Chicken or Egg? (An Existential Crisis)

Ah, the eternal question. The eternal answer: I don’t know. Does anyone know what came first? Does anyone know what comes first in life and art? I mean, according to Ayin? Ha ha ha. Well, in art, it seems the obvious answer would be the work itself. A lot of artists say that. But it’s not. Not exactly.

I’m an existentialist at heart. I came to be one after a chaotic childhood, then another life of strict beliefs (“knowing” answers to everything), then a tearing down of knowing absolutely nothing in a world with no meaning. After that, I began a ten-year study of everything I could get my hands on about psychology, sociology, philosophy, and art. It was a crazy ride that coincided with fifteen years of intense therapy. It took a while to findmyself. I’m still discovering and learning, and I don’t think I’ll ever stop. I can’t. 

But during the time life fell apart, it was terrible. Life wasn’t worth living, and I was floating in the ether. It was in that existential crisis when I started to realize that I needed to assign some kind of meaning to my life and my art because I wasn’t able to play drums anymore. My identity was very wrapped up in being a musician before that, despite the fact that I was also a painter. I was both. And now I was just the one thing with a disability trying to re-invent myself. 

At the time, I thought my goal was to be a “successful artist.” Pretty general. It took some time to understand how to unwrap what all that meant and how to go about it. I finally had to ask myself what the purpose of being an artist was before I could reset my goals. All the while, I was still painting instinctually, mind you. That never stopped. It was like medicine or therapy for me throughout dealing with just about everything. 

But after studying more about philosophy and psychology, I realized that meaning actually came even before purpose. Why did I want to exist as an artist? What was the fucking reason? These were two different things, and I’m crazy enough to ask myself these stupid questions.

I told you it was a crisis! I had to define these things, and define them for myself. Maybe you would like to do the same.

Well, first, there was defining the goals. A goal is what you want to do or have. 

Purpose is the intention or aim (what you propose to do). And with this one, you can also ask yourself: what kind of impact do I want to have? 

Meaning is the reason, the significance, the importance, or value. Value is KEY. You can ask yourself: What do I live for? 

And so I asked myself these silly, complicated questions. I went with that for a number of years, defining myself in these terms and breaking down big goals into little ones, then working toward those…

Did it work? Sure, sometimes. Hit and miss. I did make some traction. But I wasn’t applying it necessarily to the work. I was applying it to myself as an artist in a very general sense, and I didn’t have full clarity. Nothing wrong with applying it to being an artist. That’s certainly part of it. I was so close to “getting it,” but here’s what I missed…

Before the goals, before the purpose, before the meaning (and the in the meaning, I had a clue), were my values. Defining these were honestly the key to everything. I promise, it opened it all up for me, and it will for any artist. My values as an artist had to align with my actual work. Operating as an artist (as in working within a career and business) is a bit different. It does have some overlap, but the work comes first, and that work must be authentic.

Sound like a no-brainer? Like a simple task? It can be. Or maybe not? It can be difficult if you get caught up in the “shoulds.” Some people think they should have certain values, according to their mom. Do a little soul-searching first. Think about what you want your art to representmy unsolicited advice, of course.

Start with a giant list of all the things that are the most meaningful and important to you. What qualities would you like to be known for? Then, hone it down to your top five (or better yet, your top three). Those will be your Core Values. I swear, once you find those, you’ll feel a huge boost of inspiration and feel a fire under your assa motivation toward working on the rest. It gives you a new focus on your work, and it will begin to shut out a fair amount of the comparison voices. Those voices that might be keeping you up at night about what other “hip” artists are doing.

You can even reevaluate them every year or so, or change them whenever you feel like it! For me, authenticity is high up there on my list. Originality is important, too. Vulnerability and candid expression are neck and neck for third. 

Operating as a business, as much as I hate that word, can be a little different. You might have slightly different values, but they should probably align with the values regarding your work for the most part. You’ll have an easier time if they do. Values like integrity, professionalism, honesty, flexibility, kindness, etc. I’m sure you can come up with many and how they pertain to working with others, how you want to conduct your business and whatnot. 

Once you have your core values in place, everything else will be so much easier. You can’t know the meaning of your purposes and goals, or set your priorities and policies (another blog post coming up) without knowing what your values are. In fact, knowing exactly what you want is seriously half the battle to being successful. 

Then you can look at the definitions of meaningpurpose, and set your goals while streamlining them and The Plan, because next will be some extended writingyour personal (artist) and business mission statements! (Oh jeez, are you kidding?!) Don’t worry. I’ll show you how to do these easily. Don’t have a panic attack and throw up just yet. I’ll make this fun, I promise. Besides, you need to get used to writing about your art and yourself.

2 thoughts on “Chicken or Egg? (An Existential Crisis)

  1. Hannah December 7, 2022 / 11:02 am

    Beautiful. Thank you.

    And the chicken came first, obviously. Wait, no…

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