Am I an artist?

I had some writers around me growing up. In my mind, to me, a writer was someone who wrote. Who got paid for writing. A professional. In general, this is how I used labels. I played music, quite a bit, but I wasn’t a musician because I was not professionally (or semi-professionally) one. I get a little annoyed when people declare themselves poets or writers or artists or musicians. Do you perform? I want to ask them. Is your work published somewhere? Where can I read it? An unreasonable response at best, as by and large we need to accept self-definition.

When someone declares themselves a runner, there is no question to it. They run. Cyclists and bikers are also only definable by the self, especially in cases where a person prefers one term over the other.

I won an art grant and for the night of the reception, I was an artist. Everyone told me I was an artist. Everyone called me an artist. When I recently saw a “Call for Pittsburgh Artists,” I wondered what it meant to be a Pittsburgh Artist, and then I wondered what it meant to be an artist. I have little room to try and claim myself as belonging to Pittsburgh (the adjectival form of the nominal). Pittsburgh, I sometimes think, belongs to me. A special part of it. I no longer live there and have lost my right to claim Yinzer just as I have lost my right to Philadelphian–especially as I claim myself a Somerville resident. I belong to Somerville.

Am I an artist? I ask myself this sometimes. I find the label stumbling out, it being the easiest thing to grab. I paint. I sculpt. I grow plants. I do all of these things and have reasons and commentary behind them. I am trying to capture what it feels like to breathe, I say. These are the colors of my existential crisis, I explain. This is what you look like to me, I said to someone, showing them a field of blue and green, rubbed into canvas until the sides of my thumbs were blistered. I just, I want to drink paint and scream until I cough. I need to see what my screaming looks like. I now have a piece of fabric, stained brown and green and so painfully lacking the red I wanted. Don’t you ever just want to cover yourself in paint, in oil and dust, so you can scrape it off? And then you ask someone to take pictures.

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