Had you told me when I was in art school that I would be primarily influenced by fiber art, textiles and Asian art I would have said you had the wrong person. If you said one day that the colorful southwest with all its street art, red rock deserts, and green ocean would resonate with me more than the dark streets of New York I would have been confused. The reason, as I look back, was that I didn’t know exactly what I liked to do yet. I knew what kind of art I was drawn to because I thought it was impressive, but not necessarily because it resonated with me. Not because I wanted to make it. But I thought I did! I thought that because I loved photorealism and surrealist work (and to be sure, I still do), that must be what I wanted to create. So I tried to love creating it too. I tried to make the visions of others flow through me. Or at least that is how I feel as I look back. It was like I was trying to channel someone else instead of what was true inside me.
Going to school in Manhattan had many huge advantages but it also meant that much of the art I was seeing was extremely highbrow and if I’m honest, very uptight. I felt like everyone was either measuring their art against these great masters or creating things that could be sold for the highest dollar amount one day at Sotheby’s. Sometimes it was really interesting and jaw-dropping but at the same time, I often found myself wondering if the people making the art were even enjoying being artists. It all felt so… serious. Even the art that had a sense of humor evoked an image of wealthy people at a cocktail party all laughing, even if they didn’t get the joke.
The biggest shift happened when I realized that the thing I love more than the final work, is the process. I had always felt this, but it was on the long, long list of important topics never mentioned in art school. I love the process of making a mess, of finding new materials to experiment with, of scavenging for new ideas out in the wild. It was a big deal trying to make my fastidious nature just chill and create out of my soul instead of with a buyer in mind. If there is one thing that can kill a good idea it is the idea of a fictitious art collector standing in a fictional gallery saying to the person next to them “if only they had made that orange, then this would be truly great and I would buy it”. Not only is that no way to live (I could write so much on the horrible “what if”) but also it isn’t true! I don’t like all art and honestly, sometimes see things and think “well that isn’t very good”. But guess what? Not everything is for me and someone else probably does! If what you are making is something you really love, someone else out there probably will too. Remember, Van Gogh wasn’t at all well received in his lifetime, but then again, he didn’t have the internet. The number one most important thing I’ve learned about successful contemporary artists is that they treat what they are doing like a business they believe in. This doesn’t mean they make art as a product (though that isn’t necessarily bad), it means they create things and then try to proudly stand behind their creations and say “this is something worth your time and money”. It can be very uncomfortable doing this in the beginning. Maybe you never really get used to it. But if you don’t believe that what you are creating is worth it, the world will probably follow that thinking. Sound uncomfortable? It is sometimes! It is scary and intimidating and definitely goes against all we are taught about being humble (you can be humble and proud at the same time!). But you don’t have time for humility and those that succeed big time rarely do. Those that make it big (and big is how you define it not how others do) are the ones that behave like they are worth it.
I will now, with all the straightforward honesty I can muster, tell you that the journey I took to get to a place where I feel like my creative ideas are worthy of appreciation was a shitshow. It was unnecessarily long, confusing, sometimes backward, frustrating and all sorts of other things. And it isn’t even over! AAAHHHH! However, I didn’t give up on the belief that I had things inside me waiting to be unpacked. I was absolutely sure, even inside my darkest most confusing moments, that I had things I of value to offer the world. Each day I need to remind myself of this. Each day I need to wake up and review my mental list of great ideas, beautiful creations, and worthwhile endeavors. I also need to remind myself that failure is completely okay and without it, you definitely do not improve. So go forth and fail. Mess up. Create really bad art that you will never show anyone. No matter what, just create. Because if you are enjoying the process and you are being true to yourself, it is almost inevitable that one day you will make something and someone else will love it and you will be off to the races. We are, all of us, creative. Find what makes you feel excited and give yourself permission. It is worth it.