I Am Not Really An Artist, But…

I often talk about the difficulty people have in seeing themselves as creative or as regularly participating in a creative pursuit. I was reminded recently that it can be the off-handed depreciating remarks we make that can reinforce this view.

Yesterday we were meeting with the outside consultant that is going to help us with the arts listening tour we are conducting in our community. The consultant listened to us talk about our goals for the sessions and perceptual, economic and physical barriers people experience that we hoped to learn about.

At a certain point in the conversation she stopped us and said that when she taught class she often gave assignments that required some creative component, in part because reading and grading multi-page papers is pretty burdensome.

She said after listening to us talk, she recognized that when she would give an assignment, she would often preface it by saying, “I’m not an artist….” or “I can’t draw…” She realized that was contrary to the her goal in giving the assignment. In addition, it was giving people permission/excuse not to really try.

She said in the future she would stop using those phrases and instead say, “I don’t have formal training as an artist, but this is how I represent this concept/process visually and it makes sense to me.”

We often say if we can change the life of even one person, we will be content. We haven’t even executed our project and we have already had an impact!

When we comment that we can’t draw, act, dance, sing, etc, it is often to excuse our perceived lack of ability. Or, as is the case in this classroom setting, in an attempt to alleviate any pressure people may feel about needing to produce something of quality on demand.

But it also perpetuates the idea that we are not possessed of any ability whatsoever. That isn’t true. Who hasn’t doodled in their notebook, sung in the shower, lip-synched, danced and pantomimed like no one was watching?

I don’t know if our consultant’s alternative phrasing is the most ideal. I would love to hear other people’s thoughts. But I think it is a start in the right direction.

Perhaps more importantly, her moment of self-reflection forced me to recognize that even as a person who works in the arts, I have probably prefaced an attempt at creative expression by saying “I’m not a…” I am sure I am not the only one either.

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 (artshacker.com) 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. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

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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