Feeling Ashamed of Your Art (or Lack Thereof)

I want to talk a little bit about artists of all kinds who feel bad about stepping off the artistic path (or on again and off again and on again...). I think that as artists we often feel like we have to justify our choices to leave or take a break from our artistic fields. Whether we leave the path to care for a sick parent, or support a family, or simply because we want to, I think we often feel like we owe the world a "why". I think there is a general sense of shame about not having been able to "make it" as a consistent artist, even if you are still quietly incorporating your art into your daily life or the lives of those around you. There is a feeling that you have to explain your choices to others, even if you yourself are happy with them. This certainly could be my own hangup, but I don't think I can possibly be the only one who feels this way.

My mom was an opera singer. She worked for professional companies in Pittsburgh before moving to New York City to pursue her dream. Unfortunately that dream ended when her father was diagnosed with cancer and she had to return home to help care for him. During that time she met my dad, moved to a small town, had 5 kids and the rest is history. She continued to make music, direct shows, teach lessons and act in plays until she no longer could. She helped participate in and grow a rich cultural community in a small town. She raised 5 kids and taught them about music and art and culture. Throughout it all, as I was growing up, I always had the sense that as happy as she was with her life, there was a small part of her that felt regretful and left behind by those who had gone on to achieve the things she had initially set out to do. She had worked with people like John Raitt and Shirley Jones (who went on to star in Oklahoma and The Partridge Family). Is Shirley Jones's career more important than the impact that my mom had on her community and family? I am sure that question haunted the back of her mind as she pondered the "what ifs" over the years.

I myself went to an arts college with the hopes of performing in theater and music. Somewhere in there I voluntarily walked off the path. I admit that it took me years to not feel ashamed for having done it. The day my dad asked me when I was moving to NYC to pursue theater (and I told him that I wasn't) haunted me for a quite a long while. I felt like I had let everyone down, even though it was a conscious choice to pursue something else. As my life has unfolded, I have also been witness to many, many artists and musicians who have been walking on creative paths and then off them to tend to the stuff of life, or who have pieced together their artistic lives in ways that they hadn't foreseen. At times what I have seen has filled me with encouragement and joy and at other times it has made me desperately sad.

I have loved watching how some people can do many things, all with the joy of knowing they are making a positive difference. They can work a day job and teach music on the side. They can manage an art store while writing a novel. They can be an IT professional and be satisfied by singing at the dinner table with their kids. They can be a lawyer and teach their children Aerosmith songs on the guitar and play backing bass at their music recitals. They can work as the town mailman and rock out in bars on the weekends with their friends in a cover band.


What has made me sad are the artists who want to be "successful" so badly that they are ashamed of having to teach or work a day job and they're not willing to share that part of themselves along with whatever art they are trying to create. It is disheartening to me when people try to hide what the "actually" do for a living because maybe it has nothing to do with art at all and it makes them feel ashamed. Why can't all of these different parts of our lives peacefully co-exist? Why does any artist have to feel embarrassed about creating a multifaceted and successful life that doesn't fit the societal standard of artistic success?

So I say that as artists we need to celebrate and share the turns our lives take.  We need to celebrate how we each incorporate the arts into the lives of our communities, families and children. Don't feel left behind or bitter or "less than". In truth there is no one right way to be an artist of any kind and we all need to leave the judgement behind and support each other in whatever we each choose to pursue.

I think artists of all kinds need more transparency, more sharing and more celebration of the different parts of our lives. Let's share and speak out about our varied, complicated and beautiful journeys. Just because it's not Broadway does not mean that it doesn't have value. Just because a painting is on a mug and not in a gallery doesn't mean it doesn't bring somebody, somewhere joy. Teaching has immeasurable value, even if the only teaching you do is teaching your own children. You are making a positive difference and impacting the future of the world.

So artists, future artists, sometimes artists and used to be artists...
Support each other. Encourage each other. Make the world a better place. Do it for the world, or for your community, or your school, or your family, or yourself. The world needs you, no matter how "unimportant" anyone might think you or your art are. Anyone who is willing to share their art or themselves with the world, in whatever capacity, deserves our caring, our encouragement and our utmost respect.

© 2016 Krysta Bernhardt. All Rights Reserved.