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?