Living An Artist's Life

I admit it.
I've never been so happy. People notice. Sometimes folks ask me about my life and then squint at me while I answer, like they're seeing through some dense fog, trying to imagine such a thing as doing what you love... and making your living doing it. I’ve watched one or two walk away obviously unconvinced. It just "does not compute" for some.

I didn't always do what I loved, though. I held myself away from this challenge and this pleasure and the artist's life for years and years...

I told myself I’d get back to my art when I retired, when my daughter was grown, when my To-Do list was all crossed off, when I could build a studio first, when I could find a whole, uninterrupted day/week/month to devote to it, when I owned all the right supplies, when I could be guaranteed up front that I would be successful at it, when I knew for sure that I had something unique to offer, when I could stop being afraid of failing, when I could stop being afraid.

 All those excuses, all that fear only served to keep me doing the thing I was less passionate about and kept me afraid. This fear starts early. I have spoken to hundreds and hundreds of third-graders as the representative “fine artist” in an arts program of a local school district, and I can count on at least one child per class asking, “What if you make a mistake?”

Oh my. This is the truth of it: almost every other brush stroke is a “mistake.” You lay one down, you assess how closely it came to the value/color/direction/ thickness/sharpness you had in mind. If it varied too far from your intention, you mix more paint and lay another one on top of it. Then you assess that one. Then you repeat that sequence until you have a finished painting.

It’s just paint.

Or is it? When you think of what painting (writing/drawing/sculpting/playing music/etc.) represents to someone who is a ‘derailed’ artist, or an artist who is learning a new medium, or a new artist, or someone who is not sure she CAN BE an artist at all, it’s a whole lot more.

It’s being willing to step outside of the safe, the ordinary, the approved, the sanctioned, the tried-and-true, in order to take risks and be vulnerable and unique and authentic and experimental and audacious , expressing to yourself that time spent making art is valuable… valuable to you and perhaps even to others down the line.

When I started to paint again and then to show my new work to friends and patients, then to strangers, and then to take commissions and then to enter shows and then start a blog and a website to show my work to a wider circle yet, then to open a gallery… the very process of facing my fears, one brush stroke at a time, has made me braver. Every painting has made me a more experienced painter.

I’m now voracious in the never-ending process of adding to my skills and the range of paintings I make. I see potential paintings everywhere and in everyone. There isn’t enough time in the world for me to paint every painting I want to make.

Over this last year and a half I’ve been facing an enormous fear. I’m learning to dance. I’m taking classes, I make mistakes, I make a fool of myself, I apologize to everyone I dance with, but I’m learning. And sometimes I can make it all the way around the dance floor or get through a whole song and feel the magic of turning in step and moving to a beat and cooperating with a dance partner. I still feel fear, but I dance all the way through it. Isn’t that the way of it?

I encourage you to live the artist’s life: Create something for yourself today. Lay a stroke down. Write a sentence. Play a note or two or three. Dance a little. Dance a lot. Feel the fear and then do it anyway. You’re the artist of your life.

Life is good.