Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Artist PlayDate: Introducing an Unforgettable Artist That's Winning the Fight Against an Obstacle We All Face at Some Point



Anna is an artist who looks at the world with refreshingly honest eyes. The images she creates are thought-provoking; they stay with me long after I have seen them and call me back time and again to uncover a new truth.
Recently I had an opportunity to talk to her about the biggest obstacle she faces as an artist. Her response struck a cord with me. As a writer and artist, I have felt this way and battled with myself from time to time. Anna serves as an incredible inspiration for overcoming an obstacle that we all face at least once in our artistic career. Please enjoy this piece AND if you have a moment, participate in her challenging but incredibly fun project which will end on March 1st and be unveiled here on March 2nd.



"What is the biggest obstacle you face as an artist and how do you work to overcome it?"


I have always been an artist. Oh, when people asked me what I wanted to be when I grow up, I probably gave the standard ballerina/actress/veterinarian answer. In the meantime, I was drawing on every available surface, and by age seven I was already going to kids' art classes.

This contradiction is exactly what I have struggled with ever since. On one hand, I am an artist. On the other, it's as if I need to do and be something else in order to be considered properly grown up.

Until recently, I would have defined my biggest obstacle as the pressure to generate constant and immediate income. In my mind this meant I had to do something other than art to make money, thus taking away finite and precious energy and time. However, this coin has two sides: I have never made any serious effort to make money from my artwork and completely divorced money and art as general concepts.

Lately, I made an imaginary giant, Hollywood-sign-style "why?" and sat myself in front of it. I have sold work over the years. Last fall, I sold a drawing for $2300, and not through a fancy gallery - it was at an outdoor art festival, and the only person I paid commission was myself. (Hooray!) Clearly, it is possible to generate money from art sales. So why have I dismissed it as a possibility? Why, why, why?

The real obstacle, I think, is that embracing art professionally, and thinking of my occupation as "artist" - not graphic designer, not translator/interpreter, not any of the other day jobs I have held - means being an outsider in my culture, and I find this status damn hard to live with. To other people, less sensitive to being different, this might not be a big deal. The coffee shops and gallery openings of this nation are filled with folks who consider being thought of as marginal, outre, Other a badge of honour. But for me, it's painful.

Maybe it's this particular place. Toronto, and Canada in general, are places of intense pragmatism: conservative, unimaginative, with a strong social premium on keeping up with the Joneses and following the general script of "get job, get married, car-house-kids". Maybe because I am a first-generation immigrant, I feel I have something to prove. I have waxed and waned in my public commitment to artist as professional identity. Whenever I have embraced it, I noticed that people treated me as a kind of exotic zoo animal, and at the same time condescended: "Meet Anna. She's an artist!" "Oh how clever! If you don't mind me asking, how DO you eat?"

Lately, though, I think it's just me. I have placed a greater value on outside acceptance than on living true to my own values and deeply felt needs, however different they might be from what I see around me. I think a lot of women do this, and find it hard to be their true selves if it means someone's disapproval.

So the problem has mutated, from "my obstacle is having to make money" to "my obstacle is a culture that does not value artists and art" to "my obstacle is my fear of other people's judgement and my willingness to sacrifice essential things in my life on the altar of acceptance".

Oddly enough, blogging has been a major catalyst. Somehow, the more I wrote in my blog, the more it became about what I do in my studio. And the more I thought about what I do in my studio, the more time and life space I wanted to carve out for it. I came to see what I needed to work on in order to grow as an artist. And I came to see that I am no longer willing to be anything other than myself.


I started blogging last April. (Please visit Anna at http://www.lifespatula.blogspot.com/) If you told me then that I would be ditching my successful freelance design practice in Toronto, moving to Los Angeles and studying classical painting and drawing full time, I would have been astounded. And scared. And possibly would have started crying. Now I am doing all those things, and I am happier than I have been in roughly a decade - the decade I spent trying to be a graphic designer, a success in the advertising industry and a closet artist who spent all her free time in the studio, but wouldn't tell anyone about it for fear of the condescending head tilt and the dreaded "Well, that's... different." Different is a compliment.

I'll be studying full-time, at the Los Angeles Academy of Figurative Art. For about a year now, I've been living with my family, and working full-time as a graphic designer until last December. My conscience did not permit me to just mooch off my folks, so I paid them rent, but overall my living expenses went down enough that I was able to save up for a year of full-time school.

Here's how I arrived at The Plan: the key to being a professional artist is lots of studio time, and the key to that is not having to work full-time at a day job, and there are two keys to THAT:

1. Keep your living expenses low - share your living space with friends or family, or, gosh, a spouse even, I've heard some people have had good results with those. If you don't like to share and want a place to yourself, avoid big cities. Small, quiet places are very nice, and you don't have to work your face off to earn enough to live there.

2. Work freelance if your Not Art skills allow you to. Working on a project-to-project basis means some valuable downtime in between, and you have a much greater control over your workload size and schedule. If all else fails, a part-time job will at least not eat up all of the week - but freelance tends to pay better than part-time jobs, which are often in the service sector.

My advice to other artists - spend time thinking about who you truly are, both as a person and as an artist, and live that truth. Life is far too short to do otherwise.


Anna would like to invite you to insert yourself into your favorite painting and then send it in by March 1st! What's your favorite painting in the world? How would you become a part of it??


I would love to hear your response to this piece! In addition, I'd like to feature an artist who is juggling a family, job, etc. How do you make time for your art?


20 comments:

Moon of Glass said...

I'm really glad I read this post.

I am at the point of struggling with living as an artist or making a living. There's this stigma that in order to be accepted as a responsible and productive individual in our society, you have to bring home a weekly paycheck. I am fighting that fight internally and with those around me. It seems like I need to convince everyone that I am an artist, that I can make art, and still make money at it. Thank you for this post!

Natasha said...

Moon of Glass - thank YOU for your response. This piece really hit me. I have dealt with the same struggles..and it's good to feel as though there are others battling like Anna and you. Keep moving forward, you are doing it Moon...we all are and we'll make it!

Natasha said...

Moon of Glass - thank YOU for your response. This piece really hit me. I have dealt with the same struggles..and it's good to feel as though there are others battling like Anna and you. Keep moving forward, you are doing it Moon...we all are and we'll make it!

Meekiyu said...

I responded in the forums and I'll say it again... great thought provoking post... =)

Natasha said...

Meekiyu - thank you so much for reading and commenting...I agree with you....I love the conversation this stirred in the forums...for anyone who wants to read that please follow this link...http://www.etsy.com/forums_thread.php?thread_id=6048019&page=4

glentwistle said...

Recently retired I no longer have to struggle with "what do you do" I can say make art all day and no one laughs. It took most of my life to get here I hope you get here sooner!

Natasha said...

glentwistle - what a thoughtful comment for Anna...for all artists...thank you! I love that you retired and can create..enjoy, enjoy, enjoy!

Mics AKA Lunatiger said...

I agree with every word said...It's harder since I live in the city and living expense are higher...but the inspiration surrounding me, you can't get any where else! ^_^

It's true freelancing is good...it doesn't take your mind off of your art so much...having a part time job really splits your mind I feel like, because they are usually not art related. I know I've been through it.

As always an excellent post...I don't know how you keep it up! ^_^

Natasha said...

Mics AKA Lunatiger - and I agree with everything you said as well...it's definitely not easy. I think freelancing is the best option as well if that's available...I want all of us to make it!! I believe, I believe...hehehe...thanks for the kudos on this post. A BIG thanks to Anna!!

Rose Works Jewelry said...

This was a great post! I too have struggled to figure out how I could "make it" as an artist. I had to quit working about a year ago because of some health problems and that's allowed me to focus on my art, but I'll have to admit there's a large part of me that longs to get "back to the working world." Yes, I'd rather make a living at my art, but I also doubt my own abilities...

Mackin-Art said...

Incredible post!

I think many of us face a double edged sword, as Moon of Glass said "There's this stigma that in order to be accepted as a responsible and productive individual in our society, you have to bring home a weekly paycheck." But there also is a stigma that one cannot be a "real" artist if one works a "regular" job to pay the bills.

I was over forty years old before I was willing to give myself the title of artist. Even though art will never be my sole source of income, it's a title I now embrace.

Felicia Kramer said...

Great story! I totally relate to Anna's story and many of the comments above. I was also brought up believing that art was what you did for fun, but you can't make a living with it. I ended up going back to school and getting a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree when I was in my 30s. However, even though I went back to the work world again by necessity, I was happier knowing I accomplished the degree. Recently I was forced to retire a few years earlier than planned because of health problems so now I too have all day to do my art. Now I just struggle with confidence!

Natasha said...

Rose Works Jewelry - I have felt the struggle, the self-doubt as well but I work extremely hard to try to believe I am good...I'm not some imposter creating art among real artists....it's hard but with help I try and I want you to know that I believe in you and your ability...I think you are talented and if one person believes who will stop two and three from believing and before you know it tons believe ....and if we all see something to believe in...well, that should make you see that you should believe in you too!!

Mackin-Art -you are so right about the two stigmas...it's tough but you got beyond it the moment you said I am an artist!!

Felicia Kramer - I love that you got that degree and while I'm so sorry that you can't work due to health problems...I love that you create...believe in you ...I do.

I so believe in all of you...look at what you create and share...it inspires me...you are artists...you are mking magic!

alwaysadorable said...

I think I have always been the other way around. Ever since I was an ity bity thing running around with ringlets and crayons...I wanted with ever fiber of my being to be an artist! But yet I still do not give myself that title because I do not believe I have earned it. My abilities are limited to a point with late night "studio" (living room) sessions and then never having the training I felt like a true artist 'must' have under one's belt. Limited enough, I put myself as an artist behind all my other titles, wife, mother, sister, etc. I struggle with the confidence to say, "yes, I am an artist!"

I guess I feel as if my artist title will come later in life, when things are less crazy, but really will that ever change? Life is always there. I can't put off artist because I am afraid of life putting it aside.

Ah, Natasha and Anna, I am amazed and astounded the insights and emotions you have brought out in me! Thank you!

Spatula said...

Hi everyone! It is so nice to meet you! Natasha, thank you so much for inviting me to participate - I love this feature, and I love this blog. I'm really thrilled about the whole thing :-D

Moon of Glass: "I am at the point of struggling with living as an artist or making a living. There's this stigma that in order to be accepted as a responsible and productive individual in our society, you have to bring home a weekly paycheck."

You know, since I've been living with my folks, I have had a lot more exposure to the immigrant community, because they are much more plugged into it than I am. The cultural norm there is completely different - virtually nobody thinks that a job is something you have to have. Everything is oriented towards small business. I've met literally dozens and dozens of people who speak no English, don't have a college education, and yet make a living, buy houses, put kids through school and send money back home.

It's been a huge inspiration just to meet them. And another lesson to artists: integrate into a local community as much as you can. Everything is easier when people help each other.

The stigma that if you don't have a job and a weekly paycheck, you are less than a normal person is a completely arbitrary white-middle-class social construct that I believe now to be harmful, because it encourages people to put control over their life and their sense of identity outside of themselves, and in the hands of companies that couldn't care less about their well-being.

Although the stigma is very much there, telling people you are an artist can also be a great way to suss out likeminded souls and allies. Since I have been telling people about going to art school, I have had several occasions where they offered to introduce me to their art-afflicted friends and relatives. And when I tell people I'm an artist, and they are supportive and encouraging, I know I met a potential friend :-D

Glentwistle: Recently retired I no longer have to struggle with "what do you do" I can say make art all day and no one laughs. It took most of my life to get here I hope you get here sooner!

Rose Works Jewelry: I had to quit working about a year ago because of some health problems and that's allowed me to focus on my art, but I'll have to admit there's a large part of me that longs to get "back to the working world." Yes, I'd rather make a living at my art, but I also doubt my own abilities...


How weird is it that the only truly socially acceptable artist is one who is "too old" or "too sick" to do anything else? It boggles my mind.

Rose, I do miss the social aspect of the working world during downtime. I've met some of my best friends through places where I worked, and there are some companies I miss purely because I so much enjoyed the people there. As for doubting your abilities, they are not fixed in stone. If there is something you are struggling with skill-wise, you can always polish it up! That's what I am about to do, although I admit I went rather far in that direction :-)

Miss AKA Lunatiger: Having a part time job really splits your mind I feel like, because they are usually not art related.

You know, part of me actually longs for a job in an art supplies or pet store, or a coffee shop, because I get lonely when I spend a lot of time in the studio and I think it would be great to have a part-time job that involves talking to people :-D

Mackin-Art: But there also is a stigma that one cannot be a "real" artist if one works a "regular" job to pay the bills.

That's true. I've met a lot of people in the art scene, heavily marinated in hipsterism, irony and dislike for the mainstream, who have absolute contempt for people who have regular jobs. I find that incredibly stupid, and I strongly suspect it's because the hipsters are incapable of obtaining or holding down a regular job and spackle it by looking down on the people who can.

I do agree that a regular job seriously impacts the amount of artwork you can produce, and the scale of a project you can realistically undertake and complete, though. I've been a "weekend" artist for years, and I still don't have enough work to do a solo show even if I had an offer for one.

Felicia Kramer: I was also brought up believing that art was what you did for fun, but you can't make a living with it.

It's pretty inaccurate, though. It's absolutely true that it's difficult to make the same amount of money from art as one would from a corporate job. But it's definitely possible to earn part-time income with it. I've gone from thinking that you need one big source of income to live on to multiple part-time sources and I feel much better :-D

kpdesigns07 said...

What a great article of hope and following what you love. I have been stressing over this issue for a little while now. I have a FT job that leaves little in the way of energy for anything else, a husband and a baby on the way. I have really wondered if I will be able to keep up with my art after all of that. This has really given me some things to consider!

Thanks!

SalvagedExpression said...

I definitely hear this one! I have so many things I enjoy and want to do that I often struggle with whether I want to be a "professional" or artist or both and if I can be both. If I just didn't need so much sleep... :)

Kate said...

Thanks for sharing this. I am not even to the point where I can call myself an artist. I do spend my days building my new creative business but I often feel guilty about being at home "playing". Yahoo to Anna for being strong and supporting her true self!

Dawn said...

I can't say enough about how this post and all of your comments have touched me. So many of the words written here have run through my mind so often. I believe everything happens for a reason. I truly needed to read this today and I thank you all so much for sharing, because when you do, you bring comfort and a sense of belonging for so many - and we all need that... You are inspiring ;o)

Alisuns said...

Ah, well. Even my kids call me eccentric. I once was too oblivious to the rest of the world to worry about what it thought of me. Now I am happy with who I am and supported by a wonderful spouse and for some reason do not worry about making money from my creativity... I just want to cover some of its cost. I'm not doing that, either. BUT... after a brief spurt trying to figure out what would please the general buyer, I'm back to putting together pieces I love.

I know I couldn't do this without the support of my husband. I was so stressed after work when I had my last full-time job that I had medical consequences. Those of you who are mothers, fathers, wage earners, spouses, and philanthropists amaze me and inspire me.