Coming to Terms with Being an Artist in a World of Social Change

It seems most artists and creatives have a moment of utter clarity at some point - that they are an artist.  Instead of leaning in, I have pushed back many times, even thought that as an artist, I am utterly useless in the world. 


I have my "artist" moment of clarity multiple times, and though I still am coming to terms with calling myself an artist (not a teacher, or "creative", or whatever other terms come up, but an artist - period.) My family has always instilled a strong sense of service towards others and I wonder if my life would be more valuable and worthwhile if I quit making art and joined the peace corps, or worked at a women’s shelter, or … the list goes on.


I'm not the only one feeling this way in a world that seems volatile and turbulent every day.  Each of us is asking how we can make a difference - How does one person enact change??? A colleague opened a successful gallery, but when a certain man was elected president, he felt that he could enact more change by being “one more good person in government” than continuing to participate in the gallery business. He went to graduate school in hopes of joining the foreign service. After a year of school, he found himself with a new moment of clarity - that he was meant to run a gallery, and show his community the artwork of ground breaking artists, who were in their own right expressing social change.  


The world views artists and creatives as the lucky ones who are “living the dream” because we are doing what we want to do and expressing ourselves via our talent. Unspoken is the frustration, hard work and constant challenges that come with this life.  After speaking with Aunt, who is herself in a service career, and after telling her that I wish I could do more in this life, she told me this story. I have repeated this story many times and will repeat it here, as it sums up what it is to be human on this earth - as an artist.  As to wether it ever happened, I am not sure, but as a modern parable, I hope it did. 


A woman was living in New York, and was singing and dancing in small roles on and off Broadway. It was what she always wanted to do, but every now and then she felt that it was not enough - it was an insignificant role in life. When she heard that Mother Theresa was coming to New York she decided she would leave her life in America and return with Mother Theresa as a disciple to work for the causes of the poor in India. She waited in line to meet the Mother Theresa and when she was first in line to see her, she stepped up to meet the living Saint. The woman said, “Mother Theresa, I want to leave my life in New York and return to India with you to help the poor.” Mother Theresa held her hands, and asked her softly, “Child, what do you do here in New York?” The woman said, “I dance and sing on and off Broadway.” Mother Theresa said, “Child, in my country there is poverty, but in your country there is poverty of the soul. You should stay here, and make this place more beautiful.”


This story has helped me get through many hard days. I firmly believe that my life’s purpose is to stay, to remain an artist, with the intention of contributing to irradiating poverty of the soul.  Only true creativity, imagination and vision can fill this void.  Every artist is needed in this complicated world- you are needed- what you have to say is valuable. Go make art - of any kind.