Fears of an Artist

Photo by: Rena Naltsas

Every time I sit down to create, there is an audience of people in front of me.  My parents, my siblings, close friends and mentors are in the front row.  Behind them, co-workers, casual friends, relatives.  Behind them, clients, acquaintances, distant relatives.  Some days, it seems as though the auditorium is endless, and every single person I’ve ever known will at some point read what I’m about to write, witness what I’m about to create, and compare the product to who they believe me to be.  Sometimes, the two are aligned.  Often times, they are not.

I work in an industry that thrives off the concept of boxes: Advertising.  We as marketers and advertisers fit people, products, concepts, ideas into boxes and package them for the world to see.  We set the rules, we tell you how and where each product or person is acceptable, and we point out where it is out of place.  We give it colors, we give it a name, we give it a voice, and then we tell you how you should feel about it.  We make difficult things easy to understand.  We help you.  We organize the idea so you don’t have to.

As both an artist and a marketer, I’ve come to learn that the real challenge in expression is balancing who you (as an artist or a brand) truly are with who the world perceives you to be.

Because one person knows me as Cole the Marketer, since I work in advertising.  And another knows me as Cole the Writer, because they read what I write.  And another knows me as Cole the Musician, because they remember me playing the piano for my school in 6th grade.  And another knows me as Cole the Songwriter, because they were part of my close circle of friends in college.  And another knows me as Cole the Fitness Model, because they’ve trained with me in the gym.  And the ones in the gym with me don’t always know that I’m also a musician.  And the people who have heard me play music don’t know that I work in advertising.  And my advertising co-workers don’t know that I recorded an entire rap mixtape in my closet when I was 19.  And the kids I produced rap songs with don’t know that I have several unfinished novels on my laptop.  And my writing teachers don’t know that somewhere on the Internet are pictures of me with my shirt off, talking about how to put on muscle.  And the list goes on and on and on.

The fear of the artist is that everyone will see everything—and no one will understand.  That one day, your marketing friends will find out what your fitness friends know, and your fitness friends will find out what your music friends know, and your music friends will find out what your writing friends know, and suddenly each person’s concept of YOU and what you are supposed to be, shatters.  They don’t know what box to put you in.  And as a result, they no longer understand you.

When I was 20 years old, I went on a spirituality retreat in college, up to the Colorado mountains with about 10 other students and a teacher.  We stayed at a lodging house for monks and spent 3 days meditating and journaling with each other.  At the end of the weekend (we had all gotten to be very close friends, very quickly) we shared with each other what we thought, what we had come to learn—about ourselves and about those around us.  And one of the girls, I will never forget this, told me, “I don’t know how to explain it, but you are just Cole.  You have no box.  You just Are.”

The irony is that, for every artist, it is the combination of conflicting interests that gives for lasting value and the freedom to re-imagine yourself over and over again.  What makes me a good health and fitness marketer are my years spent training in the gym.  What makes me a good writer are my years spent blogging online as a teenager.  What makes me a good Copywriter are my years studying rap and poetry.  What taught me discipline was gaming.  What taught me the melody of language was piano.  And what taught me how to help market other people’s stories was the exploration of my own.

I believe wholeheartedly in the importance of constantly reflecting and setting new goals.  After recently moving apartments, I’ve felt a need to reassess my goals and direction and shift my focus.  One of the roots that I am going to explore is this idea of owning who you are, through and through.  We as artists, people who devote time and energy and care into shaping our lives, often withhold some of our most valuable qualities.  We fear being seen.

I also believe that merely saying what you want to do does not bring upon change.  Practice and execution is the only thing that brings about change, whether it be an external or internal desire.  So to practice this idea of owning all that I am, I am returning to this blog.  This is not just fitness Cole or marketer Cole or music Cole or writing Cole or self-development Cole or gamer Cole or any Cole someone believes me to be.  This is simply Cole.  Me. 

Me is my box.

Place Me wherever you wish.