Sunday, November 4, 2012

"Counting Up ???" Ambition and Hope

I don't know why I feel in such a literary mood today, but there it is. Back when I was on the up-side of the battle against cancer and seeking ways to focus my energy towards healing and hope, I came up with a cute idea of how to turn a prognosis of short term survival into a race based on art. At the time I was given less than 20% chance of surviving to 5 years. I did some quick math and realized that 5 years is 1825 days. So, I hatched the plan for the "1825 Journal" with the goal being to create a piece of art work every day for 1825 days.

Gosh, gee golly, what a cute idea. Sure, it was when I was still thinking that berating this thing would be pretty beatable. So, away I went -- my chipper and cheerful side showing as I drew and posted, drew and posted, commented on my condition, on the work like some kind of self-appointed critic in a world where Disney-esque cartoon animals flew around spreading hope and cheer as I continued with the battle. 

Well, as you can imagine, having maybe read posts on this blog, or my cancer blog in general that my goal for the 1825 Project may have dried up and flown away like flakey dry skin on my body - another fun side effect. 

As I have struggled with one treatment after another, one disappointment after another, and the opportunities for effective agents for control (not thinking cure anymore anyhow) that it did not seem make a difference whether I completed anything along the way - just waste away the time, watching the world swim past and my days disappear one at at time.

Thank GOD for great friends and family who recognize my habits and patterns and have been doing a great job of late of re-kindling my spirit not only for Art but for life in general, and for the importance of doing SOMETHING while I am still able... 

This group of people has helped me see that the only real limitation on what I create, on how I use my art to keep me focused on the present - not necessarily worried about the future - and that the simple act of DOING is as important for an artist as is breathing... It will not always be easy, often labored, but if I can just settle down, catch my creative breath, it will be worth it. 

Artistically, what I want to leave behind is not necessarily a body of work that sells for seven figures (well, unless that happens while I am ALIVE! to enjoy it!!), . I want to leave behind work that shows that I struggled through, that I was able to maintain an effort to remain positive and creative.

I think this may seem a bit selfish, now that I think about it...? Whom am I, again, to think that what I do or create can do anything for anyone?  At least my kids will have some stuff to look at and possibly enjoy, maybe to understand their Dad a bit better. 

As I continue to live, one day, one hour, one minute at a time, I will try to look at how the creative process and the act of 'doing' art makes a difference for me. 

Looking back at my journal, the "Up To 1825 Project" and find that I stopped at May 29, 2012... I began the project on December 31st, 2011 that means I put in, 152 days. It is now November 4th, which makes for another 154 days.. So, looking at this from a 'Survival' perspective that totals to 306 days. The last bit of math uses the origianal goal 1825 (5 years) subtracting 306 leaving a goal of  1519 days until I really meet the statistic beating goal. 

So, the clock ticks, the chances to be creative slip away, the opportunities to use the artistic energy stored up in my universe slip away into the ether. I will try, once again to capture a little bit of this each day. 

As I have seen, this is not an easy task, yet the more I look at it, not an insurmountable one. 

I need to remind myself that most artists believe their works are not completed - no matter how they look to the public - and that the things I leave behind will live a life of their own.

Of Perseverance and Hypocrisy

Where exactly to begin? Well, let's start off by looking at the fact that I have not written a new entry since may. Why? Tons of reasons - most of which I only have myself to blame. This struggle against cancer has been one that continues - ebbs and flows - has ups and downs. For me this has mostly been downs. I live this journey on two very distinct levels, two very different visions of what it looks like to struggle day after day, week after week in a world that has been defined by my disease.

So, what do I mean by perseverance as it relates to art as a tool for survival? It should be very simple, yes? Almost cliche.

"Gosh, all I have to do is get up every day, get out my sketchpad or go to the studio and get to work. Doing art gives my life meaning and keeps my mind focused on getting healthy."

At the beginning of the cancer journey this may have been true. But over the past 6 months it has become a load of bull-shit, to put it bluntly.

The reasons for this are both simple and also seeded deeper inside my mind as I deal with all that is going on .

First, let's look at the physical - since these are the least painful to me. The medications I have been on have the wonderful effect of rendering me completely exhausted. Not just 'tired' but exhausted to the point where some days it is a challenge to even get out of the bed and take care of basic bodily needs. And, it is not predictable. I could have three days in a row like this or have only one bad one in a week. SO, this becomes an 'excuse'

"I'm too tired to get creative. I am too tired to sketch." - Really, Scott? Come on, too tired to pick up a damn pencil or sharpie and do SOMETHING anything that would justify my existence and self proclaimed title of 'artist'? It is not like my medium is stone sculpturing or metal fabrication after all.

Next - the weather.... Ahhhhh the easiest scapegoat of them all. Yes the summer months this year were devlishly hot and since my studio has no air-conditioning - VOILA!!! Built in excuse....

"Why, it's just too damn HOT out there to do any art work...I'd be sweating all over the place...." - Oh brother it does get thick sometimes. While even inside our house we only had one room we could effectively air condition, it would have been fairly easy to move in a drafting table and get to work that way, but no.... even THAT would require work.

Now as I was busy spending time either moping about my physical condition, or coming up with more excuses to not get work done, I began to read a lot this summer. I like reading biographies of artists, and discovering the history behind the images we look at as master examples of creativity. I also studied their lives and realize that despite the fact I will not equal their greatness or fame, their paths were often fraught with suffering - many times addiction driven through alcohol, drugs, mental illness, bad relationships and the like. I found that on many levels I could relate and that has begun to give me some  comfort - my struggle is a struggle, not unique, but similar to those creative souls that I find myself identifying with.

So, there we have it. And here we go..... The physical challenges can be overcome. I can now, with fairly good accuracy predict when my body will have 'windows of energy' that allow me to create. SO, if you see me and I am NOT in the studio, feel free to kick e in the ass and remind me to get to work. My best windows seem to be from about 10:30 AM to 4 P.M. and then from 8 P.M. to Midnight. My studio is less of a barrier now that I have had help from my two artistic sisters Kristen and Kelly who have helped whip it back into working shape after a summer of neglect. I have a heater - donated from a friend last year - I have a snazzy Kuerig coffee maker donated from friends last year, and not only that the damn place is literally 10 steps from the back door of my house... so I don't have to drive or park......

Now for the psychological aspects of making - or continuing - Art as a source of Healing.  As I have studied artists I have discovered that I spend too much time worrying about how 'good' my stuff is in comparison to the work of others. I need to focus on the ACT of ART for ME.... The ACT of focusing my creative energy on creating images for ME. Part of my goal of returning to producing more are work was to also then SELL said artwork to make money for the household since my cancer treatments have left me basically unemployable. So everything I do has been looked at by me with an eye toward how sellable it is.

Ah, the age old dilemma that face artists everywhere... to create art or the simple pleasure of the doing, or to produce art with the plan of marketing and sales. Nothing wrong with either approach, this much I have discovered. But, again, if I am making excuses all the time for reasons NOT to get work MADE, neither will happen, and here we are full circle again.,

Now. let's shift gears a bit and get a grounding in reality too. I do not have a lot of time left. Some people tell me , "Oh, come on man.... you don't know, you could have 20 more years...."

"Blah, Blah, Blah" - while I appreciate the encouragement and support as always, I am aware of this. The hour glass is emptying (as for all of us) but for me, I have a few more holes letting out the sand faster than others. No one is there to shovel more back in the top. So, while I don't have an 'expiration date' per se, I know that one is closer on the horizon than I would like to admit. AND - here in lies the problem.

I never know from moment to moment how I will feel about this. Part of me is simply paralyzed all the time, worried that if I start ANYTHING I will never be able to finish before I kick. I watch the time spin on the clock, I watch the days flip by on the calendar, I watch the dust accumulate in my studio, I watch my artist friends happily producing THEIR work all the time. How is it that 'they' have time to fit in more and more artwork in their busy lives between family, work and activities and yet here I sit, wth time-unlimited (on a daily scale) doing absolutely fucking nothing!!!

When my mind goes there it seems to just asy, "Screw it! What the hell does it matter?"
"I'm going to be dead in a year anyhow, so why work so hard?"
"What right do I have to think that MY art MATTERS?"'
"I'm not Jackson Pollock or anything"

Again....ARRRRRGH!!!!! Excuses.

How then can I get to a point where I AM focused on making the art that makes me happy, helps me with coping issues and yet not over worry about the end that is certain to come? I just don't know.

I think the thing is to just DO IT.... get off my warm comfy ass and get to work.....So that is what I want to do - get out and get startted.

Worried less about the endpoint and more about the artistic beauty of the journey along the way....

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Surviving, but not Thriving, Thinking but not Doing

Wow, looking at the date of my last post on this blog - April 12 - and looking at my last entry in my UPTO 1825 Journal, were I a teacher I would give myself a big old 'F' on participation, 'F' on creativity and 'F' on effort. And, I would be well deserving.

I originally started THIS blog with the idea that my new path combining cancer, unemployment and disability would open up sooooo many wonderful windows of opportunity for creativity, that I would be so busy becoming the next great thing in art that I would not have TIME to write - I'd be too busy making art and cashing checks.


While the focus of this blog is supposed to be how art impacts and (hopefully) will prolong my life, it dovetails with events that fill the non-art areas of day to day existence; treatment (or lack thereof), trying to pay bills (like everyone else), dealing with kids home from school who expect summer to be about eating food and playing videogames, all the while I WANT, really, really WANT to be in the studio. But the distractions build up and over the past several months I have found it way too easy to succumb to their vices.

Why on EARTH would I rather spend a morning pulling weeds, or trimming roses, or cleaning the garage when I  COULD be in the studio creating art - I don't know.

On the whole I should be EXCITED. A collection of my work has been hanging in a popular coffee shop in Findlay, Ohio for the past month, through the donation of friends I now have the means to order two sets of mugs with my cancer related designs on them to sell, I have the TIME to create more work, yet I find myself stuck. I don't know by what; fear, panic, guilt, laziness, creative block, etc. I just can't seem to figure out what it will take to get me going.

I have visions in my mind of artists in movies, who roll out of bed in the morning, light up a cigarette, take a shot of espresso, have a croissant on the veranda, then wander out to their studio, filled with various projects in various stages of completion, and simply put on their smock and beret, pick up their brushes and 'VOILA' gallery ready masterpieces.

The only tool in this vision that I seem to have is the ability to have espresso! I don't smoke, I don't have a smock or a beret, neither do I have a wealthy patron awaiting my next master piece. I think part of this mental-spiritual-creative wallowing has to do with being on disability for cancer and simply having a live that is lived day to day with no real plan - again - planning is usually something I do well, but EXECUTING the plan is not my strong suit.

Maybe what I need is a personal assistant to taze me into activity and to keep me on some kind of schedule. I mean, hell, it isn't like I don't have enough to do - artistically and domestically - that I could easily fill an eight or ten hour day. It just seems that self-motivation is much harder than one would think.

I reflect on those with 'traditional job's who are driven to be AT work ON TIME and to BE PRODUCTIVE, or else! Their motivation is seemingly automatic - at least from my perspective. I am not saying that their motivation is gleeful or that they even WANT to get up and go to work and do the things required, it is just that, in my opinion, we get so USED to this system of RISE, WORK, GO HOME, GO TO BED, RISE that it is difficult (at least for me) to be my own master to be my own boss, to kick my own ass into gear (as it were). I mean no one is chomping at the bit to see my next piece, no one has a pre-paid blank spot on their wall waiting the next 'Scott Lightfoot' piece to make it complete.

So, where do I stand at this juncture in my venture as an artist with the always desired free-time that is now available and not the guts to DO anything with it. Maybe it is time to look into finding some intern-some external cattle prod wielding person to keep me on track and to get me back to work. Or, maybe I am just over reacting??

Is 'the destination' really not as important as 'the journey'? Should I be focused more on DOING SOMETHING each day than how many pieces I can complete in a given time? I mean in the back of my head (sometimes in the front) is the simple knowledge that due to the stupid cancer my time really IS limited and that maybe part of me is upset with myself for wracking up more 'time-wasted-days' than 'time-doing-days'. Maybe that part of me is worried that I will start something and not be able to finish the piece, so the longer I DELAY starting anything new, the longer I will some how live....

Phew, maybe, just maybe, I overanalyze myself and just need to step away from the computer, forget schedules, start each day creating and just see what happens.

If anyone has the answers or knows someone who would make a suitable apprentice (I can't pay much beyond good coffee and stale conversation), let me know and I will gladly allow them to help me, maybe along the way something good may actually come from the venture....!!!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Heavy Sighs and Show and Tell

<Haaaarumph> or some Dr. Seuss-esque noise escapes me as I plop down on the couch in my studio and look around, trying to get inspired to do something, ANYTHING creative, exciting and new.

Tick, Tock.
Tick, Tock.

-the cat brings me her toy to toss-

'Flick', pounce, hop-return.
'Flick', pounce, hop-return.

Tick, Tock.
Tick, Tock.

I stare at the two pieces on my studio wall that are 'inprogress' begun nearly a month ago and now seem to be haunting me, like ghosts, [insert your best Scoobie Doo Ghost voice here ] "Scoooooooottttttt!! Get uuuuuuup!!!! Come paaiiiiiint me...Ooooooooo".

I seem to be stuck in the repetitive psycho-analysis of how I can possibly be an artist, if I never paint enough. How can I justify, being 'unemployed' while not making much effort to use the 'gift-of-free-time' that my illness has given me. I know many artists who would LOVE to have the time that my condition offers to create new pieces. Hell, I even thought that a month or two a go, when I was cranking out almost a piece a day. I had started my 'Up To 1825' project - that should be almost at 100 pieces - and careful counting revealed I am barely pushing 60 pieces.

Granted there have been a multitude of life-issues that have squeezed my time, and I do not regret the time spent building things back  up and making sure that I am moving in a forward direction - and taking my family along with me. None the less, it has seemed almost too easy to say, 'Fuck it. I'm too tired.... I'll make it up tomorrow with two pieces....' - yeah right.

I don't know how to explain it but my situation now is almost like the bad days of my college life when I was doing too many things at once, but yet getting nothing done on any kind of a schedule, and in the end, that pattern proved to be my undoing too many times over my years, and years as an undergraduate.

Currently I see my lack of effort more as one of confusion. Confusion about the present (bills, needs, etc) and about the future (bills, needs, etc.)  none of which I see as being met by my budding career as an artist. Maybe I am frustrated because I HAVE been producing new pieces, but not selling them.... I must mention here though that this too is my own fault. I have not  yet applied or attended a single show. I have not hung my work in any galleries, and have barely posted my work on line - in places where people may possibly see and comment, but apparently do not want to buy my work.

I also have the similar artistic frustration of not having enough 'nest' money to produce a series of multi-copied / matted prints for sale. I DID find a cool place to put my designs on mugs, but again lack the capital to get a set printed to offer... I am trying my hardest to support my art and my art business by ONLY using money that has come from art sales... It has been a slim and mostly successful adventure.

I really WANT TO believe (what people have been telling me - that my stuff is cool and it will sell, but I need to SEE it happen!!!! I am not a marketing expert, and I don't want to keep pestering my successful artist friends for their secrets to success, but I feel really at a loss. I want to TRY so many cool things, but, again, lack the money to do it.

The bigger question, I think, is how come it is so hard for ME to plan for ME than it is for me to help other people with their artistic issues? I find it much easier to say, help a friend come up with an idea for a new series of paintings, or to figure out the best way to build a booth for a show, but when it comes to my own work, I become some kind of 'fraidy-cat' and can't seem to get anything accomplished.

I haven't really painted for over a week now, almost two, and this is really starting to bother me. This coupled with 'real-world-needs' like the need to make money, and I find myself almost drifting back into the 'Why bother doing art, when what I really need is a stupid 'job'?'
I can't seem to shake this feeling that I am now even wasting my time MORE than I was when I was doing nothing. Is that possible?

Another thing that bothers me as I try to figure out how to make this all work so that I can really survive as an artist, is that I never realized how important that 'feed-back' is to me when it comes to my work. In retrospect, I now realize that is one of the things I liked MOST about my time as a photographer, is the daily feedback that I had either done a good job at my work, or I had not... it was apparent in the pile of prints I turned in at the end of the day.

This was also true when I was teaching... at the end of a class or a unit, I could gauge my success as a teacher by how my students demonstrated mastery of the material. If they 'got it', then I did my job.

With my art work, it is like time-warping all the way back to school...seeking approval of the teacher, being able to stand up in the front of the class and say 'look at this cool thing I did'. As adults, we call that self-agrandizing hogwash! Or tooting our own horn...or what ever. Yet, I can't help but put my work out there and await some kind of praise or response, or better yet actual SALES that will tell me... I have done a good job.

Maybe, all this is just my impatience with the pace of becoming an artists. Maybe if I mellowed out a bit, focused on making art, the rest would come on it's own....but at this point I am feeling very much like I am holding on to this 'stupid-dream' of being a working artist and that it is slipping away day by day.

That's all for now.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Continuing the Journey - Getting Past the Doldrums

This past Monday morning, I was sitting around my living room, absentmindedly flipping channels when I came across an old sea-faring movie, and it struck me, as I sat there, doing  nothing, that I was - like the ship - stuck in the Doldrums. Only my doldrums are an expression of lack of motivation, rather than lack of wind. But, the more I thought about it, the more the metaphor grew on me. My Artistic Journey is EXACTLY like that at this particular moment.

For the past several months, since my medical condition has pretty much taken all opportunity for 'regular-employment' away from me, I have been trying to make a new path - establish a new journey - as a working artists, with the goal of creating, marketing and selling my work to make a living. 

For a while I was doing fine, the Artistic ship cruising along nicely with a good wind in the sails. I have been encouraged along the way by family and friends who have expressed their support for my new venture and like a nice crisp breeze in the sails, have given me a lot of energy to begin my journey.

So, I set out, painting, drawing almost daily. I even started a project who's design was to keep me 'artistic' every day. I was sailing along fine in this regard. I was making new works and even making some sales - all giving me the drive to keep going. But, like a seafaring adventure, things happen, life seems to get in the way and sooner or later, the wind gets taken from the sails and the ship starts to drift. 

I have fallen into the Artistic Doldrums - drifting now for a couple of weeks - and I am scared that the wind will not return, and, like in the movie, supplies will run out and my crew will mutiny, and set me adrift - alone, with little hope of ever continuing on or returning to my creative journey.

O.K., I know it may be a bit melodramatic, but as an Artist - as most artists are - solitary individuals - I find it really hard to stay motivated, and to have the self-discipline to follow through on my goals of daily art work. I find excuses NOT to create, rather than reasons to get things done. One day it is a bad head-ache and I end up crawling into a bottle of aspirin and under a blanket - wasting away the day trying to chase away the pain, rather than working THROUGH it. The next day it is depression with which I struggle, where all my artistic endeavors seem pointless and profitless. So, I sit, in my chair, moping, again, not getting anything accomplished artistically. It has been all too easy for me, at times, to see everything I face as just one more day stuck in the windless sea, drifting, with no direction, no purpose, with now positive end in sight.

I have spent a lot of time reading artist biographies (maybe THAT is part of the problem!) and as I read their stories of how their lives unfolded artistically and personally, it is no wonder that so many of my historic counterparts turned to alcohol, drugs, bad relationships and the like - often to the point of suicidal tendencies - that I now better understand their 'motivations' for the extremes. I guess it is a good thing that I DON'T have the spare money for alcohol, drugs or the like! So, for me, I guess it is the fear of what the future may or may not hold that has become my challenge to overcome. 

As yet, I don't have extremely wealthy patrons that can give me huge stipends in advance of artwork to be created (though I DO  have a few customers who seem to value what I do and send what they can and purchase  what the can, which is awesome) I don't have the kind of freedom that many artists do in that economic regard. Generally, though, I don't mind. I am not sure that someone dumping a big wad of cash on me to 'create' would necessarily be a good thing anyhow... I am only now becoming a bit comfortable in the amount of work I can produce. But, I see the limitations of this as well. The reality is, that if I do not get out of my doldrums - seek my own wind - I may never get my journey back underway and be able to move forward. Therein, lies the rub. Self-Motivation. Self-Determination. It is not nearly as easy as it might seem.

Since I have been making this transition from the 'traditional-work-world' to one of a more artistic nature, I have had discussions with many people that see my new life-style through THEIR eyes, as one that is so 'rewarding' or so 'liberating' or even 'relaxing'. Not so, my dear friends. Taking on the task of being a working-artist who's goal is to make a living is very difficult - at least for me. Much like any other situation of 'self-employment', I generally have no one here to kick my ass into gear, to get off my chair and get out and DO what I need to. Sure, I have friends and family who 'encourage' me, but as is with most other artists who go through this process of creative lack of wind, it is not as easy as it looks to get out in front of the ship in a dingy and row, row, row until your creative back is sore, to get the ship back into a good wind, and to get moving again. 

I am NOT trying to play the fiddle of self-pity here, but rather to try to take a look at WHY and HOW I end up in these Artistic dead-zones, and WHAT I can do to get out of them. I am realistic enough to realize that ALL artists go through this. Heck, we ALL do - artists or not - we have days or weeks when we get up in the morning prepare for 'work' and say, 'What the hell. Why am I bothering anyhow?' This is not unusual and I am not alone in the experience. But, the difference for me (and many artists) is that it is really, up to US to find a way to rise above the 'dead-zone', to push on into a new wind, and that if WE don't do it ourselves then no one else will. 

So, how the HELL do I do it? Well, if I had the answer to that I wouldn't be writing this entry, now would I? As I seek to regain the creative wind, I think the answer for me will be to work hard to discipline myself into a schedule where I am doing SOMETHING, every day, knowing that it is not really the finished product that is important at the end of each day, but that I make the EFFORT to create, that I take the time to just DO. Sometimes, that is indeed enough. Sometimes that is indeed all that can be accomplished. 

I think that I have been pressuring myself to COMPLETE something each day and that if I don't accomplish that, then I feel like I have not worked hard enough, or have not put forth enough effort to DESERVE to continue trying to be a working artist. I think many of these issues come directly from a lifetime of traditional work, where that is often the goal - produce daily, meet the quota, or suffer the consequences (get fired). As an Artist, I need to DEFINE exactly what my goals are - sometimes on a minute by minute basis - depending on a variety of things. I need to continue to be realistic and focused on the PROCESS more than the PRODUCT.

Hmmm. PROCESS over PRODUCT. Funny. I spent many years preaching this to my art students in the past, yet find it hard to follow my own advice. PROCESS over PRODUCT. Doing and improving as I work towards the end of a project. It is almost laughable how these things come full circle sometimes. 

I know that my economic and artistic success will depend FULLY on how much effort I put into the PROCESS (improving my skills, getting better technique, becoming more efficient, etc.) and that if I am doing THAT the rest will fall into place. 

No one is going to GIVE me anything as an artist. No one is going to BUY anything that I do not PRODUCE! And, the longer I sit in these 'Doldrums' moaning about it, the more time slips by and more opportunities are missed to get my Artistic ship back into the strong winds of the journey that I have put myself on. 

So, today marks one more day where I will make the effort to get back on the path - back into the wind - and get some things accomplished. 

"Row, Row, Row! Put your back into it you scallywags!"

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Economic Incentive to Create

I know that I will be opening an artistic-philosophical can of worms by saying this, but I want my Art work to <shhhhhh!! - don't say this out loud!!> pay my bills. It is that simple. I will not be debating the difference between 'making-art-for-arts-sake' versus 'making-art-for-money', because really, that is a decision for the artist as he or she decides what their work means for them. I will only be stating my personal philosophy and goals here as they relate to Surviving Through Art.

Let's face it, no matter how long your life is, in the big picture it is short. While the majority of us spend our lives in the 'workforce' doing 'traditional jobs', earning a 'paycheck' so we can pay our bills, there is another sliver of the population that believe that creating art in this same vein is no less legitimate a venture, than pouring concrete, bagging groceries, repairing automobiles, or performing brain surgery. Yet, oddly enough 'artists' and the pursuit of 'art-as-a-job' is quite possibly the most scoffed at pursuit in the eyes of most people who toil away at their 40 hour a week 'traditional-jobs.

Another fact to contemplate with regard to the often diametrically opposed worlds of 'traditional' and 'non-traditional' fields of employment is that research shows that, from the top to the bottom of the wage earning scales, nearly 85% of Americans actively HATE their jobs, yet they continue to do them, day in and day out because of the security of a paycheck and other benefits offered by their employers.

The more I read this information, the sadder I felt that we live in a society where people actively allow themselves to be in these situations - particularly when they don't WANT to be there. Now, I am not naive enough to think that all people should abandon their jobs and that all people should pick up brushes, paint and canvas and become artists, but now I address those that, who know in their heart that they SHOULD be and NEED to be making art (and for this instance I will include ALL arts: Visual, Theatre, Dance and Music) that they should seriously examine how they can make it happen.

My situation - being pushed into unemployment due to medical issues - has oddly enough given me the chance to re-examine what I am doing with my life, and I have come to the conclusion that I want to make my economic living creating, promoting and selling my art. In the past couple of years I have dealt with not only unemployment due to health issues, but faced two long periods of unemployment based on the shriveled nature of our economy. During this time I have gone through the wringer of job-hunting and have discovered that my best chances for successful re-employment in the 'traditional-world-of-work' would be in sales. Yet, the more I tried to put my heart into it, the more I realized that if I was going to sell a product or service as a job, that I would FIRST be earning money for someone else before getting my own share of the pie, and this just made me mad.

So, I have decided that if I am going to SELL anything, to anyone and really be able to put my best effort into it, I wanted to do something that meant something to ME. Afterall, in event the best case scenario, I will have maybe another 20 years or so before hitting that golden age of 67 when retirement supposedly opens up the floodgates of  happiness and economic freedom to be enjoyed before you die.

Like so many of us who reach the 40-somethings, in our lives and, in many cases, are nearing that 20-25 year career mark when we begin planning for those golden years. What I have observed is far too many people get the gold-watch treatment only to find them selves staring dumbly at it and saying, "Now what the hell am I supposed to do?" Suddenly they discover that leaving behind that job which filled 40 hours of your week creates a gaping wound in your psyche that no number of trips to the Bahamas or days on a Florida golf course can fill. Sadly, and too often, retirees don't live long enough to enjoy the 'fruits-of-their-years-of-labor' and die sooner than necessary.

To counteract that, I have rediscovered that my love of creating art is more fulfilling than many of my past jobs, and is something that I can actively pursue long into the future - and here is the kicker - if I use my remaining 20 or so years in this pursuit, I am learning that I can make enough money to live on AND  <don't say this too loudly, or people with think you are crazy> ENJOY what I do each day. I will have <shhhhhh!> CONTROL of my own destiny. I will be able to <quiet now> work WHEN, WHERE and as HARD as I want. I will be able to <hush, someone will hear> make a living, pay my bills and maybe even get a head of the economic 8-ball based on <here is the crazy part> my OWN effort, not the whims of the economy, or be at the mercy of bad business decisions from above that cause mass job elimination.

If this philosophy is not weird enough, I plan on <someone will hear me now I am sure> ENJOYING what I do. Again, this is not to say in any way that I am the next Picasso, Pollock, or Warhol, making millions every time my brush hits the canvas, but that I do believe I have the artistic skills, and am learning the marketing ones needed, to make a 'respectable-bill-paying-food-eating' living creating art.

Do I think this will be EASY? Hell, no. Is working 9-5 building Jeeps, or Noon-to-Midnight nursing patients back to health easy? No. Will my work result in some of the same frustrations as my fellow traditionalists face? Sure. But, I believe that the fact that I am doing what I enjoy will allow me to cope much easier, knowing that I am in more control over my economic future because I am invested in it's success, and not susceptible to the whims, errors, or cost-cutting measures that I watch my friends face every day - most of which they have no control over.

I am done worrying about the call to the office sit-down with the boss that begins with, "Sorry, but we have to let you go..." I have been there and done that, far too many times.

Succeed or fail, happy or sad, I know there are no guarantees from the path I am on now, but I do feel that I am holding the reins of my future and not being led by a painful bit and a whip controlling my desitiny.

With that, I will close and head out to my studio, to create, contemplate, promote and sell. My efforts and their associated rewards are up to me now. 

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Black & White? White OR Black?

Ask any creative person, or anyone really, and you will discover that there are periods - some brief, some extended, when it is impossible to think of anything new. One sits and stares - at a screen, a page, a canvas, or simply out the window. Teachers call this 'day-dreaming' when kids do it in school. Bosses call it 'slacking' when you are at work, when simply, to me it is just a time when your mind is simply tired. Too often we forget that, like our bodies, our minds need rejuvenation and time to rebuild just like our bodies do. 'Chronic Fatigue Syndrome' is usually the medical diagnosis when your exhaustion finally takes you to the doctor. What is the usual prescription - rest, relaxation, proper diet, and sleep. Why? Because you have deprived your body of what it needs. Doctors call things 'syndromes' when they have no real, tangible, physical cause for a condition they are asked to diagnose. When that happens, they revert to what they know - find your physiological center and reboot your body.

What we forget in this hyper-sensory world in which we live is that our MINDS and your very SOULS need this same kind of attention, and we more often than not ignore all the signals that should take us to specialists who can help us deal with the process of mental-psychological restoration.

For Artists, I think it is even more of a challenge when we face these 'creative-blocks' as we call them. Sometimes we need to put down our tools, step back from the canvas, get up from the potters wheel, put down the instrument and find a way to get back the balance that we need to do what we do. It may seem self-important, but I think, maybe for Artists it might even be a bit more difficult, since, in addition to the same stuff all other human beings deal with that distract us from our centers, we have a special, maybe more active, place in our brains and in our souls that has the 'need' to be utilized, put to task and to be fulfilled. This is not to put down the passions of others who are not artists, by any means, but since this is my blog about Art and Survival, this is my focus.

What is inspiration and where does it come from? Ask 100 artists this question and you will most likely get 100 different answers, and all of them would be correct - for that artist. The really tricky thing is that, at least for me, inspiration does not always rise from the same triggers in my life. Sometimes is is a piece or section of a song. Sometimes the way the sun plays off of windows in the morning, or wet pavement as I drive. Sometimes it is the flash of memory of my family. Sometime it comes from looking at the art work of others. I can't give a simple answer. Currently, for obvious reason, may of my ideas come from my medical condition; drugs, tests, scans, surgeries, hospitals, offices, waiting, waiting, clocks, fear, hope, doubt, etc. So, when I make the daily trek to the studio and try to do SOMETHING. It is not always easy.

As a reminder of the challenge of this process, I keep in my studio, two small canvases - one pure black, and one pure white. Both the same size. Both clearly visible from everywhere in my studio. They are my mental reminders. Many cultures have myths surrounding the duality and opposing natures of Black and White, and within the 'Culture of Artists' there are near constant arguments that seem silly to those not involved. "What ARE Black and White?", "Are they COLORS or not?", "Are they just TONES that brighten or dull the 'real' colors we see?". The debate goes on.

In my world, these two small canvases remind me of beginnings and endings. I will not even say which is which, because like inspirational sources, that changes for me sometimes from day to day. Sometimes I see an image in my mind that I fee should 'emerge' from Black. Sometimes I see one that should 'emerge' from White. And, just to confuse the issue even more I see images that 'descend' into either one, passing through my canvas and leaving behind a 'trace' of what was there.

My process of painting at least involves usually three steps. Something inspires me. Then I do a 'sketch', 'pre-drawing' or 'practice drawing'. Finally I tack the sketch next to my work surface and go at the painting. Since, currently I work mostly in abstraction, I feel my work can flow and change as I create the final piece - and in fact, I rarely have a finished work that is exactly like my sketch. My mind drifts from the original idea, or some elements just don't seem to work, that is how it goes.

You would THINK that my process would lead to a pretty straight forward 'paint-by-numbers' or 'dot-to-dot' method with little difficulty making the first inspiration match the final piece. But as an old art teacher told me, "Life is not a coloring book! Some pages have lines missing, some pages force you outside the lines and some pages have no lines at all. The important thing is that YOU find something of value to YOU as you create."

So, why the Black & White canvases? What role do they play? They remind me that I must start SOMEWHERE. At some point I must put aside all the things going on 'outside' my artistic life and focus on what is trying to come through all of that and eventually make it into a finished image. The challenge recently is that sometimes the day to day things that go on outside my studio, are so hard to handle, so hard to get control of, so difficult to manage that aI end up 'creatively paralyzed' I am STUCK on BOTH Black & White, not knowing where to begin, where to end, what direction to go. In these situations I often try to revert to basics - I pick upp a simple pencil or pen and a piece of paper (okay, usually WHITE which is most common.) and I sit at my drawing table, turn on some music an stare dumbly like an idiot waiting for some artistically divine message or image to pop into my head and solve all my problems... to give me something ELSE to focus on besdes what is going on in thenon-artistic parts of my life.

I sit. I wait, I drink coffee (sometimes I progress to Guiness), I listen to music. I wait some more. I sit some more. I bounce my pencil absentmindedly on my paper. My eyes wander around the studio. Finished work here. Art by friends there, Unfinished work over there. And, then, my eyes land on the little Black and White Canvases - reminding me of the nature of beginnings and endings.

Suddenly I look down at my paper. My bouncing pencil has actually made a patter of marks that are kind of cool! Almost subconsciously my right, non drawing hand, reaches over and turns up the music. My left drawing hand puts down the No. 2, pencil, reaches for the coffee mug (or beer bottle). I take a sip, evaluate the pattern on the paper. Left hand puts down the drink, and reaches into the pencil box for a color - at this point I don't even pay attention to it, all I know is that I have begun, something. I don't know where it is going. I don't know what it will become, all I know is it allows me another chance to breathe. To breathe through the things that life sends my way. It allows me, in a small way to get my mind, spirit and body to return to some kind of mutual center, where I can 'reset' and maybe, just maybe by the time I tire of working, return to a place of calm which will all me to go on and deal with the things  - often difficult things - in the 'regular-world' that I may not have been able to handle, were it not for the chance to create.

Art as survival. Survival through Art. It is sometimes as simple as tapping a pencil on a paper. Stop, be still, breathe and do. And, of course, drink really good coffee....