February 25, 2019

If I’m Not Making Art, Am I Still an Artist?

by cns2020

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By Joey Phoenix

We all feel like imposters at some point in our journeys. It’s entirely reasonable to question everything, as crippling self-doubt is unequivocally married to the creative process.

The important thing is learning how to move through it.

I upended my life a few months ago. I had recently finished a number of ongoing photography projects and was starting to tackle a new one when I realized I needed to put the brakes on a relationship, move to Boston, and seek medical attention for an ongoing mental illness that had, up until then, gone mostly untreated.

Restlessness overwhelmed me. I couldn’t concentrate. I had no motivation to create, well, anything.

I started taking medication in December. During the adjustment I couldn’t focus long enough to paint or write or play music or take photographs. All of the things that had been tied up into my identity as an artist I just couldn’t do, and it felt as if who I was had been stripped from me.

Here I am, almost 90 days later, and the trickle is starting to return slowly. Throughout 2018 there had been so much output that I used up all my creative resources, and when the big boom of my life happened and I had to use up the remainder of my physical and intellectual resources to get through that incredibly dark time, I was left scooped out.


It’s incredibly difficult to make art from empty.

So instead of pushing, I started to pull in. Since I had moved to a different city I needed a new library card. I picked one up. I started reading random books which caught my attention. I started listening to new genres of music. I started going to more museums and art galleries. All of this was done in an effort to, first of all, get healthy, and second, feed my emptied out creative mind.

Making art is like breathing. We pull in our inspiration from elsewhere, bringing it into ourselves and our innermost spaces. As we pull in these inputs our subconscious mind grabs hold of them and turns them into a stew. Or, as Amanda Palmer explains in her autobiography The Art of Asking, artists put their ideas, experiences, and emotions into an internal blender and mash them together. Some artists turn it up all the way, others barely blend at all.

Then comes the exhale, the creation. Once your internal mashup is complete you’ll breathe out your work into the world. The results will vary. Sometimes they’re toxic. Sometimes they are magical. Sometimes they’re pretty “meh”. And that’s ok.

Ideally, an artist will reach an equilibrium of input and output. An artist will bring in enough into themselves that their outputs will match the stimuli coming into their minds and they’ll create as much as they consume and the world will be better for it.

Then sometimes there will be stillness. Sometimes the artist will take a deep breath in only to exhale nothing. When that happens, there’s nothing left to do but breathe in deeper and let the cycle repair itself.

Joey Phoenix is a performance artist and the Managing Editor of Creative North Shore. Follow them on Twitter @jphoenixmedia. If you have an idea for a story, feature, or pictures of adorable llamas, feel free to send them a message at joeyphoenix@creativecollectivema.com