Called to be an artist
Is being an artist something that one chooses to do or is a person more specifically called to be an artist? For many artists that I know, as well as for myself, it was a call, a vocation, and an avocation. For many of us there really was no choice. Nothing else was going to make us feel complete or whole. It’s not to say I didn’t consider other careers. I did but I kept coming back to art.
When my oldest daughter was first going off to college, she declared that she was going to be an art major. People that we know thought that it was wonderful that she was creative and was going to follow in my footsteps. I was filled with a sense of dread. To be an artist means to embrace a wonderful madness but it is still madness. When I embarked upon this path I knew what I was getting into but I was not convinced that my daughter knew what was ahead. I told her that she needed to take a long hard look at my life because that was the best that it was going to be for her. Artistic creativity is a wonderful thing but it can be a terrible burden.
On the surface most people see being an artist as a life that is fun and filled with play and creative exploration. They do not realize the endless hours of disciple that go into being an artist. Art does not happen by accident, it happens on purpose. The artist controls the medium, not the other way around. It is only by continual practice that the artist is able to make the medium yield the best that it has to offer. It is only through endless hours of practice of color theory, form and composition, and any and all mechanical skills. Without this solid foundation the artist will never be free to express the creative ideas and thoughts. When I teach drawing and painting, I tell students that I can teach them how to draw or paint, that I can teach them the mechanics. I also tell them that I cannot teach them how to be an artist. That is something that they must learn on their own and that it must come from an inner desire. What else will keep the artist going?
I think of the musician who spends countless hours practicing the scales. Rehearsing a specific part until playing it becomes second nature. The dancer spending hour upon hour putting the body through stressful physical exercise learning the steps. So the dance can look effortless and graceful. The painter alone in the studio carefully putting paint on the canvas. Placing each color and stroke just so in order to make it look easy and effortless. Each of these artists working hard to gain a little notoriety just so that they can afford to do what they love, what they are called to be. Most of these artists will spend their lives in obscurity. They will work mundane jobs just so they can afford to practice their art. After a number of years, many will just abandon their art. Working a job and taking care of a family will consume all of their energy and time. Others may go into art related businesses. They will find that all of their creative energies were used up on the job.
I knew this when I started on the path to being an artist. I knew that I most likely would not earn my living from it. I knew that I would work all day so that I could paint at night. The image, the illusion of the life of an artist is romantic and colorful, the reality is quite another thing. I knew going in that it was a madness. I still don’t know why I did it. I have no logical reason. Who in their right mind would chose such an existence? Yet, I won’t give it up. I will keep plodding along as I have for decades now doing what I love, what I feel drawn to do. To stop making art, to stop being creative makes even less sense and is an even greater madness than continuing. Maybe that craziness is the real gift that artists bring to the world. Maybe not everything needs to be practical or profitable. Maybe it is a little bit of craziness that keeps us all sane.
These 2 paintings are oil on prepared paper. They are both untitled and were both completed in 2006. The landscape measures 21.75” X 15” and the nude measures 20” X 15“. If you would care to title them let me know.