Art & Vulnerability

Creating is one of my biggest lifelines and something that I miss intensely when I step away from it for awhile.  I truly believe I need the act of creation in my life to feel like a whole person, in addition to water, shelter, food, etc. of course.  When I was in my final semester of college, one of the culminating events to complete my art program was the obligatory senior art show.  I was terrified.  I love making art and I might even like to share my art with those I am close to, but putting art out into the greater world where complete strangers might see it was nothing I had ever looked forward to.  I cannot speak for all artists, but some things I have made felt like such a big part of myself that I could not bear the thought of someone, anyone not liking what I’ve created.  Back to my senior art show for instance…many of the pieces were directly linked to losing my oldest sister to suicide my sophomore year, so they were incredibly personal.  Sharing those creations with the larger world, while not explicitly defined at the time to the audience, was a scary, yet liberating experience.  The feedback I received was encouraging, but afterwards I withdrew from sharing my art for quite a few years.  It was not until experiencing another incredibly difficult event in my life in the last two years that I felt the need to create an entire body of work and share it with the world.

All of this has left me to believe a few things about art and myself:

  1. The art I create is primarily functional and beneficial to me and secondarily has the potential to affect and inspire others.
  2. Art is more about the process than the finished product.
  3. Sharing my art is still a scary and intimidating experience because it forces me to be vulnerable.
  4. Art is and will always be subjective to the viewer.
  5. Rejection still hurts.

More on number 5…so I submitted 3 new pieces to the February juried show at Larkin Arts a couple of weeks ago and none of them were selected for the show.  I was pretty bummed for a few reasons: yep, that whole rejection hurting thing again.  And then there was the fact that instead of working on pieces for a show I actually have scheduled, I “wasted” time on paintings I didn’t really have time for.  And I was out 20 bucks.  Such is life.  I tried my best to pick up my pieces from Larkin with my head held high, took them back to my office downtown, and sold all 3 to coworkers within the week!  I guess things turned out alright after all.  And hey, no consignment fee!

Grungy Valentine 1 mixed media on board, sold

Grungy Valentine 1

mixed media on board, sold

Grungy Valentine 2 mixed media on board, sold

Grungy Valentine 2

mixed media on board, sold

Grungy Valentine 3 mixed media on board, sold

Grungy Valentine 3

mixed media on board, sold

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone!

I have to end with this quote from David Bayles.  It’s lengthy, but worth the read and a much better written expression of what I was trying to say up top.  The whole book is even better in its entirety, by the way!

“The desire to make art begins early. Among the very young this is encouraged (or at least indulged as harmless) but the push toward a ‘serious’ education soon exacts a heavy toll on dreams and fantasies….Yet for some the desire persists, and sooner or later must be addressed. And with good reason: your desire to make art — beautiful or meaningful or emotive art — is integral to your sense of who you are. Life and Art, once entwined, can quickly become inseparable; at age ninety Frank Lloyd Wright was still designing, Imogen Cunningham still photographing, Stravinsky still composing, Picasso still painting.

But if making art gives substance to your sense of self, the corresponding fear is that you’re not up to the task — that you can’t do it, or can’t do it well, or can’t do it again; or that you’re not a real artist, or not a good artist, or have no talent, or have nothing to say. The line between the artist and his/her work is a fine one at best, and for the artist it feels (quite naturally) like there is no such line. Making art can feel dangerous and revealing. Making art is dangerous and revealing. Making art precipitates self-doubt, stirring deep waters that lay between what you know you should be, and what you fear you might be. For many people, that alone is enough to prevent their ever getting started at all — and for those who do, trouble isn’t long in coming. Doubts, in fact, soon rise in swarms:

“I am not an artist — I am a phony. I have nothing worth saying. I’m not sure what I’m doing. Other people are better than I am. I’m only a [student/physicist/mother/whatever]. I’ve never had a real exhibit. No one understands my work. No one likes my work. I’m no good.

Yet viewed objectively, these fears obviously have less to do with art than they do with the artist. And even less to do with the individual artworks. After all, in making art you bring your highest skills to bear upon the materials and ideas you most care about. Art is a high calling — fears are coincidental. Coincidental, sneaky and disruptive, we might add, disguising themselves variously as laziness, resistance to deadlines, irritation with materials or surroundings, distraction over the achievements of others — indeed anything that keeps you from giving your work your best shot. What separates artists from ex-artists is that those who challenge their fears, continue; those who don’t, quit. Each step in the artmaking process puts that issue to the test.”
― David Bayles, Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking