Funnily enough, there was a point in my life when I considered myself an artist.
I went to an arts high school for five years and studied creative writing. It could have been the best of times, but more often, it was the worst of times. I loved art. I still love art, but I didn’t love art school — two things I didn’t realize were separate until very recently.
When I lugged around the title of artist, I wore fist-sized strawberry earrings and had a full head of pink hair. If you don’t believe me, it’s still on my student ID – though not in my high school graduation photos. My dad photoshopped this horrible brown cast over my hair before he saved them and sent them to my Japanese grandparents.
When I was in high school, I wanted to have my own persona. I wanted to be Annalise: that great writer or Annalise: that girl with amazing art. I was always pushing myself to be the most unique. After all, at the core of every great artist is the ability to present a perspective of the world that’s divisive, progressive and innovative — all those things that really just boil down to one word: different.
By the end of my senior year, I got to a point where my identity wasn’t even anything tangible, it was just a vague conception of what I thought it meant to different. Like any artist, I thought I was special because no one was able to understand me and the slew of emotions that I vomited into my writing, but at the same time I craved the validation of my peers. This dichotomy, which I’d like to attribute to arrogance and teenage hormones, is what drives most artists to insanity and ear laceration.
I thought that if I continued to identify as an artist, I would be alone. I thought I would be locked up in some studio cutting off my hair, worshipping Marina Abramović and calling my parents for rent money. So when I got to college, I tried peeling that “artist” label off myself. I tried to stop poisoning myself with oil paints, turpentine and self-indulgent poetry. I took down all the postcards I got at art museums and writers conferences. I wanted to rid myself of all those things I had used to make myself seem different.
In college, I was struck with how much comfort I found in living a life without art. Now that I wasn’t in art school, the obsession with being different fizzled away. There was no apparent benefit in sticking out. On the contrary, blending in helped me avoid the inherent criticism that had come with pretending to be Annalise: an artist. I could show up, do my work well and go home. Maybe make a few friends and binge drink on the weekends if I was feeling particularly bold. I was happy being that girl you sat next to once in lecture whose name you forgot even after meeting them several times.
Now I wear a T-shirt and jeans everyday and my hair is back to a dull brown — a boxed-dye attempt to cover up the bright pink that I once had. I even carry a plain blue JanSport backpack with no pins. (Can you believe it? People are just going to have to figure out my passions and political views some other way.)
Nevertheless, as I attempted to strip myself of what I thought had made me an artist, there remained this part of me that I couldn’t quite get rid of. Everywhere I looked — introspectively and externally — I found pieces of a person who couldn’t be understood without art. I couldn’t bear to actually throw away those postcards I got at art museums and writers conferences. I still couldn’t help but to buy — and read from cover to cover — Rupi Kaur’s “Milk and Honey.”
Because I can’t seem to separate myself from art completely, I’ve decided to write about it (something an artist would do, I know. I’m chuckling too). I’ve come to realize that these artists are part of me — like my teeth, my stomach and my large intestine. All coiled up, fleshy, and necessary in helping me digest the world.
So that’s what brings me to the goal of this column. To try and figure out when all these artists got stuck inside of me, driving me to become what employers like to call “a creative type” (or “unemployable” as career counselors like to tell me).
Maybe it was when my dad took me to LACMA as a kid every month.
Maybe it was when my mom turned our house into a studio.
Maybe it was when I applied to art school.
(It was probably when I applied to art school.)
Annalise Kamegawa writes the Thursday arts & entertainment column on a life of shifting artistic identities. Contact her at [email protected].