I am an artist. Been one my whole life.
I'll admit, in our mass media culture, this statement can’t be verified. I have no bestselling books to my name, or platinum albums. My films haven’t won any Oscars (yet) and I’ve never been on anyone’s short list for Poet Laureate of anywhere.
Nevertheless, I am an artist—writer, musician, poet, filmmaker, storyteller, seer of visions. It has taken quite a lot of time and effort to find the mental footing from which to say that without feeling that I’m trying to impersonate someone important and will be thrown out of the party any minute.
That’s because we—all artists and creative folk (a much larger demographic than generally recognized)—have been conditioned to think of artistry as something we do, when it is always what we are. It is hardwired into our circuitry by God himself.
Look at it this way: Being a Masai tribesman in Kenya is not a skill set or a career path. It is a person’s nature and fundamental purpose, a way of being that can’t be any other way, no matter how many missionary schools give intervention a try.
Poet and philosopher Elsa Gidlow asked, “What if we smashed the mirrors/ And saw our true face?” Yes, let’s. I think the answer to her questions is that the world would change overnight.
But smashing mirrors takes more than a few sticky note affirmations pasted by your nightstand. To do it right means looking cultural belief-dragons right straight in the snarling face and saying, “Be gone. I don’t believe in you.” It means—heaven forbid—getting a little unruly in defense of your creative place in the cosmic order. It means deciding to be yourself out loud and on purpose.
Toni Morrison said, “We (artists) are traditionally rather proud of ourselves for having slipped creative work in there between the domestic chores and obligations. I’m not sure we deserve such big A-pluses for that.”
Here’s another from Roger Ebert: “What you do instead of your work is your real work.”
And so begins The Way of the Artful Warrior—with a shot of courage and an incitement to artistic riot! May you quickly find your voice and sound like Rafiki, the baboon shaman in Disney's The Lion King.
Simba: “Will you cut it out?” (Translation: Stop being yourself!)
Rafiki: “Can’t cut it out. It would grow right back!”
Next week: Five Identifying Traits of the Artful Warrior