I’ve spent months preparing for my February show, excited to wake up each morning and get out to the studio, feeling positive about the direction of the work, taking the challenges of medium and composition as they presented themselves in the moment without preconceived ideas of what the piece was going to be. It made being in the studio exciting. But now, as the opening date draws near, that same old nervousness that happens before every show creeps in, making me doubt my abilities, my sanity and my motives. I’m putting my babies out in front of the cold, cruel world for all to see…what if that world doesn’t like what it sees?
Pleasing the cold, cruel world wasn’t even a consideration when I started the work. That is the job of a commercial artist. That is the job of an artist with a client. In my studio, I am my client, and that means—trite and cheesy as it sounds—being true to myself: No jumping on the bandwagon of current trends in color or content, but searching my deepest downest innerness to make the work that means something to me. And sometimes that changes from one day to the next. The drawings I created at the beginning of this body of work perhaps hold no relevance for me today, are only reflections of myself and the moment they were created in. Are in fact, not my babies but pieces of myself that I will be putting on display for the whole world to see. Or at least for those willing to come to my show. My exhibition.
Obviously there is risk involved.
This is the risk every artist faces when finally putting their work out in the world. We close ourselves up like hermits, shut ourselves away from friends and family to hopefully then create something that speaks to the world, praying that our own humanity will connect us in the end. I often think of Van Gogh. He is my epitome of the dedicated artist. Out of the 900 or so paintings Van Gogh created in his lifetime only one sold. At least that’s the story; possibly he sold as many as two plus a handful of drawings. Woohoo.
And yet he remained dedicated to his art.
He’s reputed to have been mad. He must’ve been, to keep on going like that, rejection after rejection, like a self-involved, solitary, obsessive, um, artist. So many of us would just call it quits. And eventually he did by taking his own life. It’s hard to fathom how a person could despair to such a point. I think Don MacClean gave good insight in his ode to Vincent, Starry Night:
For they could not love you
But still your love was true.
And when no hope was left inside
On that starry, starry night
You took you life as lovers often do.
But I could have told you Vincent
This world was never meant for one as beautiful as you.
So why do we do it? Why do artists of any sort keep passing out our creations to an often unfeeling ungrateful and uncaring world?
I’m not going to tell you why. If you’re an artist reading this you already know why. If you’re not an artist you’ll never understand why; you’ll never understand how giving up one’s art is tantamount to, well…suicide. Or at the very least cutting off a limb (or an ear).
We see, hear, taste or sense something, and it makes us want to break out into song, dedicate a poem, dance wildly or paint a picture. Not always spontaneously. Sometimes things have to percolate awhile first. Sometimes we’re busy working our day jobs and have to wait till the weekend. Sometimes we stay up late while our spouses are sleeping. And then, after months of composing songs, painting pictures or writing poems, what is an artist supposed to do with all that work? Keep the paintings hidden away in the studio? The poems written down in notebooks and stuffed between mattresses? Sing the songs at home alone? Sometimes someone comes along and says, You should try to get your work published-in a gallery-on the radio.
And that’s when we get into trouble.
Pathetic, isn’t it? I try not to be swayed when my work isn’t accepted to a show, but it’s very hard not to feel discouraged. Still, here I am, doing what I’ve been doing all my life: Making art of some kind or another. I’ll probably never stop. We can all be glad that Vincent Van Gogh didn’t stop. Can you imagine the world without the work of Vincent Van Gogh? I just wish it hadn’t taken the world so long to see the beauty and genius in his paintings. He might have been spared some suffering.
And I might be spared some of that same suffering, although some suffering and frustration are just part of the territory; they come with the job, with any job.
So, World, if there is any beauty or genius in my work, I’m asking you now, I’m voicing my plea to you, something Van Gogh probably never thought to do—please please—can you let me know before I’m dead? Thanks.