, because you’re not losing ground. As long as you don’t go backwards you’re succeeding. It’s never easy to be an artist, but the world needs art and it needs you. Get fired up and start making something!