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Own Your Title: Why It’s Time to Call Yourself an Artist

by Hanna Brooks Olsen
art & design, creativity, featured

how to become a photographer

Image via Flickr

If you’re in the process of trying to become a working artist, is it okay to start calling yourself one? Impostor Syndrome — the feeling that your success at various ventures is a fluke or a mistake, rather than the product of your own competence — is a real struggle for creative people. According to studies dating back to the 1970s, up to 70% of people, at some point, feel like they are walking frauds within their field. This could partially explain why it is, then, that when we first start out, we’re so hesitant to declare our intentions and own our titles.

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Despite the fact that lots of people do work outside of their regular jobs — one in three Americans either already is or is becoming a freelancer — most still seem hesitant to say, in as many words, “I’m an artist,” or “I’m a photographer.”

Instead, it often comes out like a question. On her blog, artist and author Lisa Congdon explores the prevalence of this hesitation to claim your title:

“I have wondered for a long time why it is so hard for artists — especially women — to own their status in the world. It took me years to identify confidently as an artist. Why are we so hesitant – at least until we’ve graduated from school or until we’ve ‘made it’ — to proclaim, ‘I am an artist’?”

That lack of confidence seems to be something that’s drummed into us as creative entrepreneurs; until we reach certain milestones (first gallery show, first big published piece, first novel, first whatever), we are always trying to be the thing. We haven’t actually achieve it yet.

But if you’re taking photos, by definition, you’re a photographer. The only achievement to unlock is deciding to do the thing, and then focusing the camera and pushing the button.

So how do you get past the feeling of fraud? CreativeLive CEO Chase Jarvis says it’s pretty simple: You need to choose your title, then own it.

“I’m a firm believer that you create your own luck and create your own circumstance,” he explains, “that’s just a decision I’ve made.”

If you’re a photographer, says Chase, say you’re a photographer. If you’re an artist, say you’re an artist. And even if you just want to be that thing — even if you haven’t ever gotten paid to do the job, or if you’re really just getting started — you can still claim the title. Because no one else is going to give it to you, and because no one else can really take it from you, either.

There is one caveat to owning your title, though: You have to actually be doing the work.  In his talk with Chase, author and artist Austin Kleon explained it as such:

“When you talk to a painter, ‘painter’ is their noun,” he explained, “but ‘painting’ is the verb. What they do is they paint. And so, for me, I think a lot of people want to be the noun without being the verb. A lot of people want to be a ‘writer’ or an ‘author,’ but they don’t want to actually write.”

In the creative pursuits — which are so squishy in their achievements and instances of merit — you don’t need to earn your proverbial wings from anyone else, and no one else can decide for you when you’ve arrived. But if you’re putting in the work, you’re doing everything that’s required to own your title.

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Hanna Brooks Olsen

Hanna Brooks Olsen is a writer and editor for CreativeLive, longtime reporter, and the co-founder of Seattlish. Follow her on Twitter at @mshannabrooks or go to her website for more stuff.