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I'm a lot like Pinocchio. No... I'm NOT a liar, but I often find myself doing the same sort of balancing act.

I'm a real boy!

Don't get me wrong, I don't waver on gender identification, it's more like this: I've done hundreds, possibly thousands of drawings and paintings, many of them commissioned. I know it sounds like I’m boasting, but hear me out. I majored in art on a scholarship, worked as a commercial artist, been Artist in Residence for many schools. I’ve sold hundreds of paintings and prints. I have my own Studio.

I'm a real artist! Right? Actually, it's quite possible I'm a fraud. A pretend-artist whose work is not unlike the Emperor’s New Clothes, where everyone pretends to see beauty but in reality...

I've written stories, poetry and books since the fifth grade. I'm a published author and blogger. I'm a real writer! Or maybe I’m a really good fake. A carbon copy of something somewhere—not sure what or where.

I waffle between feeling genuine and artificial. Am I authentic or a mere phony? Bona fide or faux? When I produce something good I think it's probably a fluke. When I create something awful I feel validated. I knew it all along! It’s been said that if you pretend to be a success you will become one. I’ve tried that but I don’t want to be a simulation, I want to be pure and unadulterated. But pure and unadulterated what? Talent? Brummagem? The struggle is real!

Last week I had the amazing opportunity to be featured in the Home Studio Tour and Gallery at Arts to Zion, a big annual event held in Southern Utah. It was a chance for me to do my Emperor’s Act, or maybe exhibit my amazing talent. Regardless, it changed my life and my mind. Let me share one of the many extraordinary experiences I had.

A girl of about 17 or 18 visited my studio/gallery with her grandma and aunt. I had a strong impression to talk to her but didn’t really know how to begin the conversation because she wasn’t very… I don’t know, friendly-like? It seemed to me she didn’t want to be bothered, though she carefully studied the art on display. Finally, I approached her. All I could think of was, So… what’s YOUR passion? Dumb I know. She stared at me like I was the weirdo I am.

“Passion? I don’t have a passion.” It may have been sarcastic.

Well, what do you love? I prodded.

She paused and tentatively ventured, “Well, I love animals.”

That’s great! Do you have any pets?

“No," she said, “but I take care of the animals on my Grandpa’s farm.”

What kind of animals?

She told me about a couple of calves whose mothers had been eaten by coyotes or something and how she bottle-fed them. As she spoke her eyes began to catch the light.

So… the calves imprinted on you!

She wasn’t sure what I meant so I told her the calves would love her so much that even years into the future they would know her. They will always love you and never forget you! Her light grew brighter.

You know, I continued, if you were to volunteer or apply for a job, say… at an animal clinic or something, you could put on your resume about those calves. They would be able to feel how much you love animals and would probably hire you. If you liked that job, eventually you could be a technician and then maybe even a veterinarian.

Now Jade (not her real name) was literally glowing and she smiled for the first time. “That’s what I want to do! I want to be a veterinarian!”

When her group was about to leave, her grandma thanked me and told me how much they enjoyed my art. They told me that Jade especially loved one particular painting. I took it off the wall and handed it to her. Here, take it. It’s yours. She protested but I insisted that it would make me happy if she would take it. Now you’re probably thinking I’m a real boy er… whatever, and I actually felt pretty good about myself. After all, I had just sold several paintings, some for well over $1,000 apiece. (Now I’m for sure a bragger, which cancels out any and all due credit.)

The next day I happened to find out Jade’s story. Apparently, her grandma had recently picked her up in California as her druggie mother was about to go to jail. She had been living in a car and had nothing but the clothes on her back. Neglected and abused, forced to run drugs and not in school—she was in bad shape. Jade was now the proud owner of a painting she dearly loved—something she would never have been able to afford and she cried all the way home. I looked at my work in a very different way that day. Beauty is something everyone needs in their lives. Hope ain’t bad either.

I also had the honor of visiting with a disabled veteran and many others who opened a part of their hearts to me. Maybe it’s because when you display your naked soul in the form of art, people feel comfortable sharing themselves as well.

One very old lady, who examined each of my 60 pieces individually, repeatedly commented, “These paintings make me so happy! These colors and shapes bring me such joy!” I can’t tell you how much that affected me. It validated the very reason I paint—the purpose of my work!

All of this inspired me to be a better artist and not give up! Even if I sometimes feel like an imitation, I could be the real deal. An original fraud. A genuine counterfeit.

I’m a real artist!