There are so many troubling things in our world, it is hard sometimes to remain positive. As an artist, I know that everything I create exists against the backdrop of cultural strife and struggle that is in my world.
It is hard sometimes to remember that it is not all bad in our culture. Beauty and joy sometimes come to us with a whisper or other subtle communications, while ugliness and pain come with dramatic noise.
My artworks do not necessarily reflect cultural events. Yet they contribute to culture by bringing something positive into the world that counterbalances all the negative influences that prevail.
Words and musical mysticism by the musician Enya bring me some peace as I contemplate the pain that has screamed at me from the headlines this week.
I graduated from Marshall University in 1984 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Painting and Printmaking. I received a Master of Arts degree in Painting and Printmaking a year and a half later. (Yep, I had big hair back then.)
We didn’t have the Fail Whale image or Twitter back then, but the image would have worked for me.
At the time as I was miserable, but it was probably one of the most important experiences of my life.
I quickly realized that I was not cut out to be a full time artist – at that time, anyway.
I had no experience or know-how in marketing or making business decisions for making art my career then. In fact, my art professors had strongly discouraged me from developing any such skills. To do so would have disrupted the purity of my artistic intent, I was told.
There were other reasons for my failure, though.
I believe that I failed because I was not prepared to do something for a career that seemed self-indulgent to me. Although I firmly believed then, and still do now, that art is essential and important to our world, it did not seem essential enough to me to build a career around – at that time anyway.
I felt a sense of responsibility to contribute to my community and my world in a way that was more essential in the sense of life saving and world changing, and creating abstract paintings as I was doing at the time just did not cut it for me.
Neither did working minimum wage low-skill jobs when I had 2 degrees.
I went back to school and received a Masters degree in Counseling in 1991. I then embarked on a 20 year career as counselor for families and children. I continued to create artwork, but it was not my career.
Counseling families and children facing trauma and other forms of emotional pain seemed more essential and important in the grand scheme of things. Although counseling was never a high paying job, it did allow me to live sufficiently, and I felt that I was contributing in an important way.
Over time, I grew to be disenchanted with the social services field, however. I found that organizations established to “help” people often were challenged with making decisions based more on their own survival than on the needs of their clients. I railed against it, and ended up changing jobs a lot.
I was always looking for a place with a consistent emphasis on both integrity and high quality services. I never found it.
I began to put more energy into my artwork around 1999, and by 2009, It was becoming more of a career for me.
After September 11, 2001, art began to feel more essential to me, as I felt a strong compulsion to contribute to my world through expression. I had always been a philosophical sort of person, and 9/11 brought out that side of me in a new way.
I now focus primarily on painting portraits of pets, and have found that surprisingly healing and, yes, essential, for those who commission me to paint their animals.
I recently was commissioned to paint a portrait of a cat that had been hit by a car a week earlier. The distraught pet owner told me in an email, “I really think the painting is going to give me a lot of comfort. Talking with you and thinking about the painting has given me comfort already.”
What is more essential than that?
I think that I had to live a life of essential experiences before painting as a career felt right to me.
Although I look forward to a continued life of essential experiences, I think that it is a life that fits me now.
Being an artist has many different qualities and these 4 “E” words sum it all up.
Exacting – Being an artist means that you have been granted insight and vision that has yet to be seen or grasped by others. In order to clarify and and illuminate that vision for others, the artist must engage in an exacting process of creative definition. It drives others crazy sometimes. I have been called a diva for being stubborn and insistent about details that, during the process, make no sense to others. Later on others may understand, but often, artists are considered royal pains in the patooty for obsessively holding to their exacting standards.
Exhilarating – Color, to me, is exhilarating. Bringing about creative images and objects that swirl with color and shape and composition is the most exciting process! Often the process can have spans of drudgery, but overall, the process, and the product, are very exhilarating.
Exhausting – It takes many hours to create a work of art that stands out and takes its unique place in the world. It is both emotionally and intellectually intense, and physically tasking. Exhaustion often comes when you realize you have painted for several hours without a break and probably should have stopped a long time ago.
Exasperating – It is a gift to be granted the insight and vision of an artist. It can be a struggle, however, to convince others of your financial and structural needs to complete projects. Finding people to commission projects that have yet to be visually articulated can be tricky. Convincing others of the necessity for details when you are not fully certain of how the process will develop can also be a challenge.
As challenging and frustrating as these processes can be, I cannot imagine my life without it. I am grateful for having the opportunity to be a creator and to be able to share the talent that I have been given!
We all have special talents and gifts. What is yours?