What It Means to Be an Artist


What It Means to Be an Artist

Artist is a term that is thrown around like a wet rag, with feelings on both sides of the spectrum. A lot of people probably come to mind—maybe Adele, Michael Jackson, Salvador Dali or Hemingway.

Or, instead of thinking of a particular person, you think of the starving artist, living their craft every day, but getting skinny eating ramen noodles three times a week. I’ve been there, and I can tell you, that’s not a life that I’m interested in, although I used to think it was a necessary right of passage to become a real artist.

When I say artist, I’m not talking about just musicians and composers, but artists from every medium: painters, sculptors, photographers, designers, teachers, and even parents—everyone can be an artist.

I’ve just recently gave myself permission to be an artist. It doesn't sound like a big deal but I’ve had a hard time with that word—thinking that I had to reach a certain level of financial success or social media following. It’s weird how you can let your sense of self-identity be tied to those kinds of things but that’s not what it means to be an artist.

After struggling with low sense of self-worth, from failing massively on three consecutive music auditions (this happened over 12 years ago) then eventually getting in and no sooner dropping out, here’s what I’ve discovered—

An artist is someone who is 100% true to themselves who operates from a place of power.

Sounds simple enough, right?

How about this…

Have you ever followed a certain path, one that conflicts with something deep down inside and is almost indescribable? Maybe you were doing something you thought you had to do to be successful. You followed some advice from a family member or a friend and started doing things that you didn't even agree with.

Here’s an example—I’ve never really enjoyed playing cover songs. If you don’t know, for a lot of musicians, you can make a decent side-income, even a full-time living, playing in cover bands at weddings, restaurants, and special events.

I actually thought that you HAD to do this in order to make it. The only musicians that I knew who were making money were involved in the cover scene.

It’s cool learning songs from other artists—it’s actually an important skill to develop your ears, ability to hear chords and notes, and isolate individual instruments.

It’s something I've done extensively to develop my musical abilities (and I help people do it too—wait for the end of the article if you want to know more) but I never really enjoyed playing covers for an audience. It was more fun to rock out to ACDC guitar solos in my room alone.

Since I was a young kid, messing around on the piano and coming up with my own ideas was far more interesting than memorizing, and practicing for excruciatingly long periods of time to master someone else’s music.

So here you have a guy that thinks that you have to play covers to be a real musician, to have any shots at success, but deep down, I don’t like that I’m doing it...

Why am I telling you this?

Because after playing music for over 20 years, I’ve realized that “real” artists are 100% true to themselves. They don’t compromise who they are with the hopes that one day they will get the opportunity to be the artist that they want to be.

You don’t have to paint or play music to be an artist. You can be a parent, lawyer, or teacher. All you have to do is listen that inner voice of who you are and operate your life around that.

I failed the auditions because I didn’t know who I was musically. I didn’t know what kind of music I wanted to play or what I wanted to do with it. Other candidates did.

Artist listen to themselves deeply instead of waiting for someone else to tell them what they should believe in.

It took years writing music for tv commercials, directing musicals, bands, and producing children's music, just to reaffirm my childhood tendencies—that what's true for me is to create music rather than perform works from other artists.

I’m not suggesting that I don’t need to make a living and just spend all my time soul-searching, with two kids and another one on the way (dear god please help me…), but I’m not denying who I am as a person and a musician.

I am an artist because I’m allowing myself to what is true to mean. I let status quo, other people's success and suggestions delude what I already know about myself.

Now I’ve changed the way I create music completely. I’ve adopted 100% spontaneous approach to writing music. I’m bringing together other musicians from all around the world to participate. You can listen to the The Piano Journal project HERE.

Here’s my final thought—there are so many levels of success, financial, status, but before any of that matters, you have to have success over YOU. That means being an artist completely congruent with who you are.

How can you become an artist?

Operate from a place of power, not fear.

If you’re anything like me, it won’t be a pretty process and could disrupt everything and everyone around you but I think as my kids get older, they’ll appreciate it.

So go out now, operate from your place of power and be an Artist!

Jason Dzamba is a Musical Artist, Piano Maniac, and Writer. He helps people discover the happiness of playing music with simple piano lessons from top artists at PianoLessonBox. He also writes spontaneous music with other composers all around the world at The Piano Journal.

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