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!