The Artist Within

As a young child in art class, I saw that the tree I had drawn didn’t look like the trees the other students had drawn. I concluded that I wasn’t creative. For decades thereafter, I limited my definition of creativity to things like quilting or painting ceramics. Because others seemed to do handcrafts more artfully than I could, I kept saying I wasn’t artistic. Even when people told me they saw a great deal of creativity in what I was doing, I dismissed those thoughts as untrue.

Over the years, friends began to step up and challenge me when I said I wasn’t an artist. They would point out to me how artistry showed up in my work as a teacher, as a writer, as a cook providing meals for others, and in the way I decorated, entertained, and welcomed people into my home. Reflecting and reframing caused me to open up my understanding of artistry to a much broader definition. I now see my artistry occurring any time I move beyond myself in a purposeful endeavor or in service and contribution.

Among the Five Aspects of Self that I’ve identified, the Artist is the one that many of us honor the least. At the same time, the Artist is the aspect of self that can provide us the greatest fulfillment in a life of discovery. The Artist’s job is to create and contribute in the world, and every person’s Artist can find expression in an infinite variety of ways, once we recognize it’s there.

When I write, my hope is that the material I create will serve others in some way. I know my Artist is in an inspired state when I am highly engaged, focused, oblivious to what is going on around me, unaware of time, and working at the upper edges of my abilities. You can probably think of times when this has happened to you, too. This state is referred to as flow. Flow is the opposite of being bored, watching the clock tick, wondering what to do, worrying about the future, and feeling disconnected. Flow is a highly desirable state that can be reached through many forms of activity. It is a hallmark of living in your artistry because, when you are in flow, you move beyond your awareness of yourself.

Therapists experience flow when they are completely present and able to say just the right words to support a client on the journey toward insight and growth. My 86-year-old friend who’s been a waiter for many years is in flow when he waits on tables and works to provide an enjoyable experience for the patrons and friends who return week after week because of his excellent service. The young math teacher is in flow during her 50-minute class for high school juniors when she stretches to use just the right number of examples and real-life connections to help her students understand abstract concepts. When I’m cooking and lose myself in the colors and aromas of the food, being in that flow state provides a pleasant pause that often brings new clarity about what I’m writing.

With time and practice, my Artist helps me to develop my signature for developing my signature for developing in the world.

Barbara A. Bernard

© Barbara A. Bernard