Every now and again, in a moment of clarity (generally when I am lucky enough to get at least 5 hours of sleep in a row), I have a revelation; a “Eureka” moment. I recently saw a post on social media that inspired me. It is strange considering most things on social media cause me to doubt my faith in humanity or stop what I’m doing to make some sort of microwave mug cake I saw posted. It forced me to think about my art and about my life. The two run parallel most of the time. I begin a painting with a faint idea of what it will turn out to be. It begins in planning, makes me angry, makes me excited and usually turns out completely different that what I had planned. When bits of my plan don’t quite seem to fit, I try a different technique. I adapt and then I improve. Why is my life any different?
I look back to my teenage years, before low metabolism and car insurance payments…sigh. I remember feeling an overwhelming sense of inadequacy, not only with myself, but with my circumstances. Neighborhoods and high schools and colleges were not good enough; I had to go where I felt the grass was greener but I always felt out of place regardless of where I went. I would never adapt. I would hang on to what I had known before; what I felt was not good enough as if it were some subconscious effort to sabotage my personal well-being (nobody can identify with that one, right?). Back to the social media post: someone took something ugly, run-down and unloved and made it beautiful because where they are in life, physically, geographically, spiritually, etc… is good enough. Basically, in a nutshell, I should not give up on myself, where I am from, what I do, what I like, etc… because that ever-so-annoying voice in my head says it’s not good enough. Instead of abandoning it, help to improve it. Just like a painting.
The animated version of Alice in Wonderland is playing in the background…on DVD…how archaic of me. That is my world now. Animated films and breaking from work every two and a half to three hours (if I’m lucky) to change, feed, burp and snuggle with my tiny man. It has definitely been a challenge to prepare for my first large art festival with a newborn baby. My pregnancy was pretty challenging and working a full-time job already had me decently exhausted with swollen feet and an aching back. Despite my love for creating; especially for painting, I could hardly find the energy to prepare dinner much less design and execute an entire painting. Ollie, being his father’s son, decided waiting until his due date was far too conventional for his taste and surprised us all by making a hasty exit at 7:20 in the morning about six and a half weeks early. All was well and we had a very healthy, absolutely beautiful baby boy who had no idea how to eat. Babies apparently learn that during the last few weeks of gestation and Ollie had come before he had the change to develop that necessary suck reflex…so…it was my job (along with a team of professionals that I will be paying the bills for until I die) to teach him to eat. We spent nearly four weeks in the NICU where my husband and I would sit and watch a baby sleep until it was time to eat. Then, we would beg a baby to eat. UPDATE: we have ZERO trouble eating now…now we need to learn to stop. Bringing Ollie home presented a new set of challenges. While I used to put on the headphones and crank up the painting playlist on the iPod (yes, I still have an iPod to go right along with my DVD player), now I need to make sure I can hear and see the little while I work. So New Order’s greatest hits have been replaced by cartoons and occasionally, just the sound of the fan. Being a mother motivates me to produce more and better work and to be a better advocate for my work but coming by those extra bits of energy I once had when I was a single, childless youngster is not so easy- those moments of clarity and go-get-um are oh so fleeting and generally end in being barfed on or in conversations about poop. Being a professional artist is not as glamorous as folks imagine it to be but a mother is even less so. I would not give up either one for anything. I will create and be creative to produce a rich, colorful and exciting life for my son. I refuse to give up; I refuse to have that regret to pass on to my son or to dump off on my husband. I feel that I need to soldier on and continue on the path I chose nearly eight years ago because my success will not only be mine, it will be the gift I share with my family.
Creating a work of art is not as simple as it used to be (for me). A free afternoon, good light through a studio window and an emotionally appropriate playlist on the iPod and away we go into a magic world of “let’s see what happens.” Enter the academic and the critic and my already tiny and unsteady boat is lapped, lashed…well, I will just state it like it is, gettin’ the shit beat out of it by enormous waves of doubt and dissatisfaction. I’ve been at university in London pursuing my advanced degree in Fine Art for several months now, hence the radio silence, and I am finding the world of fine art production vastly more multi-faceted than I originally thought. Not only do I need to please myself (if that’s possible, I’m an artist) but now I have to please academic tutors, my program peers, exhibition curators and art critics (we will save them for another post, blood pressure rises). In this mix of art minds is born my dilemma… people purchase my work at art markets. Guests visiting the studio stop, comment and seem to positively receive the works. Academics and critics wouldn’t wipe their a*@ with it. It was even recently suggested that I take technical painting courses; like remedial math for artists. In no way would I ever compare myself to Picasso but I often wonder, he stuck eyes in people’s foreheads, did he have to put up with this? I have researched several contemporary artists who get flack from critics and academics but are, for the most part, laughing all the way to the bank. So, here’s the question: Does it really matter what these art “professionals” think? They do make their living off the fact that actual artists create art. When we stop, they stop. The institution crumbles. I guess they might ride the coattails of artists past until that ship sinks but something new will have popped up by then like…celebrity mudwrestling for charity. I would enjoy knowing the breakdown of how much art is actually purchased by academics and critics versus celebrities, people in “shipping”, and the wives of the folks in corporate ivory towers, not to mention everyday people purchasing more affordable art at markets and fairs. I’m willing to bet the ratio is more than a bit skewed to one side. There is the debate, however that critics especially are the filter through which art has to pass to reach the consumer. If critics bash something, do gallery owners want to take a risk on said artist? I guess what I’m debating is whether this is a symbiotic relationship or could artists just say “peace out” and go about doing what they do. Do I change because some teachers and critics don’t appreciate what I do? I am all for evolving; that’s why I am thousands of miles away from my friends and family in a strange city where I get asked daily why my country is so racist and has a fascination with guns. (I wore cowboy boots one day and gave myself away as an American. Before I was getting Swedish because I smiled regularly.) Academics, I understand may feel the need to push an artist and challenge them to create in the best way they know they possibly can but is a push toward originality or to conform to notions of what is contemporary? There exists a formula, a recipe, much like the fancy cakes I see on Pinterest. There are no substitutions. If it calls for two eggs, use two eggs or chaos ensues. Are academics and critics the eggs or the garnish ( if you don’t happen to have sprinkles, it ain’t gonna change the taste of the cake to leave them off)?
The Gatekeepers: Fantasy, Perfection, and Fear 2015
I am looking to finance my residency and graduate studies in London next year. I started my educational trek more than a decade ago, before the internet was readily available to anyone really. I had to rely on the knowledge (and willingness to help-which, let’s face it, was pretty much non-existant) of my high school counselor (snort, laugh…). I went to the library and found grants and scholarships in biannual publications (books). I figured this time around would be easier. With the click of a mouse, I can find lists, caches of information on scholarships and grants to help me study in London and not be homeless. As I search the bounty (snort, laugh…) of scholarships and grant funding available for my particular educational venture (snort, laugh…) I am seeing a common thread. I fall into that gray area, the slimy soupy pool of those who are too normal for help but not wealthy enough to mooch off of your family. I have all four limbs, my mom wasn’t a crack head, I had a house where my dad regularly mowed the lawn ( somewhere amongst the 100 hours he worked every week ) , I am slightly hearing impaired but not enough to qualify for anything of merit, etc, etc… I have never built houses for tribes people in the jungle (mainly because I am terrified of snakes and guerilla anarchist rebels with automatic weapons who really hate women and Americans-two strikes for me). I am waiting to click on the one blue title and read the description ,” For Intelligent American Students who wish to study art abroad with two employed, middle-class parents who followed the rules and paid their taxes.” I’m not finding any of those. I know it is more than wrong to even begin to complain about a life of normalcy. I was most always healthy and had parents who cared for me and our home. They worked hard to keep our family afloat and followed those unspoken societal rules that you care for your lawn, walk your dog, wash your cars on Sunday afternoons and don’t let your kids drink too much soda. I have had very little hardship but don’t have the luxury of everything in my life being paid for. Student loans will get me part of the way, saving what I can will add a few rungs to ladder but I will continue to attempt to bridge the financial gap. The more I think on it, the more I realize that nearly half of the people I know intimately fall into the same category as me. We are simply too normal. BUT…I refuse to give up because, as I recently expressed to someone, this is one of those things that if I don’t do it, I will regret it for the rest of my life. The very first day of art school after I quit my job as a teacher, I remember saying that I WILL go to graduate school in London. Money is the only thing standing in the way. I have a few scholarships and student loans but there is still a deficit. I will continue to sell everything I own on eBay and comb that annals of the scholarship databases. I will not give up.
Those who have spent a good deal of time painting will know exactly what I mean… There is a noticeable feeling I get when a painting is behaving as it should. Colors are brighter, strokes are tighter or flow more evenly. All the planets align and a fantastic painting is born. Sometimes, however, things don’t quite work out how I expect. It could be a combination of stress, creative exhaustion… a melting pot of a thousand other ingredients that keep me and my trusty brushes from doing our best work. Just the same as when all is well; when the badness begins, you just know. I usually toss my brush in my water jar and think , “This ain’t happenin!” I usually try to leave it for a few days hoping that when I return to the easel, the planets will realign and I can turn this thing around. Every so often, this works. Most of the time, it doesn’t. So the question at hand is, “When do you call it quits?” It is easy to pour a bowl of gesso and return to a blank slate. Not that paintings and kids are the same, well for artists, sometimes they are…it’s a labor of love thing. If your kid is having a rough patch, misbehaving; those aggravating things kids often do, you don’t return them and start over. Parents spend time correcting the behavior to create something beautiful and worthwhile. I want to try to employ the same tactics in my “not-so-good” paintings. Leave the gesso on the shelf and keep soldiering on until it is completed. When the muses and painting gods seem to be against me; it seems like a waste of energy to keep fighting the inevitable…my painting WILL be crappy. Quit or keep going, quit or keep going? I ask myself this a hundred times when I reach “the point.” Is the time I already invested a waste? Some of these paintings are ones that cause me to question whether or not I am actually a good painter. Each work started with an idea, a enthusiastic thought that I have mentally designed something that will be good. Perhaps they each deserve to come to fruition, fully. I think the key is to identify the triggers that cause my work to head south in the first place. I know this will be an ongoing investigation…
Below: the stagnant Einstein
I see all these photos in magazines and on social media sites with lovely images of organized, color-coded, no -paint- splatters -on -the -wall studios and offices. My biggest question is…. do these really exist? It’s akin to women looking at images of super-models and underfed Eastern Europeans in clothing and beauty ads. I get studio envy. Mine is a maze of madness where personal injury is likely on a daily basis. There are towering boxes of fabrics and remnants of holiday crafts past. I share a space with my better half, Ryan who has learned to mentally block out the chaos and focus on his area on the other side of the room. He and I have started in with larger paintings, cause everything’s bigger in Texas, which will require more open space. SO…I decided yesterday that productivity is bred from some sort of order. I WILL CLEAN the studio. Around 9:00pm I was at it; tossing out trash; consolidating boxes with that “WOOOO” feeling. 1:00 AM: it was like sitting in a congressional filibuster; that “beat -your -head -on -the -wall” feeling. Now the rest of our home looks like we are moving… something my aunt and I refer to as the “sh*t shuffle.” I guess these are perils of being a business-owner with a studio/inventory storage center in your home. I can resolve to be better organized and have been fortunate to have Ryan’s help (he a complete anti-hoarder; which is fantastic). We are taking on larger markets and are currently working on our first official online store. I know we will feel the growing pains soon. I will never complain about these. I want to sell and share the things I make and am passionate about. However, my wares and arts do deserve a nice organized place to hang out until they are sent off to their new homes. I know that one day, in the not-so-distant future, I will have a brick and mortar store with a stockroom and possibly (the angels sing) a work area. I am reminded of so many stories of the entrepreneurs who have started new companies and some that are now very large corporations. I will try to remember the stories I’ve read of dining tables doubling as factory assembly lines and living rooms that look like sweat shops. I love the things I make and the constant state of dreaming up new ideas to craft and share. I love making art and have worked very hard to get to a point where I can make art for a living. I continue my studio recovery efforts and console myself with the fact that those folks in the magazine pictures were probably up until the wee hours cleaning up their everyday messes and two days after the photo shoot; chaos reigns once again.
My new online store is under construction. It has been a labor of love but I felt it was time. When you have fabulous things, you just gotta share them.
Social media has morphed into a double-edged sword. On one side, artists and small-business people like myself can inexpensively promote ourselves, share photos of our work with others and promote shows or events that we may be participating in. The other, more jagged side is a melting pot of negativity, narcissism and often times, plain ignorance. I am starting to believe that social media sites should have disclaimers. “DO NOT read the comment feeds from news sites if you don’t want to lose faith in the intelligence of most other human beings…” While I enjoy updates from friends who have moved far away or getting my annual barrage of birthday wishes, I don’t enjoy the “muck” I have to wade through to get to the good stuff. Compulsively posting pictures of what you are eating or making a negative remark following every status post regardless of what it may contain constitute as “muck.” Example….picture of a kitten in an empty Snickers box…I see a fuzzy little kitten in a box after which I promptly laugh and scream, “Cat in a box!” ( I don’t know why cats in boxes and bags humor me the way they do.) Despite its seemingly innocent intentions, this photo and post will incite at least one person to charge the publisher with some offense…”If you feed a cat chocolate, it will die!” Though any rational person will see that there is nothing in the post to suggest anyone fed chocolate to the kitten, someone will comment about it. Another recent phenomenon I have discovered is what I like to call, “Trial by Facebook.” These most often occur on public sites and resemble a modern cyber-lynching. Example… POST: “I hired a man to do my lawn. He left my dog out in the sun and when I came home it was sick.” Comments that follow: “Someone should leave him out the sun to die of heat stroke… Boycott this lawn service… I am telling everyone not to use _____insert lawn service name here____ ever again! …. This guy is an idiot… My cousin’s, neighbor’s, boss’s uncle uses them and says they are crappy…” You get the point. Not one person stops to hear the entire story. The lawn service guy could have been negligent, or not. It could have been a fluke all together. My point is that social media users react viscerally and without thought in regards to way too much. I see comments on photos of people’s homes on public sites that are just downright mean. Social media has brought out a darkness and negativity in society. I am not saying this as a blanket statement because of course there would be commenters seeking to defend themselves as shining examples of social media civility. As with most things in life, there is good and there is bad. There are days when I want to delete the whole thing. If I didn’t use it so much for business I probably would have done it a long time ago. There are ways that you can unfollow, block, restrict, blah, blah, blah… I guess my request to humanity is that we use our ability to connect for good, for positivity. Share your joyous news, tell people you love them, show photos of good times and maybe the occasional cupcake…and as many kitten photos as you please, even if they are in an empty chocolate box.
I told myself when I started art school that I would have a goal. What seems like a hundred years ago, I told myself that I would attend graduate school in London. It loomed on the horizon and seemed to recede into the dark with each step I took toward graduation. There were days and even months where it was forgotten amidst the struggle to keep the bills paid, where Ryan and I would tread water, giving it everything we had to keep our heads above the surface. I stole whatever knowledge I could from other artists I met. I worked on myself, my art, my attitude. I worked two jobs, 7 days a week. I had ankle surgery. I graduated. I started my own business and completed several public art installations. All the while, she waited patiently, my goal, my muse, my London. Someone very close to me told me once that the first time she saw me ,only a few minutes in this world, she knew I was destined to lead an extraordinary life. Extraordinary lives require extraordinary leaps. There have been times when baby steps were all I could muster but now, I believe, is a fantastic time for a great, big LEAP! I know I have written before that one of my greatest fears in regret. I believe that regret is bred out of fear and the inability and unwillingness to live the life that you know you deserve. That being said, I accepted a position in the Master of Fine Arts program at a university in London. Five years after I decided to stop fighting what and who I am, my goal steps out from the darkness saying, “Hey, you better jump on getting that VISA, they don’t overnight those things.”
Fear can be a great motivator. I use great in its intended connotation; not the modern view that “great” means “good.” An aside….in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Olivander says, “…after all, He-Who-Must-Not-be-Named did great things; terrible but great…” “GREAT” means “big” (to me). I think there are many types of fear; two of which motivate me most; fear of what we do and fear of what of we don’t do. I am battling the latter. I don’t think, as a functional human being, I have the option to live with a massive pile of regret. I can only imagine the level of human misery associated with waking up at a ripe old age, saying to oneself, ” S&*t, I never did a darn thing I wanted to do, and now it’s too late.” I have a fear of regret. I’ve made myself a list of all the things I need to do in order to live a fulfilled life. These lines are scribbled with the need for experiences. As I get older I scratch off the need for “stuff.” Fancy cars and jewels have lost their allure. I need to breath certain air, hear sounds of certain places and feel their energy. I need to challenge myself as an artist and embrace the diversity and “greatness” of something or some place much larger than myself. These feelings and needs have led to the decision to apply to Master of Fine Arts programs in London. It is a huge leap across a “great” big ocean. My only chance at challenging myself to become something bigger, better and more powerful is to leave the comfort of the things I am familiar with and break out of a continuous cycle of “what works currently.” It is a scary, awesome, rattling, exciting endeavor that I hope with all my heart works out. It will help me to check off #1 and #2 on the list and maybe I can start on #3; guiding others like me.