Confessions of a Not-So-Famous Artist
Sometimes you need a swift-kick in the ass to get motivated. That kick for me came from a 19 year old, 2nd degree black-belt, who just happens to be my wife’s niece. She is visiting us from New Jersey where her family lives and where she goes to college. She’s, gasp, an Art-major!
Now before I get her in trouble with all her Indian-relatives, I should say that she’s a computer-art/design-major. She’s sensible about her career. She doesn’t want to be a starving artist.
But what is really cool to see, as someone who is 20 years older than her, is that she has already claimed her, “artist-status,” at such a young age.
There is a special thing that happens when you start telling people that, “I’m an artist.” It’s almost like saying, “Hi. I’m a creative person and I don’t care that you know it, or even what you think about it. Now have a nice day.” (My wife would say that most art-majors would then say, “Would you like fries with that?”)
I think that publically claiming that you want to be an artist is almost as stressful as a gay-person coming out; mainly because both carry a social stigma.
Now I’m not gay, but I do remember coming to terms with my own decision to tell people that I wanted to be an artist. It was hard for me to even say it out loud for a while because I thought people were going to make fun of me. I also knew there would be a lot of questions.
When you tell people that you want to be an artist, it’s usually followed by questions like: “Well, what kind of art do you want to do? How are you going to make a living doing that? Aren’t you afraid of being unemployed? What are you going to do full-time until you ‘make it.’?”
“An artist is not paid for his labor, but for his vision.” James Whistler
I didn’t claim my artist-status until I was in my 30’s. I always loved art. I used to draw a lot when I was in high school. I was a senior in high school when I got my first tattoo and have collected 12 others so far at a cost of over $5000.00. But when I was in my 20’s, I lost interest in making art. Drinking took the place of a lot of creative things that I used to do.
I have been a writer since I was a young kid. But I didn’t claim my writer’s-status until I was in my late 20’s or early 30’s.
I called myself a writer for at least three years before I ever had anything published. I remember sitting in a Humor in American Literature class one evening at the local community college. (I already had my first Master’s degree in Communications.) We all had to introduce ourselves and when it was my turn, I said something like, “My name is Doug and I’m a writer. The reason I’m taking this class is because I’ve been working on a memoir about my trip to India for the last year. I just finished writing it and I wanted to take a break from it.”
The teacher shook her head up and down in agreement and then delivered an ego-crushing blow by asking, “Have you ever been published anywhere?”
I frowned and said, “No, not yet because I’ve been focused on finishing my book.”
I felt like the teacher had checked my writer’s-card and with one question, revoked it.
But shortly after that experience, I had three pieces published in a row. And for the record, I still haven’t had my memoir published yet, even though it’s been finished for a year now. But I am much more secure in my self-proclamation as an writer/artist now than was I was then.
“Every artist was first an amateur.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
It’s refreshing to see my wife’s niece not be afraid to claim herself as an artist, but that doesn’t mean she’s not concerned about her future. It’s scary to decide that you want to base your profession on your art.
I’ve considered myself a, “serious writer,” for over 10 years now and I haven’t had the balls to try to do it full-time for a living.
My niece has the same fears as a lot of artists. She said, “A lot of my friends are going to be doctors and stuff, but I just can’t see me doing that. I got into Drexel, which has one of the best med-programs in my area. But I just don’t want to be a doctor. I think I would feel stuck if I did that, like locked in a box. I want to be creative, but at the same time, it’s kind of scary because I don’t have set career path like I would if I went into medicine.”
I completely understand her feelings. I have enough schooling under my belt to have been a doctor, or lawyer, or have gotten a Ph.D. But here I am, sitting in a job that anyone with a high school degree can apply for.
So after talking with my wife’s niece, I decided I needed to dust off the old artist-card and finish some my projects that I hadn’t worked on in months.
I had a children’s book that I wrote for my daughter some time back and did nothing with. The story is called What Did We Do Today? It basically goes over the day’s events.
Yesterday I finally looked up a bunch of clip art and made a booklet out of it. Now I plan on taking it up to Kinko’s and making one color printing and then I’m going to have it spiral bound so I can give it to my daughter as a one of her birthday presents.
I also have poem about the hot rod culture that I wrote almost two years ago. I had wanted to make a mixed-media video out of it, but never seemed to have the time to do it.
So I found a bunch of hot-rod images, made sure to document the sources as my niece had reminded me to do, and now I plan on reading my poem over the top of those images on a video. I’m not a real technical guy, but my niece gave me a bunch of ideas on how to get it accomplished.
It’s funny how your creative juices can get flowing when you’re around another artist. I’ve been blocked for what feels like a few months. Now the creative-dam has burst yet again and my mind won’t turn off. I feel like I’m back in my element of creativity and I’m going to ride the high as long as I can.
I know I will come crashing down eventually. But one thing I need to remind myself is,
“Without art, the crudeness of reality would make the world unbearable.”George Bernard Shaw