I think it’s now far enough into the new year that we are safely past all the ranking, list-making, resolution promising… and in order to live with myself on a daily basis, that means making choices that feel ‘authentic’ or as Fred Rogers put it, “you rarely have time for everything you want in this life, so you need to make choices, and hopefully your choices can come from a deep sense of who you are.”
A few years ago, I made the choice to pull my work out of commercial gallery settings, and not pursue any new venues. It was partly a response to feeling like I was struggling to find a strong direction, partly a result of one long term gallery relationship losing steam, partly because I needed to rethink what my place was in the activity of making art. I wanted more control, but should I in fact keep painting? Will anyone notice or care if I don’t? How do I do this in a small city? Do I care about shipping my work around the country anymore? Should I be more business-like? Maybe this is just a phase…? It was not so much about questioning my life’s work, but more like, “is this when I should stop?” And while this was happening, the commercial side of the art world was, and still is, undergoing many shifts.
But, something that gives your life meaning and challenge is not something you give up. You keep doing it for yourself, if for no other reason. I think that might be the reason that people who keep doing creative work last longer- still working into their 80’s and 90’s.
This last year, I made a conscious choice to get off what I call the “art business noise machine” which was starting to feel a bit redundant to me. Everyone essentially giving out the same advice, whether they had real-world experience as working professional artists or not- people gathering insight from the same books and ‘experts’, webinars about being organized and focussed, making endless lists and diagrams, and how to be a creative thinker and take risks. So much time spent hearing the same advice repeatedly.
I discovered being bombarded with a constant stream of updates on other folks’ weekly goals, hours spent painting- or why they can’t paint- doesn’t do me or my own work any good at all. Time spent commiserating is not time spent working. A real constructive critical dialogue would be helpful, but everything in on-line artist communities seems so perky-( “Love this” “good job”) it kinda smacks of self-esteem boosting “here’s your ribbon for participating!”, and can become a tad meaningless. People just hit the “like” button and love everything- but rarely want to take the time to ask probing questions, challenge anyone, or describe their reaction in a way that can contribute something to the artist. Description is a lost art. Probably why I read so much fiction….. but that’s another post.
I am very supportive of other artist friends – near and far- in whatever way I can be. I’ve purchased work from and traded work with local artists. I love seeing what some folks are up to in the studio. But online social media groups are not so useful to me. I just had to learn that. I know a lot of this is my age and past experience talking. I grew up in the 50’s/60’s when benign neglect and leaving kids to their own devices seemed like the order of the day; before the days of ribbons for participating. We all like praise, but I don’t think it challenges us to make the hard choices sometimes.
So, I’m getting back to a more basic frame of mind. One where the real work needs to happen with the hand and mind of the maker engaged in their own private dialogue- which might come to include a wider audience- or it might not. I’ll ask for feedback in person, and stay in touch with friends over coffee. Oh, and all those changes in the commercial world, I’ve managed to adapt to some of those too.
It’s on my to-do list.