Name It

My friend Leah Pantéa did a podcast with Jordan Ekeroth of The Reindeer Club where she talked about her art and faith. This is the second post about ideas that were sparked by their conversation. I am too lazy to go back into the podcast and give direct quotes, so you will have to listen to it yourself to decide if my synthesis is accurate.

It took me three years of doing bench work before I felt comfortable with calling myself a scientist. It’s been seven years of writing every day before I can now say I am a writer. With both, I find myself qualifying the label as if I’m not a “real” scientist or writer. Often I wonder what would have to take place for me to feel I have truly earned these descriptors. Is it income? Publication? A Nobel Prize?

In their conversation, Leah and Jordan discussed Leah’s calling herself a painter vs a creative. While it seemed that Leah felt there was more truth in naming herself a painter, she allowed that it was tough to narrow her descriptor because if she had a bad painting week, then how could she still be a painter? Calling herself a creative gave her the identity wiggle room to make other things like clothes and science books in addition to paintings. But there was the hesitation in her voice. Leah knows she’s a painter.

This struggle with naming touched on something I struggle with in my own life: equating what we are with how much we produce.

This equating is an internalized part of U.S. culture. There are many other places in the world that don’t wrap who we are with what we do. For most of us who grew up in the U.S., we have incorporated this doing into our sense of self. So when we don’t do, then we can’t be.

In all honestly, doing = being isn’t a bad definition: we are defined by our actions. But how do we even know if what we are doing is enough to define us. What is our measure that takes us from dabbling to actually doing? For much of our society, the measure of doing enough to be is found in how much we get paid to do it.

Production + Payment = Commodification of Our Identities.

[Disclaimer: Leah did not at all insinuate that she only values herself for the money she makes. One of the things I absolutely love about her is how well she knows who she is and values that person. She is very centered and honest; which is why I get so many good ideas when I listen to her talk. These are my own thought-branchings from her and Jordan’s talk.]

Money is a tricky thing in our culture. We need some sort of compensation in order to feed, clothe, and shelter ourselves. The myth that an artist doesn’t need to make money off their art is nicely being debunked by current creatives who are being true to their work yet also are savvy marketers. As noted in the podcast, making a living from your art is not selling out. It is possibly the pinnacle of true living.

But again, money is a tricky thing. Leah and Jordan both equated being “there” for an artist is being able to make a living solely from their art. And they asked each other, what is the honest way to represent yourself as an artist before you have arrived “there.”

How do we wrestle away this monetary equation with our identities and still pay the bills?

Can you be taken seriously as an artist if you don’t have a public face that implies all you do all day long is make art (and thus money)?

Does creating that public face sometimes hurt you by making people think that you don’t need help and support? (In a personal story, yes it does. I was looked over for a much-needed grant because the reviewers thought I was further along in my career than I was.)

Much like the heavy choice of choosing what we align with in our faith, we also have to chose what we name ourselves. And we need to do so in the most honest way we can. No amount of outside validation or monetary compensation will make that naming more truthful. We have to decide–even if the rest of the world disagrees.

Leah talked about the bigger way to look at the work of her life is in how she puts good in the world. With that perspective, she can make art or help another human in need and both contribute to her core identity of who she is as a person who does good. This perspective is the ministry of life. As an artist she is helping others change their view of how the world looks both through her painting and through her actions.

When you think about it, any moment of creation requires action, so painting and doing are the same. What will be different is the name we call it.


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