Many artists have undergone name changes. Pen names are common enough for authors. But why? What advantage do you get with a pen name?
I’ve thought about the possibility of changing my name professionally, but it never developed into anything more than a thought experiment. There’s nothing wrong with my name, although Wilson isn’t terribly memorable or unique. I thought about including my middle name to be known as Leah Catherine Wilson. Or maybe just Leah C. Wilson. What’s kept me from doing it is the simple fact that I would have to go changing my business cards and everything else that I have associated with my identity as an artist. That sounds like too much of a pain in the ass for something that I am not that invested in doing. That and my name is Leah and I’m fine with that.
But the possibility still lingers in my mind. I have to ask why. What purpose would it serve?
Fleecy Muppet Artist
Myself, as the regular Leah, is very comfortable spending long hours in solitude. I do it well and I relish that I have the opportunity to do so. I go to my studio to paint, then I come out to do some work on the computer for a while. And all along I am wearing studio clothes. Sometimes that would be red scrubs, many sizes too big, rolled up at the waist and smeared with paint. Sometimes it’s Carhartt overalls size 44. Two of me can fit in there with room to spare. My hoodie sweatshirts have holes in them. You get the picture. I’m typically not very stylish. In fact, if I am not working in my studio, I can often be found wearing head to toe fleece, mismatched. I look like a piecemeal Muppet. As I write this it’s 2:30 in the afternoon and I have my purple bathrobe over fleece pants that flaunt a most ridiculous pattern of butterflies, paisley and flowers.
That’s the Leah Wilson that gets the job done in the studio. But Leah Wilson the artist cannot go out in the world looking like that and expect to be taken seriously. So, obviously I don’t. At least not usually.
But there is a deeper issue than just dressing like a Muppet when nobody is around and putting on regular street clothes to go out. It’s an identity issue that can get in the way of getting another type of job done.
Developing a Mojo Wardrobe
I like being alone in the studio. I also like hanging out with a few select people that don’t care about my fleece wardrobe. And if Leah Wilson the artist had her way, that’s all that she would be doing. I’m really good at avoiding things that I don’t like to do when it comes to promoting my art. I don’t like small talk, networking, mingling, schmoozing, gallery openings and everything else that I can possible associate with ‘business.’
That’s why I have contemplated the possibility of a name change. It’s not for making art, but getting it out there in the world. It would be for creating a different character that could go out there and mingle so Leah Wilson the artist wouldn’t have to. But as I mentioned above, my name is my name and I don’t care to change it.
Instead what I change is my appearance. This, by the way, is still in development. I am creating a mojo wardrobe. This is a collection of clothes that I would never wear as regular Leah, the Leah I identify myself as being. There is no fleece at all in this. There is even no room for the black and white striped fingerless gloves that I am wearing right now that say ‘Kick Ass!’ along my knuckles in hot pink capital letters.
A Character Emerges
I tried this out last week. I had tied my stomach in a huge knot over an impending meeting. I needed to convince four individuals sitting at a conference table that I rock. Conference tables aren’t my thing. Nor is a scripted interview in which I was not privy to the script. Part of me wished that I could just get sick so I could avoid the situation altogether. But the other part of me knew that I was being wimpy and started to ridicule the part of me that wanted to avoid the very real possibility of the dreaded R-word: Rejection. I had created an internal battle that equated self-worth, and my very right to call myself an artist with my performance during this interview. I readily handed over the power to decide if I was worthy enough to make art to four people whom I had never met and who knew nothing of me. I tormented myself to no end with this.
I then latched on to the performance part of an interview. Performers put on costumes to get into character. Why couldn’t I? If I were playing a character that I had meticulously prepared for, then that character could be accepted or rejected instead of the Leah that I associate myself as being.
The day before the interview I put together an outfit that I had never worn even though it consisted of clothes that I had worn in the past. I thought it looked professional yet with a hint of artsy. Perfect. And do you know what? It worked. That doesn’t mean that I got what I wanted, because I didn’t. It means that I walked in there, faced those four people sitting there and answered all of their questions calmly, confidently and clearly. I left feeling like I did the best that I could have done within the context of the character that I needed to be for that situation. I untangled the knot in my stomach for a time and got the unpleasant job done.
I felt on top of the world for a very short time just for the fact that I had acted my part well. However, my performance wasn’t accepted by that committee. I had to deal with the big R Rejection after all. But this time it seemed a tiny bit easier. The particular character that I brought to the table wasn’t the one that they wanted for their part. But that had no bearing on Leah the artist that I wanted so desperately to protect by not even showing up in the first place. I had separated myself from the outcome of the experience.
I can’t tell you how many times the wimpy Leah has won. Countless times I have neglected to even show up. I’m not proud of this and I desperately want it to stop. So I’m going to investigate this character thing further. I want to create a wardrobe specifically dedicated to the business side of my art that is in no way connected with what I wear in the studio, to hang out with friends, or even go grocery shopping. I want it to be dedicated to a fully developed character of my making. One that is confident and comfortable with small talk. I’m even willing to experiment with make up. Anyone else with me?
Do you have a alter ego persona to help you get over the fear of doing what makes you feel most uncomfortable? Let me know in with a comment.
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Shawn Tuttle of Project Simply and The Natural Professional tells a similar story involving a training bra that addresses self sabotage caused by trying to protect a younger version of herself.