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Choose Your Own

- - what do you do? - -

When my boys were young, they read a series of choose your own adventure books. At different points in the story, they had the option to have the main character make this or that choice and each choice formed the path to a different conclusion. I was reminded of those books this week after a talk with my mentor about being an artist… or a designer… or a maker. How the dictionary defines those terms, even how others define those terms, is nowhere near as important as how we define them, how we describe ourselves in our thoughts or when asked what we do. One of the great things about aging is seeing the world less in black and white and more in nuanced gradations that shift and evolve over time. I’ve been completely comfortable with a particular label and then suddenly, seemingly from out of nowhere, it shifts to unbearably itchy. So itchy that I can’t live in that skin anymore. While sixty isn’t old, it’s also not twenty. Forty years from now is going to look vastly different than forty years from then is looking. I am grateful that those forty years gave me experiences helpful to weighing out my options now. My artist label has become itchy. I have been an artist, exhibiting in galleries, creating bodies of work, finding my voice, and so on. I know what artist feels like to me and the expectations I place on myself with that label. While negative comparisons are not at all helpful, I do believe that being realistic about ourselves and our path can be. I am very good at what I do. I make “things” with a wide range of skills and a high level of quality. I am able to think outside the box and be original in my own way. I am not off the scale innovative and that’s not likely to change. I am, at heart, quite practical and an essentialist. While it’s completely possible for me to turn a leather coat into a purse or to turn several pairs of pants into a coat, I don’t come up with strangely fabulous ideas like the one I heard yesterday of turning broken floaties into raincoats. It would never occur to me. I don’t know what drives that kind of work but I know that curiosity and learning drive mine. I have a thought. I see something. Two ideas collide and I wonder what can I do with this broken necklace. What if I cut up these jeans? How can I combine those two parts? What happens if I add paint… or purple… or take something out or… and if I don’t know how to do that, I learn. I’m not trying to solve world peace, just calm inner questioning. You may think differently, but when I think about being an artist, it encompasses thinks like floaty raincoats, or a large series on a singular topic, or political statements, or art for a cause, or some deep study, or… or… or… something other than what I do now. I don’t see my picture beside that word anymore. Does it matter? Probably not to anyone else and yet most likely, quite significantly, to ourselves, or at least to myself otherwise why would the thought even have occurred. When I told Paula - my mentor - that I was more comfortable describing myself as a maker, that I didn’t want the work, the striving, and the expectations that I attached to the word artist, she congratulated me and said to wear it proud. But I didn’t. I immediately found myself trying to define it in a way that would somehow differentiate me from a crafter as I defined the word crafter, which really means that I tried to make it - to make me - sound more important. Way back then with the boys, their books, and my daughter, I was a work-from-home-Mom but I remember at the time that many stay-at-home Moms referred to themselves as domestic engineers. Why when stay-at-home Mom is one of the hardest “jobs” on earth. Why now was I thinking that perhaps I could be an artisan maker? Why was just maker not enough and why does that even matter? Bakers bake bread. If they bake yummy, soft bread, does anyone care if they are a baker or an artisan baker? If they are an artisan baker with rock hard bread, does the artisan label make it better bread than the plain baker, no artisan label, who makes soft squishy bread? Speaking for myself, I care about the bread and not the title. Make that chocolate cake and I’m even more invested. I choose to “bake” the equivalent of soft, squishy bread slathered in butter and to “bake” rich, deep chocolate cake with a dollop of thick cream and a drizzle of caramel. I choose to lean into, and be comfortably happy with, my expectations of what a maker does, of what I do right now knowing it could get itchy and shift again. If asked what I do, I am a maker and if asked what that means, I make one-at-a-time, one-of-a-kind handcrafted items like bags, jewelry, and wall art. If that makes me an artist in their eyes, so be it. That’s not a label I need to own. I choose to do the things that I think a maker does.

I’m working on a wall piece that encompasses skills learned in numerous areas of my work over the past forty years. It’s so fun to pull a technique out of my toolbox and take an idea I used back in my thirties and adapt it to now. YES YES - and to celebrate learning and growth and where curiosity can take us.

What do you do? Have a comment to share? Email me at Talk soon -

Edit: This post was originally published on Substack on February 17, 2023 and has been republished here.

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