Claim your Artistic License!

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Artistic License wallet card with text and doodled images of art, music, dancing, writing.

Above is a scan of my own Artistic License card. I designed it with centered text and doodled images representing art, dancing, writing and music on the sides, but you can lay out yours any way that you prefer. Copy my decorations or create your own. For a more official look, find a copyright-free fancy swirls or document border and set your text and signature line within that, or purchase a sheet of fancy-border business cards to print the text on those.

It's 2" x 3 1/2" designed to fit on a business card, but you may want to scale it up to letter size and put yours in a diploma frame. Many print shops have very fancy "diploma" bordered sheets you can get.

The text reads as follows:

Artistic License

Creative and artistic works demand freedom of expression in all areas of life. This license entitles the bearer to dress oddly, think deep thoughts, speak up on controversial issues, goof off, spend long periods of time apparently doing nothing, live on an odd schedule or no schedule at all and ultimately work toward an artistic career that's all play and no work -- or looks like that because the hard work, dedication and effort needed to succeed is so satisfying it looks like play.

Then drop a space or two, type in an underline and center your name under it.

I used 11 point Times Roman bold italic for the heading on my Artistic License and 7 point Arial for the body copy so that it'd fit well on a business card. Work out your version to fit the format within your border, print it out and keep it on your wall or in your wallet. It may look even better with your hand-doodled decorations than a printed diploma-border, since that demonstrates itself. Colored pens, gel pens, glitter pens, metallic pens are all good materials for decorating your Artistic License.

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What's the point of this gag?

A good laugh is enough point for any gag. Beyond that, many jokes carry a message. This one matters because from kindergarten onward, most people have been told they don't have a right to color outside the lines, sing, draw, write, create poetry or recite it. The reason to print out this card and carry it is to remind you that some unspoken rules need to be broken.

You don't have to be Talented to pick up an Artistic License. You need to take the time to make one, sign it and put it in your wallet. You don't need to be good at painting or drawing to learn how to do artistic works. You need to be interested and willing to learn how to do them well.

That is literally all it takes to become an artist with all the social freedom that implies.

You can be the world's lousiest, least talented artist when you start and that won't last the first week -- because some other beginner has a week's less practice than you do and you probably learned something during that week if you drew something and tried. That's all it is. The ability to create great art or music or poetry is inherent in human beings.

You weren't born with your language embedded in your genes. You learned it as an infant and express yourself well in your native language. Art, music, writing are all elaborations on that basic human activity -- the need to communicate. They are instinct-gratifying because humanity's success as a species has a lot to do with our ability to communicate and socially bond.

Society being what it is though, there is a lot of social pressure against anyone taking up the arts even as a hobby. People who are bitter because they were talked out of pursuing their dreams when some trusted expert like a kindergarten teacher or grade school art teacher said they had no talent are jealous and pass on that discouragement.

Especially if your early experiments don't look as good as the somewhat skilled drawings they did that didn't pass muster for whatever emotional reason motivated the discouraging teacher. It's like there's a million chain letters going on in society, a viral discouragement meme of "My dreams were broken and I wasn't Good Enough to learn, so no one who isn't as good as I was when I last tried has the right to learn."

You're good enough to learn. Put any time into it at all and you will learn enough to be better than the worst beginners out there. Your early ugly attempts are no worse than any professional artist's early ugly attempts to draw. The artistic license is a license to learn and grow -- and to claim the social role of artist, writer, musician, whatever your chosen paths of creative expression are.

Once someone has been labeled an Artist and the label is accepted, everything changes. Art, especially visual art, gets a lot of social approval. People who don't know how to draw are seeing magic when you can use a pencil or an oil pastel on a blank page and draw something recognizable. You will be regarded as more of an expert the better you become at rendering what you see and gain all the social privileges mentioned in the Artistic License.

It has to do with stereotypes. Not all artists dress oddly, but any who do are not usually challenged or bugged about it if they wear caftans, paint-stained jeans or wearable art vests. That aspect is also in many situations a license to dress for comfort rather than conformity.

People do hold these assumptions about artists. If you're consistently outspoken or prone to social criticism, this is expected when you're known to be an artist. Unrelated topics may be seen differently because you carry that occupational label.

Some of the freedoms listed on the Artistic License are part of the real process of artistic creation. Rumination is an essential stage of painting, drawing, writing or music -- the time you spend doing it can be as fleeting as a half-minute daydream of what a pencil drawing of that bird outside the window would look like or an hour or two of looking at a still life setup mentally rehearsing how to sketch it, what colors to use, what textures would look good in the background, every technical detail of the painting process.

Other people don't often understand that rumination process. It is punished consistently throughout school, from kindergarten onward, but especially in grade school. Staring out the window without paying attention to the teacher will get reprimanded and punished.

For someone artistic, daydreaming is essential to create a painting at all. It's not just about looking for something beautiful and sitting down to paint it, though that can be satisfying and often works. Sometimes it begins with a few minutes folding laundry when your mind wanders to the brush just beyond your yard and how cool a painting the brambles near the fence would make.

It looks like goofing off even to other artists until you mention what you were thinking about.

Thus the Artistic License mentions daydreaming several times in different ways -- thinking deep thoughts, goofing off and spending long periods of time apparently doing nothing.

The more skilled you become, the more of your ruminations lead to good ideas. Ideas for paintings on a theme or portraits that show personality come up when you're already familiar with how to render anything in your box of still life objects and the proportions of a human face. The habit of rumination is a good one to accept right at the beginning, because even the most technical daydreams are real practice.

Your eye needs to learn to see as much as your hand needs to control the pastels. Learning to draw well changes perspective on everything and makes people more observant, in exactly the same way other professions that rest on observation train a human being to notice things that are usually dismissed. A skilled hunter will recognize the pattern a deer's hoofprint makes in the ground from a hole left by a stone tumbling.

Why mention odd schedules or no schedules at all in the Artistic License?

Because art is right brained and intuitive, it doesn't always lend itself to rigid scheduling. Challenges can emerge for the most skilled artists right in the middle of a project, or something can go swimmingly well and be finished in half the expected time. Surprises abound, every single artwork is an exploration into the unknown as well as the practice of familiar skills.

Right brained intuition is not how people respond to schedules and organize things in a linear way. Left-brained logic is what counts more for lists, schedules, routine. An artistic license allows you to live in more right-brained patterns and adapt to less structure in your scheduling.

The benefits of routine are that any habit or routine no longer needs conscious attention. They aren't necessarily time oriented though, what you do often will become invisible.

Some art skills become routine. I no longer think about how to hold a pencil or oil pastel. I watch my grandchildren learning to use crayons and see them try every sort of grip imaginable to make a mark. I know my fingers have been trained to exactly the grip that suits my style of drawing -- it's easily loosened or tightened, I hold the instrument at the right distance from the paper to have maximum control of what I'm doing, it evolved over decades of writing and drawing and relates to the shape of my hand. But I don't have to struggle with it.

I would if I broke my right arm and had to make my left hand do the work, it would take a long time to relearn enough to say, sign my name intelligibly let alone draw anything.

The other social myth the Artistic License busts is the idea that hard work is an unpleasant duty you have to force yourself to perform for an external reward like being paid or complimented. No matter how pleasant daydreams of being appreciated for your art become, they are the icing on the cake. The majority of artists daydream about paintings they want to do someday, ideas they want to pursue, materials they'd enjoy trying.

Hard work isn't hard when you're enjoying yourself.

If you're not cut out to be an artist, maybe you find that pleasure in something else -- driving, riding horses, taking care of people, building things, fixing things, designing computer parts or software. People who make a profession of the activity they enjoy doing most gain two benefits.

They get better at whatever it is because they put more time and attention into it without struggling or being distracted by resentment. They also enjoy life more because they're not wasting most of it doing something they hate.

This Artistic License opens up the possibility that if art has a place in your life, it can become part of your social identity and fewer people will criticize you for not acting more like an accountant on your time off. If you enjoy art at all, you are a natural for it and deserve an Artistic License. If you enjoy it more than anything else, it may be the right direction to spend most of your adult working hours.

Anyone who finds this kind of direction in life, where most of their efforts go into something that has intrinsic rewards (the horse loves you, your patients improve, you're proud of the things you build), faces displaced resentment from anyone who's stuck in a job they hate or even has an occupation where a fair amount of the work is necessary but unpleasant. It's not fair, the real culprit is either their working conditions or a bad decision on what job to pursue in the first place, but that doesn't mean it's not common.

Facing that jealousy and resisting its social pressure takes confidence in both your ability to pursue an artistic career and your ability to create the work itself. Your ability rises every time you do any of it, you can't help learning while playing with the supplies.

When you look at your Artistic License, it's a reminder you made a decision not to just knuckle under to someone else's mind games or avoid being happy because they're in a bad mood. People-pleasing is self destructive and it's so common it's worse than the common cold. It's what everyone expects of everyone else in conformity.

It can be a real shocker to understand the importance of rejecting bad ideas presented by someone whose agenda is for you to fail and be miserable rather than succeed and be happy. Yet people fall for it all the time on the assumption that what's normal is right.

Many artists actively seek a childlike state of mind because it means setting aside the social barriers to experiment and learning. Lightening up, deliberately doing things wrong or weird, making jokes, playing with your materials is a good habit to get into because every time you do, you open up the wellspring of serious creativity. That's why to make your Artistic License whimsical and individual.

So when make your own Artistic License, decorate it with designs that mean something to you, keys to opening up your own creative efforts. Put it in your wallet or hang it on the wall in a diploma frame -- a reminder that your arts are part of who you are -- both socially to everyone you know and internally to who you allow yourself to become.

Enjoy!