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the audacity of art


Friday, August 25, 2023


If you make art in any capacity, and it is relatively important to you and your identity, and you’ve ever been to a dinner party or sat at a table with strangers at a wedding or made small talk on an airplane, you might know the dreaded feeling of someone locking eyes on you like they are about to offer you a gift (but the kind go gift that you have to care for like an unruly houseplant or perhaps a hermit crab) and then they ask, politely, “So what do you do?” 


You start with an “um.” A very long “ummmmmmmm.” If you are like me, you will list the myriad of other things you do before tacking on at the end, gently, softly, quietly “Oh and I’m an artist,” as if it is an afterthought—as if your art doesn’t take up 93% of your internal dialogue on a given day. Then you pray there are no follow-up questions, maybe they didn’t hear you.


There is something so bold, so vulnerable, about speaking the words aloud, “I’m an artist,” “I’m a photographer,” “I’m a musician,” “I’m a writer.” God forbid you have to post this sentence on the internet for people to see. Terrifying.


There is a certain amount of audacity required to create artwork and even more required to share it. Why? Why do so many of my brilliant friends tell me they cringe each time they post their work? Why do we roll our eyes at our own creations? Why do we whisper at dinner parties? My theory is that somewhere along the way, we became deluded to the idea that creativity is a finite source, reserved for a rare few, and if you have decided to extract some of that supply, you better be sure you’re worth it. And so before we are willing to declare ourselves part of that “rare few,” we need to cross some threshold of achievement, to prove we aren’t wasting collective capital.


But here is what I have learned—Creativity is not a finite source. It’s bountiful. It’s everywhere. It’s under your nose and in your cereal and at the bottom of the pocket of your coat in the back of your closet. And it’s a positive feedback loop; it’s exponential; it’s basically kudzu. 


The question is not “Who am I to be an artist, to be imaginative, original, expressive, rewarded?”, it’s “Who am I not to be?” There are no '“rare few.” It’s in all of us; in the way we talk to our friends, the way we lay out our clothes in the morning, the way we cook, the way we keep company, the way we parent. It is the simplest and most profound idea—we serve absolutely no one by being embarrassed. We serve everyone by being audacious. 

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