Monday, July 21, 2014

Life, Creativity and Work


I'm a self-employed artist, a freelancer and have been for 30+ years--and I've discovered over those years a sometimes deadening tendency to turn almost anything creative into Work.  Not just painting or writing--but pottery, jewelry making, sewing, cooking, you name it.  Being broke for a substantial period of time has a tendency to do that to you.

I will admit that I'm a lousy employee.  I got fired from my first real job--after 8 months that had to be almost as miserable for them as it was for me!  I didn't fit in well...and I have almost no patience with make-work, arbitrary rules, or, face it, office politics.  Not just at that first job, but my subsequent ones as well.  Self-employment was a godsend!  It's tough, sometimes (thank God the 14-hour-days seem to be relegated to my past!), but at least I have no one to blame but myself for my slave-driver "boss."

Mind you, I have to work; it's part of me.  Bills must be paid, and although that is considerably easier than it was after my first husband died in 1997 without retirement or savings, still...I feel the need to work.  It's good for the soul.  I need to feel that I'm contributing--and that I have that freedom of choice.  I am independent, and it feels good.  Productive.

My beloved husband Joseph takes wonderful care of our finances now, and I will admit it IS a relief not to feel the need to say yes to every single opportunity that comes down the pike.

A HUGE relief. 

But still I do have to watch myself and my tendency to take on too much, to spread myself too thin, to say yes to things that really aren't me (I'm getting better with that one, and learning all the time!)  I have to make sure that at least some of my art (all right, most of it, in my journal) is simply response to my life.  Expressing my own personal vision.  Recording and responding and paying my respects to this gift I've been given--this Life.

I say that a lot to other people, because it's important to me.  To any artist.

And two of my favorite books reinforce that need, that truth--Nick Meglin's wonderful classic Drawing From Within, and a newer book by Mary Whyte, An Artist's Way of Seeing.  Neither are how-to books.  Both are pure inspiration, treatises on seeing and responding authentically, through the lens of our own experience.  Neither tell how to deal with perspective, what color to use for that distant hill, what brush or pen or magic pencil or brand of pigment to buy.

Because truly, that's irrelevant.  Basically, really, it is.  We don't learn to really produce our own expressive art by copying someone else, or by following rules.  We may be stifled by those approaches, in fact!  There is no magic tool...beyond your own soul, your own artist's eye, your discerning brain.  Your heart.

And no, I'm not saying anything goes.  I am saying I have to respond to my life.  That's why, when I write an art book or teach a class, I MUCH prefer to say "I chose this color because it expressed what I was after. I love a big juicy brush. I decided I wanted to change this or that..." instead of take this brush and dip in in that color and make this mark.  (Shoot me now!  Do not even SUGGEST I should say things like that.)

I like to encourage my students to respond to what they see or feel.  Choose a subject that speaks to them. Learn to really see.  And see the why, as well.  Why do we respond the way we do, why does that scene speak to us, why do we suddenly see the way the light bounces off that bird's wing, or the lavender or jade in that shadow?  Why do we notice some small thing that someone else might overlook?  What does it remind us of?  Why does it elicit an emotional response, and just what IS that response? 

Really, what else is even worth painting?  Dear God I hate to give assignments, yes I do.

And you know what else? I don't give a rat's patoot what the Color of the Year is.  I don't care what's selling in NY or Taos.  Those things aren't me, and there's no way I could paint them authentically.  Any works I'd produce under those circumstances might be technically adequate, but they'd be soulless.

Frankly, I'm too old for that.  Time's too short.  I'm going to live, thank you very much!

19 comments:

  1. AMEN to that ..... I am really enjoying your posting and writing.... I am at an age that I can just be and do what I please.... It is wonderfully.... thank you for sharing your daily life.... It helps me to just be me everyday and remember what is really important....

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    1. Harriet, thank you. I am glad to hear this.

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  2. As a professional artist who has spent years paying close attention to the specific Pantones for the season and predicting what will be on trend 18 months from now, the mortgage payment has been paid with such things, and with assignments taken on, not given out.

    But recently after a lot of soul searching I have come to the exact conclusion you're stating. I simply want to make art the way I want to because I want to. To make art that might be spot on with the trends in the marketplace. Or not. But let's let the chips fall where they may. I am embarking on a new season, going to indulge my eyes and fingers and heart in whatever pleases me. Thankful to have found community with others who are like minded.

    Thanks for saying it so well. Your words encouraged me greatly. I needed to read this.

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    1. Sharyn, I know that we often find ourselves in a position where we feel we HAVE to pay that kind of attention. Like you, I had a mortgage to pay off and car payments and, as Zorba the Greek said, "the full catastrophe." I'm grateful for all those things but more so that the constant anxiety is gone. Work DID appear when I needed it, I was able to support myself all those years after Harris died. Skin of my teeth sometimes, but I made it. It's wonderful to be able to breathe and create and respond, now.

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    2. I am one of the believers that there are so many ways of being rich. I am independently wealthy beyond measure in all the best senses of the words, just have some work to go to extricate myself from the things that have turned art from bliss into work.Love your books and blog!

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  3. AMEN! AMEN! AMEN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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  4. Thank you for sharing your story. Thanks ;)

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    1. Thank you Patricia...I seem to be feeling the need, lately!

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  5. Thanks all! We all pay our dues, in one way or another, and I won't allow regrets and second-guessing myself to taint THIS moment, but I am truly enjoying this one, and paying attention to it!

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  6. Oh yes. OH YES. Mostly all anyone needs is a bit of technique (saves them time experimenting to understand how a tool works) and courage to make the marks theirs. I've grown to think of you as a friend. Huggs

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  7. Cathy...thank you for sharing some of your personal history. I have only recently gotten to know you and Joseph a little bit through the Urban Sketchers group. But learning of your artwork "in context" to who you are, and things you've gone through in this lifetime...it's important. I appreciate all that you've done to help others find their "artist's soul".

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    1. Thank you, Warren...I guess we all go through challenges and trials in our lives. Thank God for creativity, it saved mine, I am sure. And how could I do less? Payback time.

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  8. Oh, Dear Kate, I do love you! You tell it like you see and paint! I learn so much from you....not just about art, but about the art of life! Thanks for the lesson!

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  9. I have always admired you and so enjoy your video from your charming studio. I have thought to myself she thinks like I do. Now from this post I know it to be true. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, they mean a lot to me.

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  10. Hooray for you, and your robust, encouraging words about why and how to paint. As I move forward from the truly terrible to the not-so-bad, my eye and skills getting better slowly, the greatest surprise, and satisfaction, even at these early stages, is how every stroke engages with emotions, memories and thoughts, which seem at first to have no connection. Its a bit like meditating, perhaps, though I have never been drawn to that. And sometimes, when I glimpse a sketch I have done, there is a pop of pride and satisfaction too.
    Blessing to you, Kate.

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  11. No wonder you are such a great teacher! And the body of work you have generated is awe-inspiring!

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