I am an artist, married to a builder.
My husband can construct anything. He is a career handyman and renovator who can calculate measurements in zero seconds and maneuver tools as if they were attached to his hands at birth. When I watch him solve everyday problems with his god-given vision, it occurs to me: He is also an artist.
We all are, actually.
Each of us translates a vision through our chosen craft that is uniquely ours, and even the most logical and scientific work applies. The greatest artists in history (to include philosophers, scientists and doctors) were talented, of course they were, but I believe they were versed thinkers first.
Anyone can solve a problem and move along to soccer practice, but these world changers sat with it. They dug in. They deconstructed simple ideas and regurgitated things the average brain couldn’t find by the act of box-checking.
- How long do I spend with the problems presented to me throughout the day?
- Is my goal to merely check a box, or do I try to put a fresh spin on things at least sometimes?
My career as a layout designer uses easily identified mediums of art - but I believe any profession, when treated this way, has the ability to make our lives and the lives of others more beautiful.
What does it mean to do your work like an artist?
Giving the artist treatment to my work involves dissecting ideas and emotional issues for much longer than others are comfortable with. I spot my feelings and ask, why? I observe the way others behave around a topic. I search for concepts and theories previously written in books and internet websites.
I keep some ideas, throw others out and set many aside for later. When I get stumped, I walk away and give my subconscious a stab at it.
At the end of this process I look for the best medium to interpret what I have found and send it back into the world. I ask myself, how I can show this to someone else?
Going a little deeper…
Howard K. Thurman, the Dean of Marsh Chapel who mentored a young Martin Luther King, Jr., famously said, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is more people who have come alive.”
By my definition, Dr. King was also an artist – as was Thurman – but the mentoring philosopher touched on a core characteristic of the most influential works of art: That they made the artist himself come alive.
Dr. King and the civil rights leaders who came before and after him were messengers of the most important truth in American history, in my opinion: That “all men are created equal,” while a worthy pursuit, had not actually been realized in our country. Not yet.
The message was difficult, unpopular and even dangerous. But Dr. King’s art – his mediums in writing, orating and servant leadership – in combination with his vision for the future, made him come alive. He felt every single word in his bones, and because of that, his work would influence all of us for decades to follow.
What makes you come alive?
In 2018, I began blogging from an internal need to record and share my process. Motherhood, while the greatest accomplishment of my life, shook my creative identity like nothing I’d experienced before. Time was no longer on my side. I was more tired, more emotional and I wondered how many women out there also felt this way?
This addition to my creative process has helped me come alive inside a new chapter of my life. I have learned so much by reading back my own thoughts and connecting with others through them. I’ve more readily identified those unsettled feelings, explored and researched, and my interpretations through art and writing has helped myself and at least a handful of others discover they are not alone. I have found beauty in difficult things through this work, and helped others do the same.
This is what it’s all about.
…and then there was 2020
This wild year has taken such a toll on inspiration. The constant barrage of bad news and distracted alone time presents challenges to the old way for so many of us – including me.
In Part II of this blog (tomorrow?), I will share what that can look like and how we can beat in order to take back our art!
Michelle Ellis is a graphic artist, mother of two and self-professed “student of life.” She began blogging in 2018 as a way to connect with others on the common struggles of everyday life. Read more of her writing at michellemariellis.com, and find her on Instagram at @michellemariellis.