Windy Day, Detail, 48 x 36" (with frame) /121.92 x 91.44 cm, Watercolour on Paper, 2006
People who know me might laugh when they hear me say this, but I really have a hard time asking anybody for help, for anything.
Just this past week, for instance, at my other job, I was forced to realise that my backlog had grown to unmanageable proportions. Blame it on my bad time management or what you will, but blaming wasn’t going to get the tasks done. I was embarrassed to ask the others on my team to help out, because I was hyper aware that they had tasks of their own, too.
In the end, I asked for help, and hey, presto! The tasks were done in a day, when they had been sitting on my to-do list for weeks.
So I admit—I’m like that as an artist, too. But I guess now I’m having to recognise, formally, that asking for help with your practice isn’t a bad thing.
As the voice of experience in that hit 80s gangster movie, Sean Connery tells Charles Martin Smith that stamping his feet will keep him warm—something he learned in his 20 years of walking the beat. I haven’t been practising that long, but I guess you can’t help picking stuff up here and there that hopefully will help you ‘the next time you return to the woods’.
I’ve always said every show for me was a learning experience, and that every show always feels like the first. I may’ve worked on themes and exhibited in some places more than once but really, it’s never the same experience twice and there’s always something to learn.
I was asked recently if I could maybe share what I’ve learned and I thought, meow, I’m still learning, myself. But I’m thinking maybe, it might be a good exercise for me to reflect on this, so I can better remember all these things, and maybe it’ll help other people to avoid making the same mistakes I did.
So, here we go in no particular order and I’ll try to keep this short.
Well, we can’t all be Monet.
I’m not talking about being able to paint water lilies, haystacks or steam engine steam (although what I’d give to be able to paint like that)—I’m talking about that barn he used to have to work in.
Right now, about the only dream I have left in life (for, as Eugenie says, life is an eternal shipwreck of our hopes) is to have a huge studio. Or well, even just an okay studio will do—just enough space to house all my junk (and the junk I make my junk with) and hopefully for me to make even more junk in.
I don’t need an entire barn (although that would be AWESOME); I'd be happy with even just a good-sized room.
Buuut like I said, we can’t all be Monet, and most of us have to make do with what we’ve got. And right now all I’ve got is more or less half a room about oh… eight feet square (a little less than two and a half metres)? My sister has the other eight feet, which I try my best not to encroach on even if she has a place of her own near where she works and is hardly ever here.
Last month I talked about six things my (or well most of mine, since one of them was somebody else’s) art teachers told me that weren’t true. That wasn’t to say I had lousy teachers; as I’ve said, I really like to think they were all just doing their best and hopefully they themselves didn’t think they were lying and believed what they said to be true.
That said, I figured this month I’d go into six things I was told in my artist’s formative years that not only turned out to be true, but turned out to be mantras, of sorts, for me. Or at least, these were things that have stayed with me (for good or ill) all throughout what passes for my career.
See if you’ve ever been told any of these things and whether you’ve swallowed them hook, line and sinker as I have.
I was never a particularly exemplary student—at art or any school, for that matter. But I flatter myself thinking that I did try, and for me trying meant swallowing everything the teacher said, hook, line and sinker.
Now that the jaded ol’ jillamonster has seen a bit of mileage, I now know that ‘it ain’t necessarily so’, what some of those well-meaning (I hope) maestros once told me.
And as a former art teacher myself (if I may make so bold as to call myself that), I never wanted to (for lack of a better word) impose anything on my students that I knew was more of a personal preference than a hard-and-fast rule. Plus certain things that I knew they had to figure out for themselves (for which all I could do really was to do my best to guide them towards whatever those were).
So why am I sharing six things my own teachers told me that I found to be not quite as black-and-white as they made out to be? It’s not because of some anarchist, rebellious, question authority x down with the status quo whatever or anything. Far from it.
It’s because I want you to know, if you’ve just started getting into art or taking classes or trying to find yourself artistically or something—that some things in art aren’t governed by what your teacher says. You need to find your own path, your own way of doing things, and that path is what makes what you create truly your own. Sounds pretty darn obvious, but there you go.
So after asking, and asking, and asking—I finally got me a show. Thank You, God. Thank you Dear Mama Mary. Thank you, Dear Saint Jude, Dear Saint Rita, Dear Saint Philomena. Dear Saint Claire, Dear Saint Matthew, Dear Saint Joseph. Thank you, Dear Saint Dymphna.
You know, I was told once back in school that you can pray all day long to pass the exams but if you don’t study… so I’m a big believer in ‘God helps those who help themselves’. But I’m just as big a believer in ‘you can plan and help yourself all you want, but unless God gives you the green light, then’…
Having said that, I really am just so very grateful!
But yes, I finally did get a show, and it really was a miracle because you know, galleries usually are booked a year in advance. So this, and the last one I was able to sneak into as a guest artist (‘not really a show’, but still) really were, literally, heaven-sent.
There really was a lot of asking involved, though, and that’s what I want to talk about today, mainly because of two things I’ve seen recently.
One was an episode of that online self-help show (‘help themselves’, remember?) where the host interviewed this famous writer who said he didn’t start making any money from his writing until he was well into his 50’s. Even now (even with all his best-selling books), he said he still has trouble getting projects off the ground, or even support from people close to him.
The other one I saw was an article about how this now super famous pop star had a Facebook page put up by her haters back in uni saying how she was never going to be famous, ever.
That singer told about how she started out living in the cheapest apartment she could find. The article described how she really put herself out there writing songs for other people and all that other stuff in the background before things started happening for her. When she made the acceptance speech for her award in the end, she said in a nutshell that it is a lot of hard work.
I don't purport to know everything. Yet if the little I do know can be of any help, you are more than welcome to it.