A couple of years ago, I was at AIMS in Graz, a summer program in southern Austria (for which purpose I started this blog!). Part of the purpose of summer programs is the accelerated course of learning that young musicians receive at them, and I learned a lot that summer. As is my typical way, I struggled a lot with my own ideas of correctness and wanting my colleagues to think I was good. As I do now, I had to be reminded to just go out there and “tell my story,” as my friend Jonathan put it. It worked. Those performances were so free.

At an AIMS Liederabend

At an AIMS Liederabend

At our incredibly emotional farewell party, I approached Andrea to say goodbye. I was already pretty weepy (AIMS is where I started crying more) when she hugged me and kissed my head. “Sara!” she exclaimed. “You fully realized artist, you!” I laughed. Me? Really? She bent down a little further (Andrea is tall and elegant, and I am pretty small), looked me in the eyes, and said, “You see? You can do this. You ARE doing this. You DO this.”

I’ve held onto those words for a couple of years; I wrote them on an index card and hung them on a line of twine where I hang all the encouraging notes I receive. They’re still hanging there where I can see them. But to be honest, I’ve never really taken them super seriously.

“Artist” is a word that tends to carry some weight. It’s got clout. I’ve always believed that I am not really an artist — I’m too young, and I care too much about what other people think. When I get a little older, or when I can sing uninhibited by my own ideas of others’ opinions, or both — maybe then I’ll be an artist, I think.

Really, being an “artist” is kind of a nebulous thing. This word defies definition. Maybe that’s why I’ve been so hesitant to call myself one: I’m not entirely sure what it means.

But a couple of weeks ago, I was in the practice room when it hit me:

I truly am a real, live artist.

This seems a little silly when I write it down, but the kind of silly that makes me grin. Me! An artist! I’m not entirely sure what it means to be one. But the only requirement for being an artist is this:

To be an artist, you must make art.

It sounds fairly self-explanatory. But there’s a difference between just singing and making art. That’s probably why I’ve been so hesitant to call myself an artist. I know that my singing tends to be wrapped up in concerns about technique. I get in my own head and forget to make music. My teacher and coach, as well as all the other professors, are constantly calling me out on this. I am in a season of practicing not thinking about it so much: I actually go into the practice room and try to “just do it” — just sing, not analyze or judge.

I’m learning to embrace my artistic identity as I learn to care a little less. I think they’re directly linked. The less we try to control it, the more we are simply doing what we love, the more likely we are to create something beautiful. The freer we are, the more freely we can create. And this makes us free to make art.

The less concerned I am with sounding good, the better I sound. It’s an oxymoron, but it’s true.

The less bothered I am by a bad sentence, the freer I am to go back and change it later.

The freer I am, the more beauty I can create. More art.

As I grow as a singer, I want to grow as an artist, too. I want to be free to create — to really make music. To really sing. And as a writer, too, I want to stop trying to control my words, and just write what is true and encouraging and life-giving.

Our ability to create is directly related to how little we care about our own control.

And we want to create.

So let’s care a little less. Let’s free ourselves from the expectations of those around us. Let’s realize that it’s all in our head, anyway.

And let’s create.