An Open Letter to Young Aspiring Artists (and Old Navy)

“Every child is an artist until he’s told he’s not an artist.” – John Lennon

Dear Young Aspiring Artist,
By now you’ve seen the Old Navy t-shirt with the words imprinted “Young Aspiring Artist. President.”   Old Navy Young Aspiring Artist President T ShirtThose words hit me because I believe it’s hard work being an artist.  Some how I want to believe the person who created it  was trying to convey this. Or maybe I’m being kind and Old Navy just wanted to sell a design the helicopter parent demographic would buy. Either way since nobody really talks about the cost of creating art, I wanted to share this with you.

Art is Scary. Art is Sorcery.
I believe art is sorcery.  The good kind – I swear but still it’s scary. Art has the ability to change how the future looks.  8 years ago I had this crazy idea my

Mike Allebach is called The Original Tattooed Bride Photographer by Rock n Roll Bride and The Tattooed Wedding Photographer by Inked Magazine. He works with both tattooed and non-tattooed couples in Philadelphia, Lansdale, Lancaster, North Wales, Brooklyn and Washington D.C.

business could be built around photographing brides with tattoos. I loved the idea of punk rock brides. Back then this was unheard of.  People thought I was weird and asked “why would you want to do that?”   People still don’t understand what I do.  I did it anyway. I photographed brides with tattoos and put it all over my website.  Art is sorcery, it changed me.  It changed my path.  I remember graduating high school and I wanted to be a computer programer. I somehow ended up in this world where I get to photograph all of these super fun people.  Clients I love. I realize today it’s not as much of a big deal to see a bride show off a tattoo but back in 2007 it was.  Art creates new realities and can envision a future which doesn’t yet exist.  It did for me.

“May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you’re wonderful, and don’t forget to make some art — write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself.”
— Neil Gaiman

There is no such thing as an “aspiring” artist.
You either are an artist or you aren’t.  In order to be an artist there is only one requirement, you must create. Once you put your creation into the world, YOU are an artist.  When the pen hits the paper, the brush hits the canvas, when you print the screenplay YOU are an artist.  I’m guessing if you are reading this YOU are already an artist.

But…if you selfishly keep your ideas.  If you hold onto them – never sharing them with the world, you sadly aren’t. Artists create.

Before you start asking questions, let me make this perfectly clear, you do not have to go to art school.  You can even support your art with a job. Or you can make a few extra buck by selling your art on Etsy.  There are no rules to being an artist other than creation. Spending an hour on creation work doesn’t make you less of an artist than spending 50 hours.  In fact many people are much happier when they don’t have to rely on their art to pay the bills.

Create. That is it, create something and show us. Please, please, please don’t hold back.

“If you find yourself asking yourself and your friends, “Am I really a writer? Am I really an artist?” chances are you are. The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.”
― Steven Pressfield

The obstacles within
I want to let you in on a little secret I’ve learned:  Every artist I know gets scared.  At some point in the process of creating things worthwhile you will face fear.

Sometimes we as artists feel unworthy to create. Sometimes we go through dry spells. Sometimes artists don’t feel one ounce of creativity. Don’t think it will get easier if your art somehow makes you famous. When you get to do what you really really love, and get recognized for it, the more of a fraud you think you are. You’ll probably wonder if your success is a fluke. Imposter Syndrome. Maybe you’ll even convince yourself you don’t deserve this notoriety.  Amanda Palmer talked in depth in her commencement speech to the New England Institute of Art’s Class of 2011.

The critic
If you decide to make art you will face critics.  Now your critics might be imagined or they might be real.  Jon Acuff explains critic math as 1 insult + 1,000 compliments = 1 insult.  Be prepared for it. Realize when you are just imagining it. For some critique is helpful. Maybe you love your art being critiqued. I don’t. During the learning stages it can be great to find out the proper way to hold a brush, take a properly exposed photo or sing on key. Sadly, many times criticism can be destructive, even if the giver was trying to be constructive.

“If you ask me what I came to do in this world, I, an artist, will answer you: I am here to live out loud.”
— Émile Zola

The Reward
There is nothing more beautiful than knowing a creative work is finished.  When you overcome the obstacles of fear within and the critic we imagine outside, there is a reward. I’ve told you all of the obstacles you will face in hopes it will prepare you to create. We need you to practice your art.  We need you to show a future we can’t yet see.  Evoke love and anger and passion in our soul. We need your art to see beauty invisible to us.  I promise if you are willing to let it, art will reward you for it.

Create art.

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