How do you balance your creativity while working in an entirely different field? Or stay connected to your own art practice, and yet succeed in an art world that often feels too opaque and impenetrable, operating by secret rules?
Over the holidays I learned about a young artist who was self-destructing, because the door to her creative path had slammed closed. “I consider myself an artist,” she said, “trained to be an art teacher. But the only door left open to me is toward a corporate job I hate and which drains me of all creativity.” Another artist, connecting through email to explain his disappointment after pursuing an academic art degree in his 40’s, struggled with a loss of faith in the art world. “It seems almost too challenging to maintain the heart of creative art making while entering the art market.”
When we commit to a lifetime of art making, we rarely consider what is actually required – little institutional security, the need for both independence and collaboration, success, failure, hot and cold, critics and feeling invisible. Often, when confronted with that reality, we struggle with disappointment. But disappointment comes to us for a reason: the message is not about impossible dreams, but how to pursue them.
I have always maintained that it’s important to have a philosophical understanding of your art: the why, what, and how of it. Identifying meaningful connections to art history provides a reason for creating despite the down times, the fears and loss of confidence. There are more long-standing artists who sustain the idea of Fine Art through a dedication to their work, than those who fly to the top of the visibility scale, so building a strong foundation from a very personal perspective is worth the effort.
Keeping roles separate is equally important. Real life can be filled with demands, and often a few obligations (such as work and family) will overrule all others (such as the need to make art). Since we often have unwritten contracts with world, we feel intense disappointment and anger when those contracts don’t work out. Most of the time, we don't even realize the subconscious contracts we construct, we just behave in ways that assume outcomes that fit comfortably with our image of what we should be. This is actually a larger impediment to creativity than we acknowledge - the reality that life might not always allow you to spend the time, under the conditions you need, to do the work that you intended and trained and expected to do. Or that the work you produce will not even be acknowledged, or allow you to make a living doing what you love.
Keeping it real is so much bland, generic advice, I'm rolling my eyes even using it. A better suggestion is to constantly reevaluate what is real and possible, and adjusting accordingly. I have been painting and selling art for over 18 years, and I work harder at it and find it more challenging in today’s environment than ever before. So realistic is important to me, as well as risk taking and believing in what I produce, and how I choose to market it. I admit to going down rabbit holes, searching for solutions to make my "contracts" come true. There are moments when the "why bother to be an artist when there are so many struggles" question is overwhelming, especially when there are so many deserving artists who are under exposed, and always will be. Directions change, new styles emerge that take attention away from your work, you grow cynical from rejection and disinterest. So the real question - the real contract - is how to evolve when the current path is not working, how to keep painting when you can't imagine doing anything else.
Leonard Cohen talks about writing all the time, doing nothing but writing in order to find out what the song is. Stuart Shills talks about affirming the immediacy of a moment, finding the residue of memory.
So what feelings are you chasing when you make art? What needs are you feeding?
What are your contracts?