The Care and Feeding of Your Inner Imposter
The imposter is a glutton, devouring dreams & confidence.
This piece was originally published on LinkedIn here.
“Those who wish to be
Must put aside the alienation
Get on with the fascination
The real relation, the underlying theme
- Limelight, by Rush
From a recent conversation:
I played music at a farmer’s market this past Saturday. One of the vendors was talking to me about my lyrics and music in general. Then there was this exchange.
Vendor: When did you realize you were an artist at heart?
Me: You consider me an artist?
“Brand isn’t what you say it is, it is what they say it is.”
- from The Brand Gap by Marty Neumeier
Many years ago I spoke at an event put on by my publisher. I was introduced to the book and author quoted above. I loved the simple truth of the quote. So much so that I emailed him and we had a short but interesting conversation about brand, writing, and marketing.
Referring to myself as an artist is challenging for me. I have a manager, who helps with my music and some of my speaking. I perform. I have fans - albeit, far fewer than I would like. I’ve been paid for writing, across multiple disciplines - essays, articles, poetry, and music. I’ve been published by a major publisher.
But self-identifying as an artist seems presumptuous.
Bruce Springsteen is an artist. Stephen King is an artist. Josh Ritter is an artist. Salvador Dali is an artist. Michelangelo is an artist.
Some of artists I know, Matthew Moran & Michelangelo….
Do you see the problem?
Doesn’t inserting my name into the pantheon above seem gratuitous and self-absorbed?
And yet, I recognize others for their art. I don’t require that they have 50,000 or 100,000 or 1,000,000 fans or a best-seller or to be featured in The Met for me to consider them an artist. They are artists because they create art. They are artists because they art.
Self-identifying as an artist is hard. It requires its own practice. It may be the most artistic thing you can do.
To that end, I decided I would address some of the self-talk we assail ourselves with to feed and grow our own Imposter’s Syndrome.
I’ll focus on two and then I will attempt to provide a counter-balance; an alternative perspective that allows you to self-identify as an artist or creative, without it feeling contrived.
I doubt I’ll be successful. The Imposter is powerful. He or she eats artists with gluttonous abandon. But let’s do this.
Two phrases from the imposter
#1 - I’ll be an artist when I attain [insert self-imposed barrier here]
I hear this a lot. I’ve spoken to writer’s groups, songwriting groups, and to high-schools and universities. I hear artists at all levels say something similar to the above. I recognize how insidious this is. It is an idea I’ve uttered in some fashion for years.
For me, it sounded like (and still sounds like):
"If I make a full-time living with my songwriting or writing, I will have become an artist."
And yet, I don’t place this artificial restriction on others. I know artists who supplement and/or make their primary income as instructors or nurses or web developers.
In a prior piece, I mentioned my father and some of his artistic pursuits. For money, he worked as a lab technician and a realtor.
But his art has been featured in galleries, libraries, and art supply houses around Los Angeles. His doctor, from when he was alive, still has a wall of masks hanging in his office.
My father did not make a penny from his art. He arted for the sake of art itself. He may have been the purist artist I know.
#2 - I’ll be an artist when others recognize my art
This phrase gets a lot of attention. Usually, we seek recognition in the least effective places.
For instance, I often tell songwriters that family and friends are NOT fans.
And yet, the inner-child in us, often seeks that approval and recognition first.
I’m not talking mom patting you on the head and telling you the scribble on the fridge is beautiful. I mean, thanks mom and everything but love is a poor substitute for actual recognition.
And friends… they know you. They know all your misapplied attempts and your foibles and failures. To them, you are often just the kid they grew up with who has this adorable little hobby.
If you believe you detect bitterness, I’m not. It is much darker than that. What you detect is self-doubt and longing. Those characteristics are far more challenging than bitterness.
How many “others” need to recognize my art before I can adopt the artist label? 10? 50? 100?
Have you heard yourself or your inner imposter say these things?
If not, I’ll contend you have bad hearing but more power to you.
Starving the Imposter
In order to combat that imposter’s voice we need to deprive it of the above meals. We need to internalize a simple fact.
The noun is wrapped up in the verb.
If you are arting, you are, by definition, an artist.
This is the reality. I’m not speaking to the proficiency in which you create art. You may still be working on basic foundational skills.
At least I hope you are… God knows I am!
Someone who wishes to write is an aspiring writer and, hence, an aspiring artist. But, if someone sits down and actually writes, the action defines the title. You are, by the action of writing, a writer.
I’m not indicating you are a good one. I’m unconcerned with a subjective assessment or even material reality.
But if you put pen to paper, or phalanges to keyboard, you have done the deed and are therefore the deed doer.
If you wish to share your writing (or songwriting or drawings or whatever art you create) with others and have them connect with it and enjoy it, you will spend the next forever years of your life working on the foundational skills.
Being an artist is defined by function performed. Not level of skill.
Facts rarely make a dent in the emotional. Knowing you are an artist because you make art often fails to move past vague notions to an internalized understanding.
I wish it were different.
My advice is that you post the phrase below at your desk as a reminder.
I ARTED TODAY! THEREFORE, I AM AN ARTIST!
Arting in public is totally allowed.
I agree with your assertion that people feed themselves excuses for not creating, e.g., I can be an artist when a or b or c transpires.
However, at the same time, I think we should recognize that it ain't exactly easy to produce Art. You summed it up by mentioning Michaelangelo. We can't press a button and produce stuff that even begins to possess a speck of the utter divinity that seems to glow from his work product.
So I have asked another question: Do certain mental traits or drives or needs inspire Art.
Nietzsche had an answer in the "Birth of Tragedy," and I have applied his answer to some Rock N roll Music
This is what, according to Nietzsche, fueled the artistic process:
The artist creates in his work that which eludes him in real life, e.g., an artist may be rigid and uneasy in expressing love and emotion so his paintings or poems are infused with love and emotion.
I applied this to John Lennon. Lennon was, by most accounts, often quite a son of a bitch. Insofar as sexuality was concerned, he was a bit of a cave man, seeing women as bitches and gay men as fags. He was very distant to Julian. Arguably, he was unfair to Paul. And so his love and sensitivity was center stage in his music and his voice.