I love when people ask me, “Are you an artist?”

These days, it happens often as guests and staff at the Distant Relatives Ecolodge in Kilifi pass by my public work spaces: an outdoor pizza oven and a formerly-blank wall in the communal kitchen. Someone will stop, watch me work for a while, and then ask: “Are you an artist?”

It strikes me as a particularly odd question in this context, since I am, quite obviously, making art.

Photo Credit: Ivan Ziccardi Brogna

And I don’t know how to answer. Only in the last year have I begun to identify as “A Writer,” and that is an occupation in which I have a lot more confidence. But artist? My grades in High School Art were middling, and I haven’t taken a class since. Maybe because of that, or maybe because I could never draw with the easy accuracy of my desk-mates, I have never thought of myself as a “Good Artist.”

Yet there I am, very clearly and very boldly creating massive pieces of art. Are we what we do and make, then, or are we only our self-professed identities?

Usually I answer evasively, saying, “Well, I’m creative, and I like to make things… no, not exactly, but if you give me a blank wall and free reign I will definitely paint on it…”

Maybe I should just say yes, though.

Look what happened when I started calling myself a writer. Nothing changed—I wrote before, and I continued to write after—but I began to identify more deeply with my work, and take more pride in it, too. My words are not merely something I produce; they are a part of me. I am a writer.

That is a powerful shift.

If I am what I create, and I find myself making art, then what stops me from calling myself an artist? High School? If I followed that logic, there are many things I would not be today.

So. Here I am, making art. I am an artist. The plums and ochres and teals and terracottas I mix are a part of me—as I am a part of them. The broken glass I piece together, too—bottle green and cobalt seeping into my thoughts. I stand for hours a day with my face inches from a bursting array of hues. I spend longer meditating on color than I do meditating on my mat, and with fuller concentration to boot! I am utterly absorbed in this work.

I am creating something that will remain here long after I have moved on. That feeling is immensely satisfying.

So. Here I am, a writer and an artist—and a dancer, too—inking my inner world on paper and canvas, by pen and brush and keyboard and broken glass.

…Why?

Now that is a story for another day…

***