What do you do? “I’m an artist.” Oh. That simple little phrase can be a real conversation stopper. I get some of the same facial expressions I might get if I had said “I’m a mime”. Puzzled, alarmed, and politely retreating. Is the problem in them or me? Do people bring their conceptions of ‘artist’ and hang them on me like a badly fitting hat? Is artist such a daunting and wacky prospect that it’s easier to just step away?
I think I can understand that to some extent. Its 11:00 in the morning. I am sitting in front of my computer wearing my pajamas and a warm red pashmina shawl, eating Greek yogurt and wishing the sun would come out and illuminate the glass crystals hanging in front of my window. I am surrounded by paintings and small curious objects that amuse and a window full of orchid plants. My obscenely big speakers are hooked up to my computer and I’m listening to a play list of gorgeous world music.
The sun came out and filled the room with rainbows
This is my life. I also work seventy hour weeks, can’t tell the weekend from the rest of the week and struggle to find markets for my work and pay the bills, just like every other artist.
In a few minutes, I’ll finish my daily writing and put on jeans and a tee shirt that are stained and full of holes that I got in my clothes all by myself. Paint, solder, drills, glass, scissors, wire, metal, you name it I probably have it somewhere in my studio and use it in my work. Today I’ll be cutting glass and soldering. Yesterday I worked on a painting and there are six more in the series I want to do, that’s my life.
I can say I am an artist but it took me years to be able to wear that word. I used to try it on and say instead “painter” or “ceramicist”, or, or, or. I think about art, I read about art, I make art, I learn, I experience, I do. I am greedy for new things and new experiences. One of my favorite paintings (of mine) is in the city of Olympia’s permanent collection; the title is “Let’s Go Places and See Things”. Those are my words to live by, I own four cameras and huge freestanding hard drive and use them all.
Bad photo of Arts for Life with Let's Go Places and See Things
That poster led to my first big time commission, Michael Barsanti saw the poster and fell in love with it. He tracked me down and I did "Waiting for Michael for him". It hung on his office wall behind his clients, and kept him cheered up as he counseled people whose lives were not good. I found out he died way too young and his wife Christine had the picture. She works with disabled people and it did my heart good to give their organization, KOKUA, a painting for their auction. Giving back and paying it all forward is important in life. I see circles completed all around me all the time, even more as I get older.
For Michael Barsanti, my first real commission
Yes, I have some decided prejudices. I loathe Thomas Kinkade and most of everything that’s in galleries in Palm Springs, Palm Beach and anywhere the wealthy buy art by the yard. There are a lot of people very much like me out there, living in a society where art is devalued and schools are cutting art and music programs right, left and sideways. My own mother told me you can be a teacher, artists don’t make any money. Lack of support and understanding begins at home. My least favorite thing to hear is “I used to paint. I’m going to do it again when I retire.” Those are not artists and they never will be. They are hobbyists who had something more important to do and no time to be possessed by art.
I spent a lot of years in the working world. I was finally able to fully let go of the corporate world when the company I worked for moved their operations and I wouldn’t go to Louisiana. That was the universe knocking on my door and saying, “If not now, when?” I finally gave myself to permission to live the art life fulltime and head on. I have never worked so hard or been so busy. Amazing how life expands to fill in all the cracks and crevices we create.
Here’s the thing, when you make the choice to have a family and a home you don’t get to go wait tables and live in a garret in order to make the romanticized version of an art life. No, you take a straight job in an office and you do the very best you can at that job and you make your art everyday on a kitchen table, or in your garden, or late at night when everyone sleeps. You just do it because you have to.
Making art is something I have to do to be alive. It’s something I have always done and I hope, like the great Spanish artist, Joan Miro, I’m still doing it when I’m 90 and laying down with only paper and scissors because I can’t stand up all day anymore. My mother should have known something was up when I was in kindergarten. She did save my beginning sculptures; I will give her credit for that. Most five year olds were sculpting strange looking bowls with their teacher’s encouragement. Me? The first thing I ever made was a statue of a fat man with short arms and legs and a big smile, his suit is glazed in blue and I still have him, my talisman. The beat goes on, out of my own four boys, I think one has the true painterly artist gene, I have HIS first sculpture, it’s a cat’s head and someday I’ll give it back to him, circle complete. The others are involved in music and photography and I love that.
Tor's first sculpture-the art gene goes on
I have decided for me that life is art and art is life. Every facet of my life has art in it. It’s like living in my own movie. There are outtakes of course; the scenes of me cleaning the bathroom and scrubbing floors are on the cutting room floor. But the point to an artful life is to remember consciously to create beauty and find beauty. Beautiful things, whatever one thinks them to be, nourish the spirit.
The rules as I know them:
Find beauty in the world. It is always there if you look for it.
Find beauty in yourself. Take time to meditate, to read, and to nourish your spirit
Make your art whenever and wherever you can. Never stop and never give up. If God closes a door find a window.
Be kind to others. Especially to those eager youngsters who will ask, “How do you become an artist?”
Share what you have, we are like magic cups, the more that we pour out the more that bubbles up to fill the cup again.
Know there are many forms of art and you are not the one to judge which are right and which are wrong.
As a full blown artist you will be called on to critique others work. Do it with kindness. Don’t lie and say something that’s bad is good, that doesn’t help the person who made the work. Find the positives and ways to encourage growth.