A few months ago, my friend Devin paid me the best compliment I’ve ever received: “You are a life artist. Everything you do is a work of art.”
I don’t know if this is true, but I do know that I want it to be true. So much so, in fact, that I updated my social media profiles to include the above designation. And I’ve noticed that thinking of myself as a life artist has been a self-fulfilling prophecy in certain ways: I live my life with more intention, I focus more on my creative work, I think more about where my time is going.
Still, when my friend Ivy suggested I write a blog post on how to be a life artist, I didn’t know where to start. So I went back to Devin for some pointers, then came up with the below:
1. Think of existence as your medium.
Some artists use oil on canvas. Others use mixed media. Still others sing or play an instrument. For a long time I struggled to call myself an artist, even though I felt like one, because in my mind, I was “just” a writer. Identifying as a life artist has shifted how I think about art. There’s art in how I carefully plate a meal even when I’m the only one who will see it. There’s art in how I dance-clean my apartment to Quiet Riot’s “Cum on Feel the Noize.” There’s art in how I send people the love of the universe in my head (especially when they unwittingly respond with a text shortly thereafter). It’s all art, if you’ll let it be.
One practical way I put this into action is by doing one new thing each day, a practice I started on New Year’s Day 2016 and highly recommend. It helps me set a daily intention and live more deliberately.
2. Love life.
Oh, no big deal, you say sarcastically. Or at least you do if you’re me a year and a half ago.
I spent a long time merely existing. Sure, there were stretches of actual life from time to time, but they were nearly always driven by outside forces: falling in love, achieving something that looked good on paper, taking a trip abroad, etc.
I’ve written elsewhere about what has changed for me over the past year or so, but I’m not sure I’ve ever said outright that the end result of all of those changes has been that, for the first time ever, I love being alive. And I love life in a way that isn’t dependent on the quality of a particular day, or being in a romantic relationship, or what’s on my calendar for the next month. I still get stressed, I still have petty grievances, and I still spiral sometimes. But overall, I’m operating on a higher plane now, and I think it frees up a lot of mental space to live artfully. It was very hard work, both on my own and in therapy, to get here — but ultimately very worth it.
I reinforce this daily by listening and relistening to audiobooks that reinforce my desire for growth and positivity and help me let go of things that get in the way of it. (I have learned to be at peace on a crowded MTA car and nothing can take that away from me.)
3. Do everything in the most “you” way possible.
Life artistry is about being both creative and authentic. Remember on the date auction episode of Saved By the Bell when Lisa Turtle is trying to impress that intellectual named Brian? “What is art?” she asks, ditching fashion for philosophy. “Are we art? Is art art?” That version of Lisa? Is so not life art.
In general, though, Lisa is a great example of a life artist. Hurt your ankle right before the big dance contest? Invent a new move called “The Sprain.” Get a fresh new wardrobe? Show it off to your friends by jumping out of a food cart. Hear the annoying dude who likes you approaching? Without looking up from your reading, loudly announce that “Lisa no en casa.”
Put your own spin on things as mundane as walking to the subway. Overshare slightly with strangers you encounter and see what you learn from them in return. If you feel like wearing a white tuxedo jacket to a Wednesday morning meeting, go for it.
4. Embrace your idiosyncracies.
When I asked Devin for examples of my life artistry, he said, “Your idiosyncrasies that are clearly, and some times even irreverently, displayed to the public — not really to make a statement, but just to live the way you feel like living.”
Some of my idiosyncrasies: wearing a lot of hats and animal ears, being absurdly into holidays, various New Age tendencies, getting a tattoo based on two Eckhart Tolle quotes after receiving a sign from the universe. Yours might be totally different! (I kind of hope they are.)
Be your own version of Jerry Spinelli’s Stargirl. Think eternally. As Mignon McLaughlin said, “Every society honors their live conformists and their dead troublemakers.” There is only one you. There is no one else who care share your unique gifts with the world. Holding back out of fear doesn’t serve anyone.
These are a few ways I try to embody the role of life artist. What are some of yours?