Vulnerability and Living Off Your Art

Vulnerability and Living Off Your Art

“What do you want to expose about yourself? Being naked in a piece is a loss of control. This is good. We’re not in control anyway.” -Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones

You just filled the last page of your journal. You close it, feeling content. You may be feeling accomplished for adding another completed journal to your collection. You start introducing yourself as a writer. They ask you what you write about. They’re interested in reading your work. Suddenly all the pages in your journals become blurry and you can’t stand the thought of anyone reading what you wrote. 

And this is the moment when we realize there’s a choice here we have to make: am I going to continue building a private relationship with my art, or do I want to make this the focus in my life? This question is so loaded for us artists because there are just so many elements and sacrifices involved. If we choose art as our focus, or as our career, we are already setting ourselves up for critique and judgment. We are choosing to display our handmade work for a price. 

Painter at work.

You’re probably wondering now, if I choose art for life do I still have any control over what I create? And the answer is both yes and no. Obviously, if the creative project is in your hands, you do have some creative control. However, if your goal with your art is to be known or famous, or to make a lot of money, then you’re really sacrificing a chunk of your creative freedom. And this sacrifice comes in the form of clients who commission you for a painting, or it can come in the form of music labels/major publishers/ the big guys who know exactly what kind of music and books are trending and are in current demand. If you want to take your art in that direction, then you have to be okay with those big guys heavily influencing your work in a way that you may or may not like. 

And you’ll have to remember at that point– once you share your work– your creation no longer belongs to you; it becomes art for everyone else. Returning to the quote in the beginning of this article, Natalie Goldberg says that we have no control anyway. And what I think she means by this is that no matter how hard we try to take control of what we create, it will always be understood differently by other people. So you might as well be yourself when you create. And that’s the beauty of this whole exchange between art and art lovers- they get to choose whether something is valuable or not. But you as an artist have the ultimate say, because if you don’t begin with the act of creating, if you don’t follow up with the second part– to share, then no one will ever see the value in your work. It’s an interesting idea- giving other people permission to determine the value of this creation you conceptualized yourself. But before even allowing other people to see your work, you must ask yourself if you have faith in your own creations. 

A performer stands in front of a large audience.
So my boyfriend, Gian Bravo, has been a music producer pretty much all his life and when I asked him his thoughts on the bridge between art as a hobby and art as a career, he said, “It’s an ongoing transition, but no one will pay you for your art unless you make them.” I agree with this statement because it reminds us that it really all comes down to the act of creating. And I can tell you from my own experience, that I’m making the choice between art for life and art for fun every day. 

Every time I create a collage, write a poem, or compose a song, I have to stop and think: okay, now, what do I make of this? Is this something I want to share to the world, to let others see and admire or hate? Do I feel proud enough to trust the world with my creation? Do I feel that my work is worthy enough to be shared with people I know, and potentially strangers? Am I willing to put my art at risk of being ridiculed, stolen, or loved? This all kind of ties in with another article I wrote discussing the importance of sharing your work

An artist faces a fork in the road deciding where they should let their creative exploration be a hobby or a career.

But there is another demand from us artists beyond the sharing aspect, which is letting go of yourself in front of people. I feel like it’s especially brave for writers in particular, who mostly write about what they know. It took me a very long time to grow comfortable with writing about trauma and my fears. But I know that some of the most brilliant artistic masterpieces were born from artists being vulnerable and being real with their truth. I know that people seek art when they feel the need to connect or the need to just feel things. So when you create, be you. Let your artwork be a gentle hand for others to grab on to. 

I’m not a perfect artist. I’m still struggling with this myself. I censor my art whenever I start worrying about what my community may think of me. But I’m working on accepting this vulnerability in my creations, because 1) it will be good for me, and 2) in the end, it really doesn’t matter what other people think. All that matters is making the human connection through your art. In the end, I should be proud of the fact that I’ve let go of my insecurities and created something awesome. I should be proud of myself for giving other people a chance to connect with something I love, that I brought to existence. Accepting this challenge to be vulnerable in our art allows us to connect with our audiences in a human level. It may even give your audience that same strength and confidence to be bold like you.

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