Sunday, August 31, 2014

On Being An Artist

Oil on canvas (24" x 30") American Hut on Eagle Mountain
Recently while scrolling through the channels on television, I came upon a PBS special that aired earlier this year in March.  It was titled Becoming An Artist, and showcased the National Young Arts Foundation that was established in 1981.   I recorded the special and watched it several times.  The NYAF was founded to identify, support and nurture the nation's most talented young artists.  What I experienced in this half hour program was hope.  Hope that through the airing of such a program, and knowing such a foundation existed, that more people would discover how precious and necessary art is to our human existence.  And, to better understand the nature of the artist, whether they are established or becoming one.

Oil on canvas (30" x 40") Delicate Arch, Utah
I spent the next several days thinking this through, recalling my childhood, young adulthood, and present condition.  As a creative individual, I was often called upon to examine if I truly was one.  People would say, "You're an artist?  What do you paint?"  When I would tell them what I was currently doing, they'd call me a crafty person.  Or even artsy.  To which I would not defend myself, but simply reply, "No. I'm an artist".  They'd generally sniff, guffaw, or do something to belittle me since my name did not end in "Kinkade".  I'd walk away feeling quite alone and often frustrated.  How can a person who is not an artist understand what it means to be one?

The first few minutes of the PBS special began with Rosie Perez speaking to an audience of young adults at the NYAF.  She began, "Being an artist is not easy.  Ever go into a room and feel like you don't belong?  You feel that way because you have the soul of an artist.  You feel that way because your skin is electric.  Use that energy to create, express yourself.  Let your heart live.  Let your life defy that moment.  Its a great thing to be an artist."

Oil on canvas (24" x 30") Mennonite Quilters
These words spoke to me.  They brought back those dark places artists go to when they're bullied, frowned upon, told that what they do doesn't count or have merit, or it is implied that they are simply not good enough to call themselves an artist.  Those dark places of self-doubt.  Those sink holes of confidence lacking.  The quicksand of years of walking alone.  And this is the feeling, the inspiration that drove me to write on Being An Artist.  It wasn't the ego or joy at creating.  It wasn't the need to pontificate something I feel expert in, for I don't.  It was the cry of a lone wolf seeking the pack.

Oil on canvas (24" x 30") Bamburg Barn, Ontario, Canada
What is an artist?  Perhaps 100 years ago, or even prior to 1981, to most people an artist was a person that painted canvases.  And, even then, perhaps an artist was only someone who showed their work in a gallery.  Or let's get real tough, How about a painter that sold their work through a gallery.  If this wasn't you, you weren't an artist.  Today's definition of artist is, the opera singer, the sculptor, the writer, the poetry reader, the thespian or actor, the dancer, the fashion designer, the musician, the photographer...and more.  It is the human with the talent and soul to strive to create beauty and perfect their art.  You have to love the craft, and also love the work involved in making it better.  Not chasing after fame or fortune, but chasing excellence.

Why do we create?  Because we can.  Why do we struggle with it?  Because we must - to perfect.  How do we feel after we've performed, or finished a work of art?  For myself I've learned to feel little other than a momentary sense of accomplishment.  Then the drive to do better next time, whatever it is I attempt.  And why?  Because the act of creating is what makes me feel alive.  Its the process, the challenge, the adventure.  All that I do teaches me more and more about myself and what I'm not only capable of, but also what I may not be.

I cannot speak for others, but I do know that for myself, feeling the need to ground myself is of the utmost importance.  Creating is like an obsession, and when the product is complete, there's an initial sigh of joy, then emptiness.  It is not the emptiness of not having a next project in mind, its the loss of the adventure in creating.  The end of the journey.  Its likened to watching a child go off to college.  You nurtured it, and now it has a life of its own.  I once had a drawing teacher tell me that after he drew a picture (he taught charcoal drawing), he'd take the piece out back and burn it.  He told me once you create something, it belongs to the world, and if its personal to you, destroy it.  I would reword this as, "Once you create something, it is out there forever."

How often have you heard a song on the radio, or sat in a theater watching a musical, and hummed that tune for the next several days?  Or thought long on a piece of art you'd seen?  Or watched a dancer leap into the air and land as if on air, and not be able to get that image out of your head?  Once you create something, it is out there forever.

There is never a time when I don't feel inadequate.  Its a struggle for artistic perfection that keeps me going.  Yet, I know when I've completed something that it is good.  Its simply not my opus.  Being an artist is not easy.  It is not like going off to play at something.  It is work.  It is cerebral.  I needs an intelligence, an intellect and life experiences to grow and develop.  An artist needs to be aware at all times of their surroundings, the details of every living and inanimate thing.  It is self examination and honesty.  Above all, being honest with yourself.  From shadows, to stars, from objects to the spaces in between and the natural, pleasing arrangement of beauty.  Often we are intense individuals who seek release from the stone.  We sculpt our lives and our memories to leap to the stars in one brilliant achievement.  To dream the impossible dream, and make it possible.

"This is my quest
To follow that star
No matter how hopeless
No matter how far
To fight for the right
Without question or pause
To be willing to march into Hell
For a heavenly cause

And I know if I'll only be true
To this glorious quest
That my heart will lie peaceful and calm
When I'm laid to my rest

And the world will be better for this
That one man, scorned and covered with scars
Still strove with his last ounce of courage
To reach the unreachable star"

This blog is, and always has been on the creative process.  I chose to open myself up to you in this article, and also share some of my early work.  It helps me remember where I've come from.  It helps a reader understand where my art comes from, and possibly why I do what I do now.  I recall reading an article once that shared that Pat Benatar was trained as a classical performer, an opera singer.  Yet when she was asked to sing Rock and Roll, she never looked back.  If you're not having fun, you're not doing it right was the lesson.  However, the fun for an artist is all about seeking, learning more and new, applying that knowledge and working through the challenges.  Never giving up or giving in. 

Miss E. Mouse 

Oil on canvas (24" x 30") Father George, my second cousin, unfinished

Oil on canvas (30" x 40") Road to Zion, Utah in Autumn - the last canvas I painted

1 comment:

  1. I love what you've said about being an artist, because I was one of those people who thought artists were only people who paint on canvas. When I discovered doll artists, I realized that there is much more than just painting to being an artist. Miss Mouse, you are definitely an artists of putting words together, I guess I would call you an artistic writer.....because you write beautifully! I could go on and on about all the beautiful things you make, but I am not that comfortable with writing, so just know that I love everything you do! I love barn pictures, so I love the one you painted of Bamburg Barn, but I am really struck by the Mennonite women quilting, it's simply beautiful! I wish you would have shared the one of the world's fair that you painted, it is awesome, I love it!!