Paintball, Detail, Diptych, (2) 48 x 48" / 121.92 x 121.92 cm, Acrylic on Canvas, 2010
‘Opportunity is not a lengthy visitor,’ said Cinderella's-mother-masquerading-as-a-tree, and if you're a struggling artist, that's very likely something that still, small voice in the back of your head is saying, too.
That still, small voice is what makes you jump at every 'unlengthy visitor' that comes knocking because well, art is like a video game—the more 'experience points' you rack up, the better for your career and/or your practice.
In a way, that voice, which I guess one might equate with my Daemon, has been 'the boss of me' for a long, long time. I always listened to him for, well, FOMO, I suppose—the fear of missing out on an opportunity to put my skills to use, hopefully sharpen them, and accumulate those ‘art experience points’ in the process.
Or well, I think I should say I almost always listened to him. Because something happened fairly recently that prompted me to say no to the urge to at least push for a whole bucketload of experience points. While I admit that decision wasn’t made without regret, looking back, I think I (//channels the Grail-guarding knight) chose wisely.
I’d like to share this experience with you along with a few words of wisdom (not that I'm wise or anything like that) about choosing your ‘art battles’. Choose the opportunities you commit to, rather than grabbing every single opportunity that comes your way and clinging to it like a long-lost relative (who is hopefully old, loaded and has you in his will (just kidding, so sorry).
Rebecca, 40 x 40” / 101.6 x 101.6cm, Acrylic on Canvas, 2019
Dreaming isn’t doing. It can be the start of doing, like, you’ll start doing because you were dreaming it, but until you take actual, purposeful steps toward making them come true, they’re ‘just’ dreams.
When I was a kid I used to say that I’d work really hard until I was 30, live off of what I’d saved working real hard until I was 40, and then die. I’m 45 now, so I guess I didn’t take those actual, purposeful steps, haha.
As I write this, I can’t help thinking about two things. The first is my first post on the jillablog, which I wrote about this same time two years ago. That was when the, I won’t say ‘first’ thing, but I would say ‘thing with the greatest impact’ occurred to set all of this in motion.
The second is my last show, Aviary, where I painted a lot of birdcages which, while it really had been something I’d always wanted to do, just felt ‘fitting’ or most suited to the times, at the time.
Looking back, I guess I really sort of can trace how everything led to me being here, two weeks in (and two years since) to my finally starting to settle down in what I’m trying to set up as my own little studio-slash-home.
Zebralang, approx 3 x 4’ / .91 x 1.2m, Acrylic on Canvas, 2011
Acrylic, to me is kind of like, if you like birds and you like horses, chances are, you’d like a pegasus. Or, if you like a good-looking guy who can dance, you’d like Gene Kelly. Or, if you like Oreos and vanilla ice cream…you get the idea.
What attracts me most about acrylic, I guess, is its versatility. I always said that if, one day, I had absolutely no more money to buy paint (and that day, I’m afraid is all but upon me), I would just sink what little I had left into acrylic. (Then live on crackers and water, lol.) I can use it like oil, and I can paint with it like watercolour.
Come to think of it, I didn’t learn to use acrylic at art school—everything I know about it, I learned in art classes at the museum, and my fantastic teacher there taught me how to use it both ways. (We did use acrylic at art school, but more like a support medium / like for ground or underpainting and not as a medium in itself.)
I remember she said acrylic, basically, was a lot like liquid plastic, and it had only been in use really for art in the past 50 years. (That was some 20 years ago, so I guess I should say 70 years, now.) That said, people won’t really be sure of the archival value of works in acrylic until a few hundred years or so have passed.
Then again, given how people keep going on and on about how plastic isn’t biodegradable, I guess it’s fairly safe to say works in acrylic on canvas, at least, ought to be a good enough investment down the road. (That is, if you’re buying art for that purpose.)
When the bad guys asked the Joker to go kill Batman, what did Joker say? ‘If you’re good at something, never do it for free.’
Lately, I’ve become a little extra sensitive to the fact that there are people who seem to think it’s ‘okay’ to ask artists to do what they’re good at, gratis. Coincidentally, Melissa Corbett, an Australian artist based in Spain, recently released a podcast on ‘Why do people think my art should be free?’ featuring Italian artist Chiara Gomiselli and US-based artist, Tatyana Ostapenko.
Interestingly enough, there are even some people who seem to think that if you’re an artist and you ask to get paid for your work, you’re not a ‘real’ artist. This strikes me as funny because I’ve also heard the exact opposite—if you’re a ‘real’ artist, you should be making money off your work, because if you don’t, you’re not a professional.
Go figure. ^_^
In this post, I’ll be thinking x writing out loud about how it just seems so easy for some people to ask artists to work ‘for exposure’ or ‘as a favour’ because ‘you like to do it, anyway’. Like they think artists somehow don’t deserve to be compensated, at the very least, for the time and the materials (which don’t come cheap) that go into creating a work of art.
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.
I can think of a zillion places where I’ve heard some variation on this theme, but here are some off the top of my head.
I also remember seeing a link to a blog post or an article over at my art class classroom where, I’m not sure if it was also by an artist? But the article was questioning like, what good are artists to society, anyway?
Well anyway, full disclosure time: This post comes on the heels of that survey that seemed to cause quite a stir in the country it came out in, which isn’t mine but isn’t that far away. Or well it is pretty far away if you think in terms of how much richer that country is, eheheh.
But maybe not so very far away from the way a lot of us back here also regard art as pretty much useless unless you make a whole lot of money with it. It’s that whole, how your parents freak out when they find out you want to be a painter instead of a doctor or a lawyer or the CEO of some mega corporation-thing. You know the one ^_^
Or well, it isn’t just back here in my neck of the worldwide woods, either—I read once about how this other artist in the US, I think? Said that when people ask her what she does for a living and she says ‘I’m an artist’, people go, ‘Oh…’ (As in ‘Oh dear’.) But when she went to Paris, she would be like ‘I’m an artist’ and they’d be like, ‘Oh, that’s wonderful!’
Things have been hard on everyone, lately, without exception. Or at least (unless you live a hole or somewhere super remote and grow your own food and all that) pretty much everyone’s been affected in one way or another. But no matter how hard things get, or whatever changes, it amazes me how creators never stop creating.
There have been times of great hardship throughout history, like wars, pestilence, famine and natural disasters—times during which you’d think survival would be foremost if not solely on people’s minds. This naturally meant things like art would take a back seat until things got better and people could ‘afford’ to think of these things again.
But people have continued creating in spite of these things. People were painting during the Black Plague and throughout wars around the world. In the Philippines, when they threw artists in jail during Martial Law, they wrote and composed and did their thing in their cells.
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.
There we were, my co-workers and I, sitting on the beach on a Saturday night—they, with their beers, and I with the one can of Coke I'd been nursing all throughout the evening.
We fell to talking about the vicissitudes of digital marketing agency life and, the discussion turned towards the pain of having one’s hard work dissed by the client (and sometimes, even by one’s own colleagues). (I confess I do whine about this a lot.)
One of my fellow writers who was, for once, actually a few years older than I was (most of my co-workers being millennials) piped up and said: ‘Being older and having worked far longer than any of you here, I can tell you, you are not your work.’
I may not have had an alcoholic drop to drink, but I might as well have had for the heat with which I retorted, ‘I have a problem with that statement’.
Now, everyone is entitled to his own opinion. And in retrospect I may have understood where that co-worker of mine was coming from. Honest. But forgive me when I repeat, I really do have a problem with that statement.
Read on and let me know if you agree with me, or at least get where I’m coming from on this.
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.