“What can I do to become a better artist?”
I had asked this of the countless creatives I surrounded myself with and surprisingly, they had almost always given me the same answer: paint a self portrait. So I hung a mirror up in my small studio space and any time one hand was free to wield a paintbrush or pen I was sketching various parts of my body or painting my portrait over and over. I was sure there was some secret to actualization I could reach through this act which would indoctrinate me into the ranks of artists. Painting after painting, I felt I was no closer to finding my answer.
I took a long hard look in that mirror in search of what I was missing. People kept telling me if I looked in the mirror it would give me the answer I sought, but all I could see in my reflection was the question. It escaped me, like this intangible vampiric version of myself behind a surface I couldn’t really touch. I felt a horrible separation, like there was a part of me missing. Surely there was something to this. So many artists I admired had given me the same advice. So why was I so sick of my own face? I was sick of searching for what seemed like this hollow, self-serving quest for actualization that left me feeling unfulfilled. It drove me crazy. It was all I could think about. What WAS it? Who AM I? I thought maybe if I couldn’t find it in the mirror, that didn’t mean I was wrong. It meant the mirror was wrong.
My answer finally came to me in one swift motion as I swung a hammer and smashed my reflection to bits. In that instant I broke everything. I broke the expectation and perception of who an artist is and what they should create. Everything I was and wanted to be cascaded in fragments that scattered around my bare feet. I stooped and gathered the shards into a pile. I knew this wasn’t about me. I knew I felt empty because I never wanted to make art that was about ME. The glass cut my hands as I began to frantically arrange the broken pieces. There wasn’t time for safety. Every new piece I laid down looked like a puzzle coming together. Every little piece reflected something new. I knew limiting myself by conforming to what was expected of the artist would never give me the fulfillment I sought. The role of the artist is to give the world something, not to placate or create things that pander to their own ego, or the ego of those who would blindly follow the will of others who create guidelines and boxes. The world gives us a mirror and stays to us, “Look: this is what you see. This is how everything has to be. This is what you are.” I needed to break the rules and see the beauty in mistakes and potential. I needed to make art that was visually and conceptually challenging. Art that would engage. I finally did when I created YOUR SELF PORTRAIT. It was my rebellion against the comfort found in complacency. It allowed me the opportunity to give others the same experience. I wanted to create a self portrait that included the missing pieces of myself, but I needed to give that to the rest of the world too. Anyone could look in that mirror and see the artist or the pieces they were missing.
As I stepped back to examine my work, I felt the weight of everything escape. “There I am.” I had a feeling of satisfaction that had been unrivaled by anything else in my life. I felt electric. I could finally see myself and I knew who I was. I am an artist.