The Truth About Full Time Artists

August 20, 2021

(Well maybe the truth about my life as a full time artist.)

Looking for some gems.

Leave your job they said. Ditch the 9 to 5 they shouted. Work as a full time artist they chanted. You’ll find freedom, contentment and good vibes.

Truth be told “they” didn’t say, shout or chant anything. It was all me. Actually come to think of it I have never spoken to anyone else who left their stable, well paying, benefits clad, pension dripping job to pursue a life as an artist. Yesterday I was listening to CBC’s podcast about Rembrandt. You know him. The guy whose painting sold for over 180 million dollars. I still have a hard time understanding who has that kind of money and how someone can spend that amount on anything. Anyway, that’s totally not the point I’m trying to make but I think it needed to be said.

So Rembrandt’s paintings are worth more than anyone I know will ever make in their lifetimes combined. But he lived and died in poverty. Like lost all his possessions kind of poverty – except for a mirror he used to paint his numerous self portraits. He apparently was able to buy that back. But on the mirror’s return to him it broke. I know. I’m making this whole artists’ life sound depressing.

It’s really not depressing at all. I just think it’s set up kind of wrong.

Here’s what I mean. Coming from an education background – timelines, paper work, meeting the expectations of a variety of people is what I learned to do well. I’m used to having to work with a lot of external pressure and expectations. Once I applied for and received my Canada Council for the Arts grant I set out to use the same principles that worked so well in my education background to execute this project. I even got a project management app (overboard I know – we’ve spoken about my over zealous tendencies in my previous blog post). I set up timelines and schedules when paintings and stories would be worked on and finished and all the boring stuff that I seem to enjoy.

Early on in the project I was consumed with thoughts about what people would perceived about my paintings.

Would they think they were shallow, reveal inexperience, or flat out a waste of public funds. That quickly started to shape the risks I took and the direction my paintings went. Plus there was Covid 19 and I had a house of 4 teenagers – well my youngest isn’t one but she acts like one. I built a studio with a door, a lock and a sign that told my kids I was working so don’t disturb. I imagined hours spent on projects in my studio – in solitude, in harmony with my plants, and in flow.

None of that happened. My kids saw me painting, drawing or on the computer and couldn’t imagine that I was actually working. They even learned how to pick the lock – you can credit my eldest son for that turtorial. My paintings were another fail. They felt forced. They felt like I was really trying to colour within imaginary lines set out by the critics in my mind. I was catering to voices so far from my self I eventually stopped painting. I moved on to work on some writing instead.

Slowly I returned to the canvas and this time I accepted somethings about myself and this journey I’m on.

I’m a beginner. This is the start of my life as a working artists. I’m talking infancy stage. I haven’t even hit that awkward and equally obnoxious adolescent stage yet. So I need to relax a little. No one is expecting me to be like a child genius or anything – even though I secretly want to be one. The other thing I’m accepting is that – I’m not a trained artist. That means there’s so many things I have to learn about the tools I want to use, the styles I’m discovering within myself and how that can all come together. Even Rembrandt didn’t get perspective, light and all that technical stuff right from the beginning. (That CBC podcast had gems I’m telling you.)

The last thing I’m accepting is so big that I’m giving it its very own paragraph. These projects can’t be approached like long range plans, or school improvement plans or anything ending in plans. I don’t even like calling them projects. My daughter said another name for projects are rejects- I have to think about that for a bit but I think she is on to something. What I’m really doing when I’m creating is I’m expressing life. Life at a particular moment. Life with a particular view. Life with a particular set of materials, values, time, and relationships. And yes, the fact that I received a wonderful grant from The Canada Council for the Arts puts a certain kind of pressure to perform. I’ve decided to put those expectations on a shelf way beyond my view for a bit.

I’m really interested in living in a cohesive way – where my values, interests, work, and relationships can flow together.

I think living as a full time artists is the best way to explore what life can look like when everything merges. And for now that is enough. I am okay with sitting on my torn up studio couch staring at the painting I’m working on for a bit. I’m okay with giving myself the courage to take great risks with gold leaf that I had no business considering in the first place. I’m okay with accepting that some parts of this project may feel like rejects throughout the process.

I’m okay with it. I’m okay. And that’s enough.