There was an editorial in Sunday’s New York Times which is high on the most-emailed list, posted frequently to Facebook as well, on The Joy of Quiet. It clearly resonates with a lot of people: in essence the article discusses the various values of going offline, not taking calls, etc.
In a sense I have been doing that, staying quiet and unconnected, in that I have not been posting on either of my blogs for months. I mounted a (personally) important exhibition of my work this year to show in two venues, in the spring and in the fall. The works I made to send were redolent with meaning, dripping with lush color, totally satisfactory to myself, and to those who cared to comment to me, as a strong new body of work. I got a great writeup in Santa Fe’s Pasatiempo (hard to get, they say!), 2 pages, 2 big color photos of tapestries. Seems like I did everything right, and I sat back for a little while to rest on my laurels.
But here is the hard truth, friends: I sold exactly one piece, a small one, out of the two shows combined. For those of you who have long since opted out of commercial galleries, proudly disdaining commercializing your art, bully for you. I have been proud, delighted, and extraordinarily fortunate to have made a living for close to 30 years by the sale of my tapestries. I am also proud of my work, itself, as a real expression of my thoughts and vision, as something that people clearly love and respond to. So what happened?
Well, the economy, I guess. I have survived a number of recessions over the years totally intact, hardly missing a beat. But life is different now. It is shocking and jarring to realize, at the age of 57, that in a sense I have been laid off. My artwork is an elite and — seemingly unnecessary — luxury few can afford. More on that later.
Join the club, you might say. Of course. A lot of folks who had previously fortunate lives got their pink slips in the last few years! And so — like many others — I have been spending a few months trying to reinvent my way of working.
I feel fortunate to be a creative person, to be an artist. I actually don’t feel unemployed (my mother, when speaking about the difficulties her family endured during the Great Depression, proudly maintained “my father worked every day. He just didn’t get paid for it”). I have been as busy as ever, as optimistic as ever (something about the bottom falling out tends to rally some of us: gets the adrenaline flowing and brings out the survival mode.) I believe that creative people are in the best position to dig themselves out of problems — as long as we can believe in the value of our ideas.
I used to wonder what in the world I might be able to do if I couldn’t make art, and would conclude, nothing. One of my more recent schticks about “the business of being an artist” classes is that I sure wish, back in art school, they had told us what else our extraordinarily creative minds might be good for, in case we needed to make a living! So now, I am looking at what I know, what skills I have, what beliefs I want to share (the role of the artist), to find where I fit now. I plan to re-invent my art making, though I did think about becoming a nurse.
Art has always been essential to culture. To cut it out of budgets as a superfluous, unnecessary expense is a grave mistake. Art-making, and living with art, makes us more human, more articulate in non-verbal modes, more sensitive to the world. So it shouldn’t be so hard to make my work essential. That is – essentially — what I have been musing about for the last 3 months.
I have made 3 new year’s resolutions, and they are all absolutely vital, and absolutely terrifying for me to undertake. They are
Frightening because now I must take responsibility for my thoughts — again.
I would really welcome your comments!
more as it happens,
Laura, I admire your courage to face reality head on. Your honesty and determination will carry you through. What you are facing is essentially the same question everyone else facing in different ways: how do I live out the remaining life that is still inside of me? How do I connect through the ever changing landscape?
Keep creating-that is what you are,your special gift, don’t stop!I’ve been tempted to stop many times over the years, but I can’t live without drawing and creating, it just HAS to be done…you will find a way.
You said it so well. I too used to have more work than time. Now, literally nothing. Thanks for being honest! Character and integrity is everything. Here is what a colleague pointed out after a recent professional design event, when I lamented everyone else seemed to have work, “Come on, if they say they are busy, they are flat out lying.”
I really feel like a survivor in this economy, too. My sales dropped drastically about three years ago. And, yet, there have been many articles out about how well the art market is doing in certain circles and how much new money there is out there, especially in Asia. Part of our challenge, I think, is in trying to go beyond our traditional markets. I really hope that TAFA will be able to help forge that path for all of us! (www.tafalist.com)
This post broke my heart for your feelings of putting something satisfying out into the world and thinking that it might not have made an impact. Please know that your work is very important to me. I can’t tell you the number of times I have logged on to the Patina gallery exhibit and wished I could afford to purchase a piece. Even though I don’t have much money and I would love to give more art a home with me, I know that your art and several other local artists’ work is selling for a fraction of its worth, and given enough time for small-time admirers to save our pennies, your beautiful tapestries will sell. (I will be very sad though, when Beatrice Muse goes on to a new home!! 🙂
What a lovely thing to say! Here is one thing I think about, though: how to imbue design or small little things I make with that same poignant worth? Or is that the difference right there, the value, so to speak. How to put work out there to share this with people and make it accessible– but still make a living?
Your post put me in mind of the exchange between Connor (Mike) and Tracy in Philadelphia Story:
Tracy: When you can do a thing like that book, how can you possibly do anything else?
Mike: Well, you may not believe this, but there are people in this world that must earn their living.
Tracy: Of course, but people buy books, don’t they?
Mike: Not as long as there’s a library around. You know, that book of mine represents two solid years’ work. And it netted Connor something under six hundred dollars.
Tracy: But that shouldn’t be!…What about your Miss Imbrie?
Mike: Well, Miss Imbrie is in somewhat the same fix. She’s a born painter, and might be a very important one. But Miss Imbrie must eat. And she also prefers a roof over her head to being constantly out in the rain and snow.
Tracy: Food and a roof….
Ah! indeed the quandary is reduced to these two things. Working on the food part now, and will soon write about trying to get local food to our little hamlet.