I recently purchased the book The Creative Tarot by Jessa Crispin, which is AWESOME! It interprets the tarot through the lens of the creative person and their creative process, and has a variety of cool spreads. I attemped one of them, but as it happens sometimes in tarot I received cards that didn't seem to match the positions within that particular spread. But; they seemed to tell a different story that was the creation of THIS spread!
Here is a snapshot or overview of your creative world in the present moment: the environment you create in, you the creator, where you get ideas (and advice from that elusive creature), your process for creating, your physical creation, and how to bring your work to the world.
In my previous installment, Dear Reader, we learned that Karin is realizing that receiving a Master-y degree in Art or making Art into a career or yoking it to money-making isn't necessary to be defined as successful, or even necessary to be defined as an Artist, and definitely not necessary in living a creative life. In fact, success as an Artist living a Creative Life could be simply (or rather Magically) be defined as open to receiving Ideas, and then making Art Objects.
This makes me (I'm Karin, btw) SO HAPPY I can't even tell you. Well actually I'm going to try to tell you. Like, right now.
Because I already do that AND I am super duper good at it. I get Ideas ALL THE TIME, about quite the assortment of subjects.
I like assortments. One of my favorite meals in our household is the "snack plate". It became a meal with a title when my daughter was small: a bunch of small foods that included veggies and dips and meats and fruits and crackers and cheese. It was easier than trying to force complicated adult type meals. And as I mentioned, I kinda like to eat that way too. I like variety! I love restaurants with shareable plates or small plates, because I want to try all the things! Smorgasbords or salad bars or a meal of only appetizers? YES PLEASE!
This passion for variety encompasses more than just food preferences. I've rarely stayed in a job for longer than 2 years. For a while it was hard to stay in a home for longer than a couple of years as well. We've lived in one house now for almost 10 years, but I ALWAYS have tabs open on my computer with real estate listings. And I adore our house! I always want to learn or experience something new: that's also one of the reasons why if I don't travel at least once a year I start to get itchy.
So as you probably can guess, I also get quite a few art ideas. Inspiration is not one of my challenges. However, trying to force my buffet-type personality into the current mastery mono-meal lifestyle that is encouraged by Western Culture IS a big challenge. My question to you: what's wrong with having multiple interests, and pursuing what you are curious about? As long as you make sure you provide for yourself the basic survival needs of shelter/clothing/food/sleep/healthcare, why do you need to Master One Thing? Answer: you don't. My friend Sara Saltee, when I shared with her that I felt ashamed of all the jumping around of things I have done, she re-framed it as my "portfolio of projects". How GREAT is that? Life already is a portfolio of experiences, and we wouldn't want that to be any different. The thing is, that's where my creativity thrives.
But, when you have as many Ideas as I do, another challenge is doing all of them. That is not necessarily a bad thing: if you subscribe to author Elizabeth Gilbert's theory that Ideas are conscious beings that look for humans to bring them into the physical world, and that if you decide not to sign a contract with them, they have no probs heading to a new human: then no worries! The idea will find a way, with or without you. Back to the BUT part... I will admit that sometimes I have an issue following through to the end with at least ONE idea, before jumping to the next one. That does, in fact, make my Muse a bit grumpy.
Side note: This probably sounds a bit familiar to folks who trend ADD/ADHD... and yes, though not formally diagnosed, I'm starting to think that I might be wired that way. Before the explosion of information about neural diversity, some other ways to describe this type of brain or personality would perhaps be at best multi modal, or right brained, or at worst "lazy" or "flaky".
Anyway, the point of all this is that I'm ready to embrace my snack plate life rather than trying to force myself to conform to one track since that's not my strength; with the caveat to work harder at finishing more things that I start before jumping the next bright shiny. How that impacts my art life is to continue as I have been: listening for Ideas, making art objects, and sharing them with you. So it won't look too different, except I am re-framing it in my own head as a Creative Art Journey rather than an Art Career (which requires "marketing" and "a signature style" and "representation" blah blah blah); and the art objects or projects I make are souvenirs on the way: some of which will end up as grist, some I'll keep, some I'll give away, and some I'll exchange for dollars.
I can't tell you what a relief it is not to keep trying to decide what box my art fits into, and that I can give the whole trying-to-sell-you-something a break. I hope you'll keep following along, checking out what snack variety I have on display!
This past year of Pandemic retreat time has been awful in many ways, but turned out to be perfect for chewing and noodling and processing some insights that have come my way. The subject: myself as a creative person, my creative process, and creative living.
A huge challenge of mine is and has been equating my self worth/self definition with my success as a specific kind of artist and, further, my understanding of the word “success.” The limited way I've defined "success" has been: mastery of singular passion -> career -> $$$$. This has shifted recently, helped along by wisdom nuggets in Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Big Magic, and some pointed questions from my friend and creativity expert Sara Saltee. I've come to realize with their help that I can be an artist, make art, and share art divorced from the other stuff in that silly equation. Money, Career, Fame, blah blah blah: they are not a requirement. It's funny, I keep thinking I've got this figured out (see my past post HERE ), and yet here I am again. Sheesh.
Isn't it interesting how culture informs our perceptions of ourselves and our trajectory in life, and how sticky and pernicious those ideas can be? As an American White-skinned Gen X type person, the message I received (and maybe you did too!) was the following:
1.) Choose ONE thing you are PASSIONATE about!!!!
2). Master that one thing in college!!!
3.) Make a career out of that thing!!
4.) Succeed at that career by making lots of lettuce!!!
Since according to the previous equation of success I had to narrow down all my interests to ONE THING, I chose ART. Art was something that I couldn't seem to stop doing if I tried: making art things was and always will be my jam. Since I had to master this passion in order to make a career out of it, I studied Illustration and Graphic Design. Then I headed out into the world to make the dollar bills. Result: Eh, not so much. I’ve had mild success as a designer type, and there is so much I really love about it. But that love never offset enough the dislike of the challenges of a design career.
Fortuitously for me, I had partnered via marriage to someone who did have a successful career in the realm of money and health insurance, so I had room to ditch the whole Designer/Career idea and take the risky step towards…an ARTIST career.
I couldn't just call myself an artist without trying to do the career part, because If I didn't make art into a career, was I truly an artist? I was pretty sure without the career and attendant cash money, I was just an.....amateur*. The horror!
The unfortunate result is that I have saddled my creative process with the pressure of my idea of what an artist is supposed to look like, what a career is supposed to look like, and the amount of money I earned from my artwork.
Oh, what a WEIGHT I have put upon my creative self!
Elizabeth Gilbert talks about the creative muse as magical, conscious ideas that seek out a human to manifest them into the physical world, going from creator to creator until she can be made physical. I have had real world experiences that confirm in my head that Gilbert is onto something: I can't tell you how many times I've had amazing (and oddly specific) ideas that then I've seen manifested into the world by someone else, including a mixed media painting that I had sketched out and planned that I then saw on social media a few years later created by another artist!
That is the Big Magic that Elizabeth talks about; getting to collaborate with Ideas-in-Spirit in order to make them Real-in-the-World.
And that's it, that’s the agreement.
Things that this amazing contract does NOT include: the promise of dollars, the promise of fame, the promise of self worth. Things the contract does include: the joy of partnering with creativity and the joy of creating.
Just to clarify, it's not that artists have to be poor and money isn't allowed, or that there isn't such thing as lucrative art careers. The epiphany was really more around the idea that career/money doesn't define success as an artist. Having gallery representation doesn't define success as an artist. Having fame doesn't define success as an artist.
Being an artist means not being able to stop making art things.
I am and always will be an artist, regardless of the other stuff. Going back to super smart-pants E. Gilbert, she tells a story about herself as a young person making a promise to her Writer Self that she would always do whatever it took to continue writing. So, she would get jobs to support herself and give her Muse room to create with her on projects. It turned out that writing became a career, but that was never part of her promise.
That just resonates with me so much. Instead of asking my Muse to serve me in order to have a career/wealth/fame, what if I served Her instead? Or even better, collaborated as a partner?
So now the question I’ve been posing to my Muse during this crazy lock down year: what if the sole goal for me with art wasn't to have a lucrative career, but rather primarily the joy of interacting with my muse and seeing what we come up with together? What does my creative life look like if I unyoke it from the pressure of money making, and unyoke it from my grasping ego?
....to be continued.
Some Resources for Creative Living Wisdom Nuggets that I've been inspired by:
Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
Art and Fear by David Bayles + Ted Orland
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
Amelie (2001) Written and Directed by Guillaume Laurant + Jean-Pierre Jeunet
* The original definition of the word amateur is to do something purely for the love of it, regardless of fame and fortune. The condescending connotations only came later. Prolly with the prevalence of capitalism.
One of my other hats besides artist is board member for my local chapter of The League of Women Voters. I was honored to design a t-shirt celebrating 100 years since the signing of the 19th amendment and the creation of The League of Women Voters, which benefits our local chapter and helps supports programs for registering and educating voters.
The inspiration for this design was the suffrage movement, starting in Britain and expanding to the United States. The phrase "Deeds Not Words" was coined by British Suffragist Emmeline Pankhurst, who believed actions spoke louder than words. Which applies today, when we go out and VOTE.
You can purchase a t-shirt at the League website.
If you follow me on Instagram or Facebook, in April you witnessed my attempt to create 30 portraits in 30 days when I signed up with a drawing challenge at Sktchy.com (I highly recommend for anyone, any artistic level...so fun!). It was so great to revisit drawing as a practice, which I used to do all the time but as I moved to painting, less so. Since I've been spending less time at my art studio because of Covid interruptions, I really appreciated having an outlet for my artsy self. Here's a gallery of all the sketches!