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I Am A Creative Sell-Out

A week ago I was talking to an old friend that I haven’t talked to in awhile. She asked me how the art was going. Not: are you still painting? But: How is it going? That is an important distinction because of course I am making art. It’s a part of who I am, right?

I got started making art by locking myself in my high-school art studio and drawing, painting, throwing stuff together. The artist-in-residence (a short lived program) would give me mini assignments and I would do them over and over again until I got it right. I would sketch in class, sketch on vacation, take pictures of stuff wherever I went. I would write down ideas on my hands, sketch things on my hands. I would draw on the seams of my clothing, draw on walls, on tables. I wouldn’t stop. I couldn’t stop. It was an involuntary reflex.

Making art was a therapy from feelings that I didn’t know how to express, didn’t understand. Everything I made was creepy, unless I was being told to do something otherwise. Hands growing out of the ground, air balloons made out of deformed faces, cutting nonsensical patterns through paper and inevitably desks with Exact-o knives and boxcutters, secretly hoping I would injure myself. It was my crutch. But then, I didn’t need it anymore.

I wanted to go to design school. I wanted to make things without having to have my name on it, make stuff that told stories for other people. I wanted to work with other people, communicate with people. And that’s what I did.

I fell in love with design. Design is and isn’t art. There are books about this. I’m not getting into it.
I stopped drawing on my clothing: I’m an adult, I can’t draw on my clothing.
I stopped drawing on my hand: People keep thinking it’s a tattoo. Big no-no.
I stopped drawing on the walls: I lived in a dorm room, I would get fined.
I sketched in class: it was classwork.
I sketched on vacation: I needed to sketch 100 logos for Monday morning.
I stopped writing ideas everywhere: Ideas were to be neatly filed in each of my sketchbooks for their respective classes.

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Do I still make art? Kind of. I have spent the past three and a half years learning, re-learning, redefining the creative process. I didn’t really think about it until she asked. I’m not the same creative person I used to be. I know that I have felt creatively burnt out for a long time now, but somehow, through that feeling of defeat, I have made my best work yet. I wonder if it’s because that part of myself that needed art as a crutch has disappeared or that I am exerting myself in different ways. Am I really burnt out or has my creative mind reformatted itself to fit its current needs?

Sometimes when I feel overwhelmed, I wish I would just get out my old gauche paints and paint. But I don’t. Sometimes when I’m sad, I wish I would just take out one of many abandoned sketchbooks and draw until my hands would be silvery-grey with graphite and my fingers were red and sore. But I don’t.

Is it important to use your creativity for yourself?
Have I “sold out” if I feel fulfilled and proud of my work, even though it’s not self expression?

I don’t know.