Johan Marais-Piper


“The meaning of life is that is to be lived.” — Bruce Lee

I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of identity.

I remember spending many angst-ridden teenage nights laying awake in my bedroom, melancholy, overcome with this urge of knowing who I am. It must have been puberty, or a Fine Arts degree, or maybe hippy parents. I’d stare out the window hoping the midnight wind would answer in some Zen Koan. But, the universe didn’t answer.

Life goes on, I got older, I learn lessons, I gain some kind of wisdom.

Fast forward another 15 years and I am understanding that an identity isn’t something to be discovered, it is something that is built. There seems to be a fair few writers and philosophers that seem to think so, Bruce Lee is one example (yes, he is a philosopher too). It makes sense. I’m paraphrasing here, based on a TED talk his daughter gave recently, but Bruce said “I am means, and there are only means”. By that he is suggesting that your actions define who you are. It’s how you do things that is most important, not why nor what.

In this way to build an identity is like building a habit, the more you do a particular thing, the more you are one who does that particular thing. Seems simple enough idea right? But a pretty tough one to execute if you are inclined to entertain a bit of self doubt every now and then… erm, like me.

Personally I can struggle with saying that I am “an artist”, because my bias says “you aren’t an artist unless you sell your works for $x,” or “unless you are famous for your art”. Wowsers, what a limiting belief eh? This is basically tying an identity to a marker. A million dollar painting or huge following on instagram. Are these the right metrics?

What if instead I approach it like this: an artist is one who practices art. That’s it. One who practices art. A person is x if they do x. This is just as, if not even more, true a statement.

I am means, and there are only means.

Identity is in the consistent action and not the recognition. It’s in the consistent doing, not the thinking. It’s fluid and dynamic, and by that same token, it expires. Doesn’t matter if you’re any good, you just have to do it and do it often. Consistency is key. Otherwise I’d have interpretive dancer on my business card. Nope, once at primary school was enough.

So herein lies the problem. My current struggle with saying I am an artist is that I’ve not really created art in a while. Johan the artist is a past ghost fading away in the midst the daily grind. The answer is simple enough. If I want to be an artist, practice and make art. Hence the birth of this blog. I’m doing it not for the money nor the followers. I’m doing it for the practice of art and creation. Slowly, but surely, reclaiming the identity I wished for in my teenage emo days.

Let me say this one more time so that I may tattoo this into my memory… be a doer. Identity through action.

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