Is Your Identity Defined by What You Do?

A lot of people define their sense of self, based on what they do for a living. Artists are notorious for this. They think of themselves as, “I am an actor” “I am a dancer” “I am a writer”, etc.

Tricky thing about such a line of thinking is

that if you are not working, what are you then?

Defining one’s identity via what one does can lead to identity crises over time.

Certainly, most of us ask what it is we want to do, numerous times in our lives. I have heard that many Americans will have up to 6 careers in their lifetime. This further illustrates that we are all in a constant state of change.

Of course, each of us “is” more than just what we do. Still, many artists feel so passionately about the work they create, that they identify themselves strongly with their art. In such cases,  I encourage the individuals to not just identify themselves by the type of medium they practice, but, as Artists–creative artists, at that. One may be a creative artist who acts or paints or does photography or…all of the above.

I believe that artists are artists are artists. Every artist creates from the same place–we simply have different tools to express ourselves. Some of us use our bodies, some film equipment, some computers, etc.

Mastering technique in one form or discipline will enable one to pick up other mediums of artistry. When we hop mediums, we need only learn the new tools or “rules” of the medium.

Another tricky thing about identifying oneself so narrowly as an artist (Ex. “I am an actor”), is that it can cause the artist to mentally rule out other possibilities and potential–like writing or directing, teaching or producing.

Nearly everyone in the field of theatre, began in an acting class. Acting classes are the window into the medium. Many leave acting to pursue directing, design, producing, writing, technical theatre, stage management, etc. Once again, change is represented. One who begins in an acting class and discovers a passion for directing or design is not a “failed actor”. They are creative artists who direct or design.

Most artists today cannot afford to think in such a limited fashion. There are not enough professional opportunities to do so. The markets are over saturated. We need to be teaching our artists to have “a wider directional perspective”. Rather than thinking about what opportunities exist in a narrow sort of thinking, (ex. Do these few things, via these few paths to find work in your medium), we need to teach them to broaden their perspectives and ask the question, “What can I do with my skill sets”? What opportunities exist? Where are there needs to be filled? What gives me joy? What are ALL of my interests? How do I synthesize my many interests, into a single endeavor?

Such a line of thinking and practice will lead to more artists with unique voices. New aesthetics will emerge. Greater innovation will occur and these students and graduates will dramatically increase their potential to make a living via their creativity.

Jim Hart currently serves as the Director of Arts Entrepreneurship at SMU. Hart is the founder of The International Theatre Academy Norway

Originally posted at The Hart Technique on Posted on September 9, 2010

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4 Responses to Is Your Identity Defined by What You Do?

  1. juju says:

    Being an artist can be very broad: one can write, direct, etc and be an artist.

    I have finally realized that I am indeed happiest married to my art. It’s wierd, but so is Priest’s vowing celibacy, or men loving men, etc. Some people have a very strong calling. It’s good to admit that.
    Work can be very fulfilling. I know a dentist who prefers to work than to lie on the beach. And so on.

  2. Heather says:

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