Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Some thoughts on being a working artist

I thought I would take a break from the business and marketing side and talk about being a working artist. How many of you are afraid to call yourself an "artist"? An artist is Van Gogh or Mozart or Yo Yo Ma - it's not me! I just _________ (fill in the blank with: play, dabble, craft, make messes, goof around) and I am just a __________ (crafter, student, homemaker, retiree, nobody). Did that hit you right in the gut - especially the "nobody"? Yet you are drawn to paint, write, draw, sing or in general create. It is part of your very soul and you feel empty not creating. But no one would ever want to pay money for what you create.

After I returned to creating from ten years of barely picking up a paint brush, charcol or pencil - I was happy again but called myself a crafter. Yet the things I was creating with rubber art stamps was not basic cards or gifts - the work had started to become something more. I was doing altered books and other forms of collage work, mixing colors and textures - creating images that said something from my heart and soul. But then I struggled to do work that fit what was the popular styles making it into the magazines because THOSE people who got published were artists! My work fell short because it was not my work, my heart, my soul . . . just a poor imitation of someone elses heart and soul message.

Then two ultimate smack downs . . . after sending on some cards to one of my favorite aunts who is an artist but who had never seen my collage work, she said to me "That's not really art you are doing now is it dear?" At the same time I had worked for a month to create a series of stamped items for a magazine entry that all told a story - some pieces individually were wonderful all alone but as a collective group it was something that I was very pleased with and yet not a single item I submitted was accepted let alone the whole work. I let my craft table grow cluttered and just did simple cards for friends' birthdays and for Christmas. I started playing with the beads I had bought to accent my art and taught myself basic beading - at least I could make a few crafty gifts for friends. I played with wire wrapping things. I helped make craft items for the church fair - after all I was just a crafter. It was when I decided to take a silversmithing class locally and then lucked into being able to take a PMC class with Cece Wire that I remembered I was an artist inside. Cece and Leslie (my silversmithing instructor) both made a point of reminding us were were NOT crafters - that they were teaching artists (or artisians).

Does my self-doubt and experiences remind to of things that happened in your life? Are you feeling - even now - like you are a bit of a fraud? Do you sell you items at craft fairs for prices that barely cover your supplies? Are you still calling yourself a crafter even though your work is all original designs and creations?

I want to recommend two books to you - not just to read but to MAKE a part of your life. The first is a long-time popular book The Artist Way by Julia Cameron. Written for writers, it works for any artist who needs to revive their creative spirit - regardless of if it has laid dormant for decades, or if you are just experiencing a creative block. You might wish to modify the morning pages into the morning paintings or the morning score or what have you but sometimes the writing for us non-writers helps break through our mental barrier.

The second book I just discovered through a recommendation from one of the members of the Metal Clay Gallery group on yahoo - Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles and Ted Orland. Not a very long book, you will find yourself reading and rereading sections. This is written by two "working artists" - where I get the term from for the title of this blog post.

"This is a book about making art. Ordinary art. Ordinary art means something like: all art not made by Mozart. After all, art is rarely made by Mozart-like people; essentially-statistically speaking-there aren't any people like that. Geniuses get made once-a-century or so, yet good art gets made all the time, so to equate the making of art with the workings of genius removes this intimately human activity to a strangely unreachable and unknowable place. For all practical purposes making art can be examined in great detail without ever getting entangled in the very remote problems of genius."--from the Introduction

If you do nothing else for yourself this week - go out and get Art and Fear. If you have a child or grandchild studying art - go out and get them Art and Fear. If you have a freind who is an artist that does not seem to believe in themselves - go out and get Art and Fear!

We'll chat more about being a working artist in later blogs.

- Gale

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