Struggling with my “Artist” Identity

All photos by Anna Mayer Photo

One of the scariest and most embarrassing things ever is calling myself an “artist.”

When children are little, most parents don’t dream of their children becoming artists. Most parents would prefer their child become a doctor, lawyer, engineer or some other job that is stable and always in demand.

My parents always encouraged the arts as a child, paying for private art lessons and training us in art history. However, that was never the intended career path.  While I have always felt supported in my choices, there were conversations, hints, and “vision casting” for my life that usually involved something other than art.


For the first 15 years of my life, I wanted to be an OBGYN (everyone always thinks I’m insane). That was my very serious dream until high school chemistry nearly crippled me. When I got involved in speech and debate in high school my focus started to shift to law. All the while I had been painting and drawing several days a week since I was two years old.

Being an artist as a career, never crossed my mind for one glaring reason: being an artist is embarrassing and only egotistical, delusional people try and pursue it as a career. Even though the truth is that I can think of countless artist that I admire and respect.

Guess what guys? I am a professional artist. I make a little better than average salary for someone of my age and location solely from my art. I think that means, since it’s my full-time job and income source that I qualify as a professional. And I have major imposter syndrome.

While I love what I do and hope I never have to change careers, I still find myself twinge with embarrassment and shame when someone asks “what do you do?” and I say, “I’m an artist.”


Here are the reasons I cringe at the “a” word:

  1. Others perception

When I tell someone that I’m an artist I’m usually met with one of several responses.

  •  “Oh, how fun!” combined with a, * how precious smile* Followed by no more questions
  •  “Oh..ok, so you don’t have like a real job, you get to play all day.” This is maybe the most insulting because nothing could be further from the truth. My days are not spent all day doodling in a studio sipping coffee and doing whatever I want. The majority of my days a long, and spent researching, promoting, in meetings, writing contracts, dealing with prints, shipments, deliveries, restocking, and collaborations. I’m very often on my computer working while my husband and I are watching a movie in the late evenings. This is the hardest job I’ve ever had because not only is it self-regulated, it’s also 24/7 customer service.
  • “Oh interesting, and you think you can make a living doing that?” I don’t think, I know I am making a living doing that. This one just makes me laugh because not only is it just rude, it’s usually not even worth explaining to these people the truth.
  • “That’s so cool! What kind of art do you do?” This response is actually really encouraging and is my favorite, because even if they don’t understand my art or like my style, they at least are opening the door of communication and willing to have a conversation without belittling my choices.

2. I don’t have an art degree.

I have a degree in journalism because the plan was to get a journalism degree, then go to law school then eventually be either a lawyer or broadcast journalist. That didn’t happen. And even though I have been privately trained in drawing and painting and was taught everything my mother knows about art history. (She was an art history major at UCLA) I still feel inferior in my field because I don’t have a piece of paper that says I’m not. I still think about going to art school, but honestly, I think a business degree would be more helpful at this point.

3. The comparison game is a killer.

Unlike being an aspiring lawyer who has to pass the BAR in order to practice law. There are so many ways to become an artist. There are so many people who call themselves an “artist” that practice very differently. Some are merely hobbyists who paint in the evenings and on weekends, some of these people may sell their art at craft shows or in coffee shops, some of them may keep their pieces or give them away for free to friends. Other artists may be trained professionals with Ph.D.’s and teach at a university. Other artists maybe went to art school, or didn’t and have successful art businesses and do gallery showings and bring in a profitable income.  There are so many different kinds of “artists.” And knowing what category you fall into is a constant choice. Comparing oneself to other artists is an easy trap to fall into. I’m no stranger to the comparison game and struggle with the identity of, “artist.”

Those are the main reasons I’m embarrassed when I tell someone that I’m an artist. It’s usually the fear that they will misunderstand where I fall in any of these categories. Being an artist isn’t cut and dry. I’m working on taking pride in my title without fear of what others think. This may be a lifelong battle, but at least I love what I’m doing.


Do you face imposter syndrome in your career? Tell me about it below. I’d love to hear how you are dealing with it.


  1. I totally understand( I could write a whole lot about that right now, but I will keep it quick). I think many people, myself included, feel this way. It just most people wont admit it or are not aware of their true feelings!
    I hope, through God’s work in you, you will be able to reconcile these feelings.
    You put out incredible work. I can’t wait to buy a piece!

    1. Author

      Thank you so much, Nikki! Your words of encouragement mean so much! Yes! absolutely, only God’s work in me can help me reconcile these feelings. Thanks for the support friend! Cheers to you!

  2. Thanks for sharing, Christine! I sometimes feel the same since I didn’t get a degree in Photography. Have you read Big Magic? She actually suggests NOT going to school for your art. If the wise Elizabeth Gilbert says it, I believe it! haha

    1. Author

      You are so right Rachel! I did read Big Magic! It was such a good book and so encouraging! Thanks for that reminder!

  3. Wow! I thought I was the only one dealing with Artist identity struggles. I was once considered one of the best artists in my high school, and many people thought that I would pursue a career in art. Yet somehow between high school and college now, I have given up that piece of who I am. While I am very happy pursuing Family and Human Services, I do often wonder if I will ever truly use my artistic gifts in my future. I was faced with responses from people as you mentioned that discouraged me from cultivating my artistic gifts. I, too, felt embarrassed to be pursuing art. Thank you for putting words to those feelings for me.

    1. Author

      Hey Abigail, I totally understand. I think a lot of artists feel that way. I hope you dont give up on it forever! I hope you start to practice again if only for your own pleasure!

  4. I’m currently an art student right now in my first semester (majoring in photography). I’ve been photographing for 2 years now, and I’ve never been more unhappy with where I was in relation to my art. I’ve done two years of general education classes at a community college prior to coming here, and I thought that coming to art school would mean learning everything I needed to know as a photographer to make money, but also to explore my own personal endeavors as an artist. This is not the case, I just left my 8:30 class where we’re constructing a Rube Goldberg machine. Which is fun, whatever, but I’m at a point in my journey as an artist where I’m ready for some exploration and deep digging and making some real and good work. I’ve only had two “real” photo assignments this semester, other than that I’ve hardly had a camera in my hands at all because of the workload this school brings. Not to mention the imposter syndrome that can fall upon me when it’s time to present some work. I haven’t stopped questioning whether or not I belong here since I got here. I do not want my dream of becoming a full-time artist such as yourself to slip through my fingers, but I really don’t want to be at this school anymore. I don’t know if anyone will read this, I’ve just been having a bit of a breakdown in my head all day.

    1. Author

      Hey Nick, Sorry to hear you’ve been struggling. I totally understand. I can’t tell you what is right for you, only you can know that. I did drop out of my masters in studio art because it wasn’t serving me the way I wanted, that’s okay and I’m at peace with that. Just as an aside – most art schools do not teach any business skills. Some school are starting to change this, but art school will not teach you how to sell or live off of your work. I’m sorry you’re struggling with art school, I hope you find the answer that is right for you and don’t lose you passion for photography just because you’re in a tough place right now. Hang in there!

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