Saturday, January 14, 2012

Desperation And the Creative Fire

As I was sitting in my newly completed studio, drinking coffee, cuddling Georgia the Studio Cat, and looking a the array of art on my 'gallery wall', and the pieces in progress on the 'work-wall' it struck me odd that it has taken the prospect of death by cancer to bring out my desire to not only make art, but to make a LIVING at art, and that bugs me.

Why is it that we live in a world where artistic creativity is seen as an oddity, a strange passion that is to be pushed down, put off and avoided like some kind of disease?

PERSON: "What do you do for a living?"
ARTIST: "I'm an Artist."
PERSON: "Really? <dramatic pause, trying to come up with something 'nice' to say> "Who do you work FOR?"
ARTIST: <pause to hold back the laughter> "Well, I work for my self."
PERSON: "Wow. That must be nice. How much money do  you make?"
ARTIST: <pause... 'Not THIS question again!> "Enough."
PERSON: "Oh, really?" <accompanied by the 'yeah. right' expression>

In past posts on unemployment, and on the 'forced-down-time' caused by surgical or treatment recovery, I have discussed the idea that when our 'work-life' is yanked away from us it leaves a huge void that we have a difficulty figuring out how to 'fill'. I have run into that again, this time in the form of a new treatment schedule that is causing me to apply for disability.

For some people the sudden prospect of no job is seen as some kind of 'freedom'. Trust me, it is not. I think the problem is that modern humans are just not socially and culturally wired to be free. I feel that in many instances this is beaten out of us from the time we enter our school-years, where our lives and activities are directed and tunneled away from creative pursuits and into those activities which allow us to eventually find our 'proper-place' in the workforce.

Unfortunately, art-as-a-career, is such a small part of the overall 'economic' sector it is almost considered aberrant behavior, akin to someone who needs help, who has lost touch, or needs special treatment to become more normals. This is sad, just sad is all I can say.

So, why have I turned to art? Why now? What do I hope to gain? Well, let's look at the basics. Due to my ongoing battle with cancer, and my recent lay-off from a good job, I am now unemployed, and in this market it is tough enough to get a job -(I have applied to over 100 jobs again, with only a couple interviews - and I haven't even MENTIONED that I have cancer. Therefore, in this regard I am stuck.

One challenge in all this is that what ever end-game I face - short term death from cancer complications, or long term remission and survival, makes it almost impossible to plan for more than the immediacy of the present. We used to joke about living 'day-to-day' or 'paycheck-to-paycheck' it was a joke because we knew unconsciously that there WOULD be a FUTURE, a time 'later' in which we would joke about our past miseries as we sipped Mai-Tai's on the deck of our yachts.... Enter reality. Life is short.

In essence, THAT I guess is the biggest message of all. I don't really care if you love motorcycles, cooking, engineering, surgery, theatre, music, dance, writing or art. It is cliche, I know, but none of us are guaranteed ANY tomorrows.

I'm 49, and will be very, very happy to continue adding one year at a time, one day at a time, and I have realized that I want to spend as much time doing what I really enjoy, living in the world of art. But, I am also a realist. Contrary to popular belief, the majority of artists are not 'trust-fund-babies' nor do we have a rich spouse who provides for our needs as we do our 'crazy art stuff', the majority of us are (or want to be) hard working, dedicated creators of objects that enhance the world in which we live. The form or media in which we work doesn't really matter as much as having the chance to do what we love.

Possibly because the creative types ARE wired a bit differently we are not seen as 'working-people'. What the public sees is the finished product, not the WORK it takes to get there. The lay public doesn't 'see' the 100 or so hours that may have gone into a painting, or the late nights spent watching kilns heat up so that a sculpture can be 'born', or the weeks of rehearsal that goes into a play, or a ballet, or a concert. But, when the SEE the final product, they certainly do enjoy it!

If you want to discover the passion behind an artists work, go to a studio or gallery and meet one. Sit down and talk with them, you will soon discover that for the majority of them, they are forced by the way our economy and culture are structure to sequester their 'creative-time' into a hand-ful of hours a week and yet they STILL find time to create things of, imagine, just imagine if the energy they have, and the things they create would be given the same level of importance in our society as a refrigerator, or a car, or any other of the millions of widgety-items that we use on a daily basis.

As you talk with your new artist friend, ask them this one question. "What would you be able to make if you could do your art as a full time job?" I'd bet the cost of your lunch that you will see, if you look close, the starry-eyed-possibility of that nirvana-istic existence, where the artists world was filled with the OPPORTUNITY to create, to make and to sell their work. You will see it in their eyes, they will probably take a deep breath -- the breath that they have taken many times before, the breath that when they exhale, you see them 'return' to the world of 'reality' where the possibility of that life simply doesn't exist... that is the problem as I see it. The dream is STILL there, but the path to get there has been erased completely, or at least marginalized into the realm of 'crazy'.

Well, my situation has been forced on me in many ways, and I have begun to recognize that maybe the true blessing behind my medical suffering is that now, I, at least have the OPPORTUNITY to make the leap from the traditional 'world-of-work' to the non-traditional 'world-of-art'. I know that it will take work, that it will take time and effort to do what needs to be done to see this through. I also know that as I stand, coffee cup in hand, looking at the growing stock of new art that has not existed before in front of me, I can say that there is a glimmer of happiness in my future.

The hole created by things beyond my control, is slowly being filled up with art. It's all I can do to just keep going and keep creating...

Not knowing how long I have makes each moment of creative opportunity that much more important, and each effort that much more rewarding. I know it sounds cliche, but there it is.... on to 1825 and beyond.

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