The Magic of Being An Artist

By Kirsten Benjamin

“Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy.”

My grandmother keeps an illustrated copy of Is There A Santa Claus? near the fireplace each year. Christmas was my favorite time of year growing up, and looking back, I know it’s because everything felt like magic. I loved the stories, I loved the sense that anything was possible—a large man in a red suit somehow made it down each chimney in the world in one night, delivering happiness on a sleigh led by flying reindeer. Why the heck not? When you’re a kid, there’s no reason to question it. Even well after the time I knew that Santa was more of a concept than a person, I still searched for outlets that made me feel like anything was possible. I knew from an early age I was going to dedicate my life to keeping a sense of magic inside of me alive.

The first time I came out to Los Angeles, I got the same feeling: there was magic everywhere. Granted, maybe that was because I was wearing shorts and I came from Chicago where each year you have to dig out your driveway from under ten feet of snow, and I attended college in frigid Milwaukee where boots were a necessity, not a fashion statement. Whatever it was, I felt it. I had an overwhelming sense of excitement passing each palm tree. This is where the magic happens. This is where the stories that shape millions of lives, including my own, come to life. I felt the surge of energy all over Hollywood Blvd., even though my dad kept lamenting there wasn’t a safe place to park our car.

It can be difficult to hold on to this sense of magic. The holidays, which once brought me so much excitement as a child, are often a time I find myself as an adult comparing my life to everyone else’s that seem to be more “on track.” Being an artist is hard. We have to work jobs we don’t always want to pay the bills and sometimes we are so exhausted at the end of the day it’s easy to get into the mindset that your dreams aren’t worth it. Coming from the Midwest, I can attest that there are many people back home who think I am crazy for pursuing a lifestyle that is so impractical. I was speaking with a co-worker the other day (who is also from my neck of the woods) about what life would be like if we weren’t artists. There would be regular hours…and steady paychecks. There would be the daily grind and then Tuesday soccer leagues, book clubs, and every Friday night at the local bar. Safe, predictable, and steady. Not to say that there is anything wrong with this life—there have been numerous times since I made the move to LA that this life of routine has seemed a very comforting alternative. But it’s not sustainable to the creative mind. Artists need to be around other artists, people who say “well, why the heck not?” instead of “how is that probable?” and “that’s too risky.”

Artists are storytellers. I have gravitated towards writing, acting, and directing my whole life because imagining and creating something new, and getting others excited about it, has always made me want to get out of bed in the morning. No matter what life throws at you as an artist, you have your art to get you through it. We can create when we are happy; we can build off of our pain when we are sad. We have that outlet. And what can be even more important—we can use our art to help others do the same. Without the ‘impractical’, all that is left is the practical.

“Alas! How dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence.”

This holiday season, remember your childlike sense of wonder. Remember why creating makes you excited to be alive. Remember the reasons why the artist’s life called to you in the first place—so when some distant relative leans across the table, with a half eaten turkey leg hanging out of their mouth, and asks the dreaded question, “So, when are you gonna be on the TV?”—-remember that you are an artist—and there is nothing trivial about that. We keep the magic alive.

Thank God for artists. May they live, and may they live forever.

Photo Credit: Alvin Trusty, Flicker