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Good stuff. This is really true of any vocation or anything else in life: when the penultimate because ultimate. I like how you subtly point us towards the Ultimate in here as well.
Well put, thanks for stopping by!
This long cartoon is excellent, filled with profound insights into the nature of the human heart; a treasure chest of wisdom. Thank you for it.
Yes very good illustrations and write up.
Suneel Jain – ART ellipse
This was awesome, and is a great point to keep in mind.
When something resonates with me personally, I get excited and start to laugh. “This guy gets it! I know that feeling so well!”. I was laughing until you left your cave. Then the laughing shifted to a pleasant reflection.
I really thank you for your comics so far. “I want to make comics that speak about true things.” is exactly what you’re doing. Thanks again.
That’s great to hear– thanks for stopping by David!
[...] Fellow artist, Stephen McCranie posted a fantastic comic-essay about the danger of making your art (or anything about you!) an idol. Read it here. [...]
I think its incredible that you can create a comic that says so many things about me as an artist and I’ve never met you! So much of what you said in this comic in particular are exactly sentiments that I currently embody. It’s really refreshing to read these and understand that I’m not as bad as I think I am regardless of how much I compare myself to people who I feel are “better” or more established and that thinking like that can be negative and that I should focus on my own journey as an artist and things will fall in place as it should. This encourages me to also help others on their path also.
You’re an incredible artist, storyteller, and you’re amazing at being yourself. I hope to meet you one day.
Thanks Beefy! I’m thankful that I get to connect with artists like yourself through this comic. I’m thankful this work is coming out so resonant– it makes me feel like I’m on the right path.
Yeah, this is very recognizable! I’ve certainly gone through periods of my life where my success or lack thereof (mostly lack) in art was devastating. I think it’s a mentality that I’ll be struggling with forever, because art does meant a lot to me, and to my identity.
I don’t think this mentality applies just to art, tho, or even to just the creative fields. I’m pretty sure business people struggle with this issue too, and I’ve seen friends who defined themselves as wives and mothers devastated when that identity is threatened or fails. We are the things we love the most, and sometimes that can be unhealthy.
Well said Faith– this is a malady that’s hard to escape from in every part of life. If you’re identity is your comics, what will you do when everyone has forgotten about you? If you’re identity is your kids, what will you do when they grow up and leave home? I think the key is finding something to mount your identity on that isn’t subject to change or chance.
I am in agreement with Faith. I was once a part of the the science community and one’s intelligence, creative research, grants and awards too often were equated with self value. Some of the best scientists I came across were also the most shallow people I’ve ever met. Why do people care so much about fleeting temporal accolades? It’s far better to become a human of real value as Christ demonstrated to us: of love, humility, wisdom, awe and ultimately, joy.
Great insight, unc!
wow. you really got me here. I… I’m trying not to BE my art, but it’s really hard – it’s the only thing that makes me different from the people I know. I’m not even “decent” at it, I’m… I’m not even okay. but it’s the only thing that keeps me going.
Keeping going is a good thing, and I totally understand your heart for art.
No matter how far I get along the path though, I’ve never found satisfaction or anything stable enough to mount my sense of self worth on. Even after becoming a professional cartoonist, which was a huge milestone and honor– the triumph came, and then it was gone– it didn’t last.
The lie that I most struggle with is this: “That I can make something beautiful that will cause people to love me.” You know what the worst part of this lie is? That it might come true. After my first book was published I’d call home to my mom and dad, and I noticed that we only ever talked about my work and my art and my books, and I began to worry– what if my parents only cared about me because of my career? What would happen if I lost my art job? Who would I be? I want people to love me, but not for anything I do, just because.
I’ll tell you though– art is a joy when you have a reason bigger than yourself to create for. It’s not that art is bad, it’s just that taking your identity in it is. As a Christian, I find the most joy in my art when I am creating it for God and people, though I’ll tell you, it is hard! Like I said in the comic, I’m always treading the path, and it sucks. But I have hope in God that he’ll free me from that cycle, because he fits that thing I need perfectly– he has that love that loves me for no reason that I contribute to, just because he’s awesome and he genuinely cares. My hope is that God will help me define my self worth by what he says about me and not by what the art critics say or the book reviews or the emails or anybody else.
Hi! I’m Rivelle, filmmaker from the Philippines, your works are really amazing and inspiring! I agree as well with everything you’ve said. We can easily put our identity to our art but it will just lead us to endless cycle of frustration. Only God can fulfil our need because he’s just awesome. I am so so so glad to see an artist like you who also create art as an act of worship to God. I can’t help but reply. Keep doing this stuff. It’s really encouraging.
Thank you! I try to create as an act of worship– it’s hard to keep my heart in the right place all the time, but God is gracious and has given me a means to broadcast pieces of the gospel. I appreciate your comment! It’s so neat you picked up on my faith like that!
i like this one. God has given me a fire for being creative. there are times when i can’t breath because of experiencing creativity. i am pursuing the gift He has given me and the way i like to say it is that i want the creativity that comes out of me to be an expression of Him in me. so just like living by the Spirit; create by the Spirit. He does love me because He created me and when i or you or anyone is “being” who He created us to be that is an act of worship. love it! thanks stephen.
You are really right…this satisfaction and pride in your art work that seemed so permanent before really can come faltering in just a few minutes, even seconds. (in my experience). I am also a art major myself attending art school and it’s a long race to run. But it’s definitely worth running it!
I encourage you to keep running this race, especially in this art world, where religious doubt and self-worth comes into play all the time. This is really encouraging, and all though I do not work in the medium of drawing, I would love to collab with you someday.
This was really encouraging, and I really hoorah you!
Feel free to contact me at any time too!
it was extremely satisfying to read this comic. beautiful.
Very true and inspirational. Amazingly done! Great job! I would actually purchase the book if you made one! So deep and to the point, with very meaningful art behind it…to the detail!
[...] http://doodlealley.com/2012/09/10/you-are-not-your-art/ [...]
I just.. Four for you, Stephen, four for you! You.. You are amazing, just keep that in mind. Also.. This is coming from a twelve, nearly thirteen year old girl, you are fantastic. Your art is truly amazing and inspiring, by far, you are one of the most intriguing artists I have come across online.
That was so so profound. I was really moved, it brought tears to my eyes, and I don’t know why. Thank you for making me feel this way. ^_^
I… I really have to think over this.
Dunno when I’ll reach a conclusion. It may take months. I may write to you if I reach any worthy conclusion on this.
Stephen is absolutely right: that art is interpreted by limited human subjective perception, but is eternal in essence, formed from an objective existence that transcends time, space, and culture, and is beyond humanity.
From the blacks and whites in morality emerge the grays. But if there was no black nor white, there would be no gray; indeed, there would be nothing at all.
There IS objectivity in existence, which can be discovered at least partly. I would be glad to talk to you about it as well if you’d like!
Beautiful art, and glorious wisdom from above, Stephen.
‘It takes nine months to create a comic book that can be read in twenty minutes’
I confess that there are so many times when this pains me. The amount of work that goes behind something that can be absorbed in just a few seconds by other people… followed by a comment, whether good or bad, insightful or ignorant, and then dismissed again regardless as the person continues their own life. Or to spend hours on a piece and then upload it to deviantart or something, and then watch as no one views it, favourites it or whatever. Gah, it’s frustrating.
But it’s irrelevant, i realise. Just my vanity pushing through. Would i seriously want the opposite, people worshiping me for my work? That’s not what i do it for.
I appear to be babbling in a comments section. I’ll stop now.
As a film major, this really struck me, and even broader as an artist of various kinds. I’ve come to the point in my life where I feel I AM defined by my art. It’s increasingly one of the only things I care about, and my self-worth is dependent on success in my field. I’m finding an incredible amount of similarities between my life and what you laid out.
Can you shed any insight as to how to find true happiness within this path, if it is at all possible?
I’m more specifically a cinematographer, and felt first hand how even a success by all measures often is unfulfilling. The last film I made was incredibly well received, but for whatever reason my director saw far more tangible success, though we collaborated equally on the pre-production and post production. I strive for the moment of creation. Every step I take in my career is related to doing that justice. And with every step, I try to immerse myself further. My whole life from the moment I began college was dedicated to making film not just a job, but who I was. I guess I just fail to see how that might be a bad thing. If the mention of my name brought forth beautiful images from the films I’ve made, I’d be a happy man.
Hey Will! I’m not able to write much right now, but feel free to email me or skype me if you want to talk in detail about this. It’s close to my heart since I’ve explored the issue inside and out.
Here’s my short answer:
Can you find true happiness within this path? As long as your self-worth depends on your success– as long as your happiness depends on what people think about you– no, I don’t believe you can.
A lot of my artistic endeavors have been to get people to think well of me when they read my work. I think a lot of artists strive for this. When you break it all down though, I think we just want to be loved, and we try to earn people’s love by creating something beautiful.
But here’s the problem: when you do manage to create something beautiful, the attention and praise and affection is never good enough. The success is never big enough. The reviews are never positive enough. The spotlight is never bright enough.
Why? It’s because you tried to earn love. But how can a love that you paid for ever be satisfying? Don’t you want a love that is given freely? Don’t you want to be loved not just for your good qualities, but also in spite of your bad qualities? Surely the love that accepts you for who you are is much bigger and brighter than the love that accepts you only if you measure up and do your time and pay your keep and earn your way.
If you are trying to find love, I would recommend looking for the big one, not the small one.
That was so beautiful, so inspiring, and so relatable. Mind blown by your way to make people put themselves in your shoes, and your art is marvellous.
Thank you so much for putting my feelings down in such a way I can even understand them. This is amazing, and though I would never wish someone to feel the way that I do about their creation, it’s really nice to know I am not the only one. I may not be a cartoonist, but art is a job that is directly connected to the heart, and if we aren’t careful we will bleed out, no matter the study.
Man, but it’s really hard to stop the bleeding when it starts.
I agree– it’s funny, I still have cravings to step back inside the insanity of making art an identity because there’s a rush to it when you make a good piece of art. It’s kind of like an addiction–a love hate relationship.
I just found your website today, and I am really enjoying it! Really great, and I completely relate to most of the things mentioned. This one is one of my favorites so far… I don’t think I ‘lived and breathed’ art like many of my fellow peers in art school. But there would be times where I would be so fixated on finishing a certain piece that when I do go outside again, I notice the world again, and I see that life outside of my hovel inspires me to make art. It’s really nice.
It’s so great to taste the air and feel the sunlight after being in a dark studio for so long isn’t it? Thanks for saying hello!
This… this page… it was like a punch in the guts. It made me choke and cry. I guess I’m gonna vomit my guts on the internet now, and maybe someone else can benefit from it too?
I’m an animator, I’m fairly good at what I do. I’m at a point in my “career” where finding job is relatively easy and I’m confident in my skills.
However, something “broke”(sic) these last years, and this comic has been just perfect to try to frame it in a way that might be able to understand what is happening.
When I got my first animation diploma, I realised that after months of 6am-to-11pm in a windowless area, I had forgotten the sun. Litterally. We all did. Our graduation ceremony was at noon the first day after we finished. All of us were shocked to go downstair to be blinded by this bright incadescent light through what is usually mirror glass (windows brighter inside than outside)
It was… glorious. It was symbolic, life begins anew and all that… and it’s almost a decade ago (already?!)
I started out, euphoric to “do it for realsies”. Lucked out on a fantastic small studio that challenged and thought me to do all sort of barely-related works. Expended my views and skillset enormously.
Quoting this comic; “And then one day (…), you became excellent in your craft, so you decide that your life is your craft”
But eventually, it reached a point where even doing the poorest rush job I could muster would still get me praise… doing genuinely good work felt not only superfluous, but dangerous. It was burning money, lots of it.
I think you can see where this is leading? When you define your life by your craft, but that it seemingly has no value… When it feels that no matter how much left you could learn and master in it, it doesn’t matter because at the end, the amateur level is all that is required. What happens when a masterpiece only has any value to other craftsmen, but not your customer?
Then I was assigned to work on a Feature Film. The holy grail for an animator, sort of. It was fascinating, and finally, hard work was actually required. Not only that, but the techniques we we were developping were innovative and cutting-edge! I gleefully did my overtime and even stayed during christmas to help finish someone else’s scenes. In the end, the result was pretty good! It makes a craftsman feel proud.
In the end though, the movie was garbage. Reviewers unanimously destroyed it in a way that twist the knife harshly : “It sucks, but at least the animation is really nice.”
Blam. The illusion is shattered, AGAIN. But this time, I’m being told directly that my craft is void of purpose. It’s at best an embellishment, under normal circomstances it’s invisible, and at worse it worsens the product.
Fast-forward a year later.
I got to work on what would have been my dream job when I was a neophyte. It’s great; genuinely funny, well organised, well supervised, beautifully animated, etc. It feels good to be part of an actually interesting project. I like the end product, and so does a lot of people.
This time, though, there was no critic, no reviewer to say it… only me to realise it; Even though our job was done well, and the slapstick sticks, in the end, it could suck and it would still be a good show… however, did any other part of it suck, the show would be a disaster.
Of all the art forms, animation is not only amongst the hard ones, but also amongst the least fulfilling ones. It requires knowledge of nearly other fields, including acting and some unique to it. You have to painstakingly draw stuff that will be seen for, at best, an 1/8th of a second but usually 1/12th and normally, ONCE in the lifetime of the viewer… TENS of us to make anything done in a reasonable amount of time and it will still take months… Anyway, I’m preaching to the choir, in another page you say you did animation too.
When you identify to your craft, but that even at its best, that craft doesn’t even have an intrinsic value… what do you do?
Is there an happy ending to this? Were all those years just a bootcamp to help do something else entirely, later?
Or is it just vain to actually expect your craft to have a value of its own?
Let me rephrase something a bit. In hindsight and after re-reading this, it kinda sounds like “I want all dem spotlights” or something.
I understand the nature of collaborative work, and I’m not saying that “my work should be the centerpiece of whatever I’m working on”.
It’s just that when you identify to your craft, but the only people who gives the slightest care about that craft are other of the same craftsmen, it feels like circle-jerking.
I was just saying its how it feels when you associate your value with your work. Like the comic warns. And I finally am able to understand a bit why I’ve just been so depressed lately.
But how do you stop?
It’s only been a year and a half since I graduated, but I can somewhat relate. This comic got me thinking too. The first job I landed was one my dream jobs. I worked as an illustrator at a startup media company. They were getting a lot of buzz for their innovation and as an alternative news source that could compete with the big players. It was a fun job that really pushed the limits of its artists, so I improved a lot. But it was also a high-pressure job, and eventually I cracked. The work hours could get irregular and it triggered my insomnia. I became very, very tired and it was affecting my work. After six months, they let me go.
Since then, I have felt the compulsion to go for more prestigious jobs, to collect them like medals which I can show to everyone as proof that I was not a failure. I made a list of all the big name companies and studios I wanted to work for. But they weren’t really hiring.
So I have been thinking a lot, about why did I pursue art in the first place. I remember my art theory professor in 2nd year. She was an actress, who made us read Geczy’s book, and it was then that I realised: art, it opens us to something bigger than ourselves. It connects us all…it explores the human condition, why are we born and why do we die, why can people be so cruel sometimes and also so kind…it exposes us at our most vulnerable, in pain and in love. It makes you realise, that the person in front of you is human, weak, frail, and wonderful, and so are you…
It was at that moment that I decided to live and breathe art, to make it synonymous with my identity. I was happiest when my work transcended skill and craft and touched people, that opened their worlds and challenged their perceptions, or made them more aware of social issues. I was also equally happy, when discussing other people’s work that had touched me in the same way.
I don’t think it’s possible to stop identifying yourself with your work. But your work is part of something bigger. It’s easy to forget that because we don’t see it everyday…
It is hard to stop basing your identity off your work. But I agree, it’s best to mount your identity on more lasting transcendent things, and let your art be subservient to that.
Wow! This was a smack in the face that I needed today! Thank you! =D
Thank you, Stephen.
Thanks for creating this encouraging comic series! I am a fellow artist that has been discouraged over the years by self-doubt, criticism and closed doors. This is a good reminder that I should continue forward and not let the past or art define who I am.
That’s right! I believe there is a lot of freedom in letting go of the performance-based identity we are apt to build for ourselves.
My childhood art teacher sent this to me! She said, “Thought you would love this” and I do! I am about to open an art studio in Jan 2014 and your blog is just the inspiration I am looking for. I will bring a holistic twist to my art studio, so sharing your amazing blogs would be a perfect fit. Thanks for the most important messages that you are bringing to us. Great journey you are on!
Thanks Wendy! Good luck with your studio! Let me know how that goes.
This was great. The part about the fear of going blind was me in every way possible. I’ve had that fear for far longer than I’ve had any skill at painting, but at the same time I’ve always liked criticism. It’s the compliments and praise that I don’t believe.
This was fantastic! The last panel made my jaw drop. Very good work, keep going!
I loved this one! It is something that I have been thinking of.. and the ending was fantastic. And I personally loved this phrase: “It’s not that happinness doesn’t exist, but how could it be in a world I created?”
And for some reason, about the complimments/praise/criticism. I can’t stand much to criticism. But I can stand even less complimments/praise. They all seem fake if there is nothing to critque. I can see some problems in the thins I do… and when they keep pretending they don’t exist.. it’s like they don’t want to REALLY see what I’ve done, and what I sadly wasn’t capable of doing. I want sincerety from my viewers, I guess that’s why I like having a good art teacher. Cause she really sees things I’ve done wrong or could’ve done better.
my darling daughter gave me your site ..saw and read…
and can related to how I felt a bit down right now…
I love drawing and only now this year starting again to draw…I knew I can but I wish my art work people like…
no luck in selling my items yet…what I mean ..I had been a few places with a luggage full of my art stuff ..no sales…
so what I have read here help me a lot..as I wanted to stop drawing and wait n see if people still like my drawing…
tq for all the advice…
After trying and failing NaNoWriMo, this has been an incredible help. Thank you for posting this whole blog.
Also, your book is going on my Christmas list. Will it be in print by then?
Afraid not! The pdf is now available tho.
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I found your blog via Graphic Artists Guild and although it was mainly about your upcoming book and sustaining creativity, I ended up on this page, ‘you are not your art’. You have basically put into visual what I have been journeying through over the years! I am a full time designer and illustrate on the side- I illustrate late at nights with the concern of hand cramps and wondering…well oh so many things.
Your comic is a wonderful reminder not to equate my value based on my artwork nor how others perceive and receive my artwork; not to equate my identity to the art I produce and that my identity resides in being a child of God. When we start placing our identity on our performance, it can get tiring – I find satisfaction in the work I produce (some of the time!) but I am reminded that this satisfaction is but a fraction of what God intends for us. I have learned that over the years and still learning!
Anyways, thank you for the visual insight! I am going to go thru the rest of your blog now and pick up more nuggets!
Thank you so much for your long cartoon. Very inspiring. I’m a french teacher and singer (so excuse my english…).
I’m going to share your fantastic comic.
[…] I practically screamed when I saw this essay entitled “You Are Not Your Art.” Senior project was a long time ago, so I don’t expect you […]
[…] Looking at this on the computer made me realize that I like it, despite the criticism I received about a certain area of the painting. Seeing an image smaller on the screen really helps me see the whole at once. In my blog surfing this morning, I particularly enjoyed this blog by Rebecca Crowell about Coping with the Negative in your art practice. Be sure to click over to the linked and related Comic by DoodleAlley! […]
Did you just explain how to create a narcissist? Seriously sounds like a normal person goes from seemingly normal to having Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
Um, kind of, I guess. I think when you make your art your identity it leads to one of two outcomes– either despair when you fail to create something good, or self-worship (narcissism) when you succeed in creating something good.
This is a truth that I couldn’t really put into words. I see great worth in art, both in the world and my own. The obsession that can happen is just dangerous. It is a great lesson to be a humble artist, and one that does not praise the art of others. It would be better to honor the character of the artist than to worship him. Where does that character come from? Who made the heart to make such things? Who gave you the gifts to give the world beauty? That is the one who is to be praised! The only one worthy to be mentioned in anything good. Jesus.
[…] getting overly discouraged, and the importance of separating your personal identity from your creative work. Perhaps it’s from years of doing comic strips that Stephen has learned how to beautifully […]
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