For years, I’ve had a love-hate relationship with the stereotype of “the artist.”
When I first decided to pursue art as a profession, daydreamy images floated into my head. I imagined I would live a life of a bohemia—apartment in the city, days filled with drawing and visits to the museum, and evenings spent with a small circle of equally unconventional friends.
It was a lovely fantasy that I kept close to my heart. There was only one problem with it …
I didn’t fit into that image. Not even a little bit.
I was still in high school when this dream was born, and while I felt confident in many roles—competitive swimmer, nerdy straight-A student, weird band kid—I felt like an imposter whenever I dared to think of myself as an artist.
I didn’t live a bohemian life. I followed the rules, turned in my homework on time, tutored peers in math, and had lunches in the library with my other nerdy friends.
The only thing that “proved” I was an artist was my desire to make art—but was that enough?
I told myself I was probably clinging to an old stereotype, that I would see how much I belonged once I actually got to art school. Unfortunately, art school only reinforced my false beliefs about how artists should exist in this world.
Every class was filled with students who wore black from head-to-toe, smoked cigarettes, and had cool tattoos they designed themselves. My clean-cut style stuck out like a sore thumb—so much so that someone told me I looked like a lawyer.
It wasn’t just about looks. Many of my peers were enigmatic, held radical opinions, and didn’t care about grades—or rules in general. I was anything but radical. Grades mattered to me, and not only did I follow the rules, but I also enforced them as an R.A. for the residence halls.
I knew I shouldn’t be comparing myself to my peers, but I couldn’t help it. The contrast between me and them felt like a red flag. After all, the arts are known for questioning the status quo. Why was I still working so hard to uphold it? Why was I so damn conventional?
My insecurities followed me to grad school, as I switched paths slightly to pursue screenwriting. I remember stepping onto campus for the first time, and my heart swelling with hope.
Maybe film school would be a better fit for me than art school.
In some ways, it was. Film is a much more practical medium than fine art, so some of my administrative skills actually came in handy for roles like script supervisor, 1st AD, producer, etc.
As a writer, however, I still felt out of place. Some of my peers fit the auteur profile perfectly. They were eccentric and intuitive. They made artistic decisions on a whim, and the results were incredible. Their work ethic was erratic, but it didn’t matter—they made great art. They deservedly got attention for it.
Compared to them, I felt like a fraud—specifically, a script supervisor masquerading as a writer. I hated my imposter syndrome. How was it that I had gotten as far as grad school, and I still wasn’t sure I was on the right path?
It wasn’t until after film school that I began to change my perspective on what it means to be an artist.
I graduated at the start of the pandemic, which meant I was isolated from my peers. I had to make a lot of decisions about how to live my life without fully knowing how other artists were living theirs.
I ended up doing what felt natural to me: aggressively scheduling out time to write, setting goals and timelines for my projects, and pursing networking opportunities that might advance my career.
I still felt like a fraud, but at least I wasn’t being constantly reminded of how different I was.
After about a year of this, I started to realize that I’d been keeping up this lifestyle throughout some major life changes—moving back home, finding a job, dating, moving into my boyfriend’s apartment, starting a fitness program, getting a car, etc.
In other words, throughout all the ups and downs of life, I never stopped writing.
It eventually hit me that, if I wasn’t an artist, I wouldn’t still be doing this. I would’ve moved on to something easier, something more promising.
This conclusion didn’t come to me in some big, revelatory moment. Rather, it was a slow awareness that kept building and building until I couldn’t deny it any longer: all this time, I had been worrying about nothing.
I’m not sure why I didn’t figure this out sooner. If I had to guess, I think it took being outside the safety bubble of school to realize that pursuing art had been my choice all along. I wasn’t just a good student completing assignments. I was a good student going out on a limb and pursuing a risky, scary career that would scare the poop out of a lot of people.
Moreover, when I look back at my journey now, I see things I missed at the time because I was too busy knocking myself down.
I see the three part-time jobs I worked to self-fund the short film I wrote and directed.
I see the endless debates I had with my friends over movies and plays, so I could understand these mediums better and how my audience might respond to my work.
I see all the hours I poured into rewriting and rewriting—not for a grade, but because I so badly wanted to get things right.
I don’t look or act like the artist in my head, but I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter. I have a desire to make art, and I go out and make it happen—even if it’s in the most conventional, Type-A way possible.
For me, that is enough to declare myself an artist.
Don’t get me wrong—I still love the artist image in my head. I’m still slightly envious of all those who are enigmatic, radical, eccentric, fabulous, daring, unconventional. I think they’ll always be the cool kids to me. And that’s OK.
I’m used to not being cool. I had lunch in the library, for god’s sake.
*Feature photo by cottonbro (Pexels)