Unconditioning What You “Should” Be

Emerging as an Artist

by Lauren McKinnon

An interesting question not often thought about when using the tactic “think outside the box” is: how did I get in this box in the first place? In many situations, we find ourselves in boxes-feeling like we need to “be” something, like we need to label ourselves in some way. As I navigate through my first phase of adulthood, I’ve realized slowly it’s me, mostly, who puts myself in these boxes.

I spent years, as many teens do, trying to curate strong labels for myself. I was an athlete, I was outgoing, I was smart. These are things that I was, things that I am. It took me time to realize we are all far more than the labels we are given or chosen. During these years, placing myself into these boxes only made me confused. Labeling myself “smart” made it increasingly harder to ask for help. Labeling myself “outgoing” made sadness feel wrong and embarrassing. “Being” an athlete often made me think I couldn’t share my passions for creativity. I felt like these were the things I “should” be. This created a void-and a confusing one. I was all these “great” things, then why was I still not content? Keeping myself in boxes made me unable to see my full potential.

While transitioning through the changes that come with late teen years and early 20s, these labels began to blur. I wanted to know more about who I really want to be-without self proclaimed or undesired labels. I realized my desire to break out of these boxes. I realized my passion for one thing doesn’t have to take love from another. Mostly, I realized that I could “be” and do whatever I wanted-for however long I wanted-and I didn’t have to label it at all, I could just do, and that was wonderful.

Becoming a part of FabNewport made stepping out of these boxes all the more easier. Joining the team shortly after my graduation in May of ‘21, the last year and a half has been a liberating year. Entering a space where every idea is nurtured, never scoffed at, was, and is, liberating. In The Fab Lab, the fear of judgment is alleviated. Every learner, maker, staff member are given the resources and support they need to ride their waves of inspiration. Falling into place at The Fab Lab changed my view of what I am, and what I can do.

Over the course of the summer, I found myself painting more than I had in all four of my college years. Two, three paintings a week. I began to feel a feeling I had forgotten. A feeling I remember feeling when I was young-it was a feeling of innate pride. The joy in creating something and the pride in finishing it. I’d lost my fear of critique without even realizing. Critiques of myself, and my work. I am who I am, and I realized no one needed to give me permission to “be” something. I am an artist-whether anyone knows, anyone cares or anyone likes it, it simply ceased to matter. And I love, and care about it. And I now feel bad for the Lauren who didn’t know that is all that matters.

Early August, I set a goal for myself to sell my work by my 24th birthday in early November. Weeks after that, without the inventory for it, I signed up to be an art vendor at the October 2022 Broadway Street Fair. I spent the following month painting every free minute I had, and attempting to warm my very cold feet. I had to remember the boxes I put myself in were not for me anymore, and I had to continue to burn them. I found that fighting through the fear of failure, of judgment, was the only way I was going to be the Lauren I want to be. After weeks of worry, and a few dozen moments of imposter syndrome, I sold half of the series of paintings I brought to The Fair, with two commissions currently underway.

If you had asked me two years ago for a piece of advice, I would have shrugged. Now, I’d urge all to join the journey I’m on. Rid yourself of the labels that don’t serve you anymore. Push through the uncomfort of starting something new or nerve racking. Recognize that riding a wave of inspiration, no matter how fleeting, is never a waste. It’s the opposite, it’s what builds us into unique, passion driven beings. You don’t have to “be” a surfer to go out and ride a wave. You don’t need to “be” an artist to create something beautiful. But you certainly won’t know what makes you feel like the best you, until you try. Get on the board. Try your best to catch a wave. Maybe show your art at a street fair-one day you might become the artist you always hoped, but never allowed yourself to be.

Lauren McKinnon, FabNewport Community Specialist & Director of Communications. 2021 graduate of Salve Regina University, B.A. in Sociology, Anthropology, and Philosophy