They say the definition of a crazy person is someone who does the same thing over and over, each time expecting a different result. The story I am about to share with you frames me as such, though from talking to friends, some of you who I know for a fact read this blog, I am not the only person who has taken their sweet time figuring this out.
I am unsure of where it all began, maybe getting into Elam School of Fine Art in 2006, maybe before, but that aside I have always considered myself an artist. Perhaps not in the way I do now having made it my career, or how I used to feel about it back when I studied art at a university institution (scared and confused about what I really wanted from myself and from the teachers I was training under) but something happened through the course of my four years at university, and it was to do with serendipity, dioramas and surrendering myself to psychic automatism when I found my calling for telling stories and writing music from the subconscious.
I believed this to be the pinnacle of my course of study; this stretching and growing, performing and pushing myself harder than I had previously to birth these songs and works that were so abundant at the time. I felt like for the first time in my life I had actually hit on something valuable, that I was meant to fight to continue, something that could actually help other people and myself to live better and be well. Before enrolling in the degree I had wanted to be an art therapist in places where other means of communication had tried and failed. Particularly with people who had experienced trauma or who had memory loss relating to traumatic experiences.
Unfortunately there was conflict between my own convictions as an artist and humanitarian and the view and marking schedules of those who would grade my work and whose views would inform my marks.
The view I ascertained from speaking to my lecturers about my work (not to mention a few scalding group critiques) was that the main objective was for my work to shock, humour or to reference Freud or Duchamp's writings in a way that made me appear lofty and knowledgable of the greats who had gone before me. I found this process interesting, however unrelated to my own cause, which I figured I would have to pursue while trying as often as I could to appear more interested in the direction of my tutors. Somehow I figured that if I just worked really hard doing what my teachers wanted and worked equally hard focusing on my own undercover practice alongside, I could have both academic success and still keep my own integrity in my practice as an artist.
At least in theory this was a good idea, but I took it to the next extreme - and whether by my own self-delusion or optimism (it is a very fine line) - I continued on to come up with new works which spoke directly to my own and others' stories.
The works were seen by others to be brilliant and I got a great deal of positive feedback, but they took me anywhere between 30 and 200 hours to create and often I wouldn't exhibit them, but just give them to friends and relatives as presents.
There was some part of me that believed back then that my work had a divine purpose. I still believe that whatever you do in life has some greater purpose and informs who you meet along the way and where your choices direct you. But as a young undergrad, I believed that if I just worked really hard to make work that made people feel seen and valued and in turn connected with those around them, that somehow, somewhere, someone would notice my work and point me in the direction of success, wherever that might be.
I made beautiful work that I believed in, that inspired people and made me happy, but my miscalculation was believing that if I worked even harder to produce more work I'd reap the financial rewards in turn.
It was like planting an orange tree in my back yard - then every day running outside to check for lemons.
Don't get me wrong, I loved what I was doing; I was finding out a lot about myself through the work I was doing, I had independence (I was working a few days per week, not to mention my weekends as a face painter) but the weeks would roll over and because I wasn't making a lot of income from the work I was producing I started to feel like there was something wrong with it.
This is exactly the reason I am writing on this topic. If I'd had a business-savvy someone who I trusted tell me that I would never make any money by underselling my work for people's living rooms, it might have saved me a great deal of pain and angst.
Maybe I'm still learning what I was missing back then - the answer to the question I used to ask myself over and over again. Yes, the art is good enough. but for what purpose? If I wanted to make money from my art I would need to find people who valued what I did and, more importantly, back myself and put my "business hat" on.
These days I still make works for myself on occasion, but they're not at the expense of my own leisure time. I don't feel any unearthly sense that if I stop working on them for a weekend I might lose my ability to create. I no longer ask if my work is good enough, but how or if it can be better, and the questions I had have become more constructive; less rooted in the kind of open-ended reflections which lead one to open-ended projects - and open-ended questions.
I still invest time in art-making for me, but I am also balancing this with paid opportunities.
In short, I've still got my orange tree in the backyard, but since I started my little garden, I've planted a lemon tree in there too. They're both growing quite well and maybe there'll be some cross-pollination going on there somewhere, but I'm not holding my breath.
Just quietly I'm pretty happy with both as they are, but who knows, there's room for another, maybe one day even some limes.
(Job, Career or Calling - To Her Credit: Elle Luna)