As a singer/songwriter, the question I get asked most often is: So, what do you do?
There are a number of reasons this question rubs me the wrong way. I don’t get angry, but there’s a sort of raw itching in the back of my mind when I hear it. It’s like a tag in the back of a shirt that’s been cut out, but the seam still irritates and by the end of the day, it’s left its uncomfortable red mark on the back of my neck.
The first issue is within myself. Somewhere in my psyche I feel compelled to answer with something other than “I’m a singer/songwriter.” Why is that? What is it about our society – what is it about me that makes me feel that I have to shirk from saying proudly “I AM AN ARTIST!” Where did the idea that “being an artist isn’t a real job” come from? For years being an artist fell so far down on my list of “who are you” that it was nearly lost amidst all of the other qualifying identifiers.
“I’m a mom.”
“I’m a wife, homeschooling mother, choir director, children’s minister…oh yeah, and I sing a bit, too.”
It’s taken the Universe almost literally kicking me out of my box and into this path (a story which I’ll chronicle at some point in the near future) to get me to say proudly and without hesitation “This IS what I do,” and I still struggle some days.
My second issue with this is when I get the question from other musicians. When another musician asks me during or after a performance or rehearsal, I almost instinctively cock my head a bit, as if to say, “what do you mean,” or “Why are you asking me that?” It’s not an annoyed feeling I get. Rather, it’s a bit sad. Why do other musicians feel as though this isn’t possible?
In The Art of Asking Amanda Palmer, a fellow creator/artist/musician, talks a bit about society’s strained relationship with artists. On one hand, we idealize and idolize musicians. We put them on a pedestal when they have achieved the status of “real artist,” but there is a sense that new artists aren’t “real artists” and should “get a job.” We praise art, yet question the authenticity of those who are trying to eek out a living creating it. Amanda writes,
“When you’re an artist, nobody ever tells you or hits you with the magic wand of legitimacy. You have to hit your own head with your own handmade wand. And you feel stupid doing it. There’s no “correct path” to becoming a real artist. You might think you’ll gain legitimacy by going to art school, getting published, getting signed to a record label. But it’s all bull[*], and it’s all in your head. You’re an artist when you say you are. And you’re a good artist when you make somebody else experience or feel something deep or unexpected.”
I’m desperate for the courage to make my wand, wave it over myself , and say everyday without reservation “I AM AN ARTIST. THIS IS WHO I AM. THIS IS WHAT I DO.” It takes courage because when we say “this is what I do,” we run the risk of hearing the judgement of those who say it’s “not a real job.” We run the risk of not succeeding. But as far as I can tell from this point, the greater failure is in never really being honest about what I was put here on earth to do, and never really having the courage to share what I was put here to share.
Have you been desperately hiding who you are and what you do?
When someone asks “What do you do,” how is your soul desperate to answer?