How Wound Into Your Identity Is Creativity?

My post on Monday about employing a new definition to distinguish between amateurs and professionals garnered a couple comments and multiple loooonnnng emails (you know who you are!) in response.

At the core of these responses, including the original piece I was blogging on, were questions of how one views themselves, upon what criteria are these determinations being made and whether there is any validity for these criteria and terms in the first place.

The influence of psychological, developmental, sociological, scientific and philosophical forces were mentioned in these conversations. They are all so tightly entwined with each other I don’t know that any satisfying conclusion can be reached…or at least this week.

But this idea of how people in general perceive art as part of their identity is compelling to me. It is one of the reasons I am so interested in the effort to build public will for art and culture. The effort is all about asking people to examine to what degree creative expression comprises their identity.

I also frequently cite Jamie Bennett’s TEDx Talk observation that people are more easily able to see themselves on a continuum with sports figures than to identify themselves as an artist.

This is even a bigger issue than whether people are labeled amateurs or professionals. If people who are spending time after work and on weekends engaged in some creative activity don’t consider themselves artists for some reason, that has to be addressed before even getting to the questions about whether they are a professional or amateur.

If you played baseball or went flyfishing in high school but haven’t in 10 years, are you still a baseball player or fisher today?  If you were part of the drama club, art club, choir or band in high school but haven’t done any of those things in 10 years, are you still an artist today?

Outside of picking up your instrument, I would argue it is more likely that you effortlessly employed dramatic, singing and visual arts ability during a conversation, marketing presentation or staff meeting in that 10 year interval and have in fact exercised those skills and done so more easily than you could baseball and flyfishing.

If creative expression is this deeply ingrained into your existence, wouldn’t it be more accurate to say you are an artist before an athlete?

Of course, this gets us right back to questions of value. How how much attention and worth society places upon these skills. How much we value them in ourselves.

These questions of identity and creativity almost certainly don’t apply to readers of this blog who are likely to already have some sense of the answer. The answer to the title of this blog post is we need to tease out of others.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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