Part Two: Your ‘Why’
‘Haterz Can’t Touch Me.’ Digital image. Credit: The author, MelVee X. From de mule ah de world.
In a traditional blueprint there are three main views: the top, front and side views. These views are specifically selected because it can be impossible to visualize how an object will look without these three crucial views. Similarly, not having a way to guide your artistic career can make it impossible for you to plan out your own path and see what is possible.
The ‘why’ constitutes the top view of your artistic blueprint. The ‘why’ is crucial in providing the overview that will guide the rest of your practice. You are essentially looking at your artistic practice from above to get an understanding of how your path can unfold from there.
Think first about why you want to pursue your artistic passion. For me, my ‘why’ is the ability to tell my own story from my own perspective. This is my guiding principle, especially as a Black, queer, neurodivergent woman. Our stories have been dismissed, diminished and demeaned. It is through the arts that I’ve crafted and reclaimed narratives that uplift me and my communities.
It was working in community where I had to reflect on why I was committing to this path. When other people are relying on you for support, you have to clarify your purpose so that you can be clear in your work. It wasn’t until I ran an award recognizing artists of colour through Uproot YYC (a now defunct collective for artists of colour in Mohkinstsis, colonially known as Calgary) that I realized it’s not a given we will identify as artists, even when we are actively engaged in the arts.
I had to reflect on why this might be the case. It occurred to me in my work with racialized artists that the lasting effects of having our work diminished and dismissed on a regular basis is that we may fail to even identify as artists at all. How can we effectively create our work as artists if we don’t feel empowered to identify as such? If I didn’t have this experience working with racialized artists, I would have missed a crucial part of my own ‘why’.
What if you don’t have your ‘why’ figured out yet? It took me a couple of years into my artistic practice to think about why I’m pursuing the arts as a career. It may not be clear to you right away and that’s why it’s so vital to reflect on it now.
Although your ‘why’ does not need to be something convoluted, you should note it down somewhere – draw it, write it, sing it, dance it. Whatever practice you engage in should incorporate your ‘why’ unapologetically. This is a statement for you to carry in your practice and in your heart; to guide you when conflicting priorities arise. When you know why you are engaging in your chosen artistic pursuit, you can more easily say no to ‘opportunities’ that don’t align with your ‘why’. This is essentially an expression of your values.
Then think about how your ‘why’ drives you forward in your artistic practice.
Your ‘why’ is what you turn to when you feel stuck or overwhelmed with your practice. As artists, we tend to be value driven people yet it’s incredible how we can miss the vital step of asking ourselves why we are doing what we do.
Your ‘why’ can also form the basis for mission and vision statements, how you talk about your practice to others and part of your marketing and networking efforts. The more clearly we can express why we are making the work we do, the more advocates we have in our communities.
Determining our ‘why’ is vital to understanding our career path as artists. Reflecting on the values that drive us forward in our practice allow us to prioritize our time as artists and to recognize opportunities that align with those values.
Part Three: Your ‘How’
‘Woman.’ Multimedia collage: acrylic, magazine images, thread. Credit: The author, MelVee X
The ‘how’ is the side view of your blueprint – the various angles you will need to see and plan for in order to showcase your work in a way that reflects you and your practice authentically.
Decide on how you will share your work. Do not get bogged down in what others think is possible. Especially for those of us from marginalized and historically oppressed communities, we often don’t see ourselves represented as artists. This is no accident. Art, in the Western context, is often viewed as a luxury to be pursued by the chosen few. There may never be a blueprint for you to follow precisely because too many have never imagined someone like you as an artist.
Don’t rely on others to point out the ‘how’ for you. When you belong to communities which have faced historic barriers to entry, you may be seeking the same avenues that were meant to keep you out.