Sunday, August 27, 2006

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.


Blogger "van Vliet" Art Blog said...

Both images are strong and to me...luminescent.

4:15 PM  
Blogger Lesly said...

Hi Ed

Interesting post ... and made me think.

When I was at school the only thing I felt I was good at was drawing, and knowing that was like a tiny nugget of gold that I held in my heart. And was the only thing I felt good about myself for.

I married very young and raised a family and over these years hardly ever touched a brush or pencil. But still I knew I could draw!

Then I trained as a nurse, studied hard for diplomas, wrote medical papers,etc. I learned to believe in myself, - I proved to myself that it was possible for me to be good at almost anything if I tried hard enough! (late developer or what?)

Anyway the point I am trying to make (very badly) is that I eventually, very late in life, came back to drawing and art feeling more confident to give it a try. I may never get 'known' or win accolades, but that inner urge to explore and express myself artisticly will not go away!!!

I have never viewed it as a vocation but it has always been there ticking away in the background .... quietly calling!

4:39 PM  
Blogger Tracy Helgeson said...

I admire you Ed, for continuing to create art somehow, despite having to work in other fields and meet family obligations. Your story is a good example of what a hold art has on so many of us.

7:36 PM  
Blogger Tracy Helgeson said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

7:36 PM  
Blogger The Epiphany Artist said...

The Top painting " Facing the Day" the nude... hmmmm...

8:23 PM  
Blogger Lori Witzel said...

My $0.02?

It's most definitely not a choice in terms of avocation or calling.

It is a choice in terms of livelihood.

I have friends who make their living, in whatever form they can, directly from their art. A hard road from what I can see -- subsistence living at times, and worse than financial stress, the struggle to keep creative exploration free enough from response to the marketplace to work cleanly.

I make my living through other means. A hard road as well -- in some ways (I'm not a parent, so am guessing based on friends' lives) like being a working parent with a consuming career: one always feels guilty and pulled off center. The call of one's art -- that time not spent in creative exploration and craft development -- is as painful and compelling as the cry of a child who misses their parent.


No clear path, no best path -- just lives lived as best we can figure out at any given moment.

I love your topics, and your thoughtfulness. It helps me scratch that itch.

Titles for the tree painting:
Green Flame
Between Us
Waking Vision

Titles for the nude painting:

9:32 PM  
Blogger amber said...

i sometimes feel like I want to quit being an artist(I cannot ??) I feel frustrated, like it has more demands than I am willing to give
Oh well c'est la vie!
landscape said "Birds of a feather" to me

7:11 PM  
Blogger Pat's Place said...

A thoughtful posting, as usual.

As to the paintings, titles are irrelevant for me, but the compositions are strikingly similar. Was that intentional or accidental?

I wonder just how much of the artist's mood determines the path of a particular creative expression... These two paintings both seem to have the 'felt sense' of reaching - for what? The future? The unknown?

Thanks for the mental exercise and the visual dance.

8:47 PM  
Blogger Globetrotter said...

So right you are about the dancer. Today I suffer physically because of what I put my body through in my dancing years...

I could not live my life without being allowed to express the creativity inside of me. I always took a back route to do the things that I always knew I wanted to do as a child, but wasn't allowed to pursue because of strict parents. So I had to take many detours before I could paint, dance and write. It made me stronger I suppose.

Your writings are heady with wisdom and insight. It's never a disappointment to come here.

8:57 AM  
Blogger Felicity said...

I still cannot call myself an artist out loud (I don't paint, I draw) but I know that's what I am inside. It's simply not a choice. Like Lesly it was a something I held onto during my school years and as my parents ignored my love of art (I was sent to a school at 14 in the middle of nowhere (in Ireland)that had no art teacher) I left school with few qualifications, got crappy jobs and drew in the evenings.
It's refreshing to hear your views on having to practice and find discipline. I feel (if the internet is anything to go by) that everyone with some drawing/painting ability is claiming to be an artist and saying it HAS to be fun. While it sounds good, I wonder if art and artists are words losing their meaning and becoming diluted or dumbed down.

5:10 AM  

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