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Who you gonna try and please with your art?

Once when I was working hard trying to enter the "art world" and prove my "worthiness" as an artist (make a living doing art), someone entered my art in a press club contest without me knowing it and I won big time. I was ecstatic. This was it - now I would get hired on in the art department instead of just freelancing and I would finally be a "real" artist.


I walked across the newsroom to the art department I wasn't really a part of just in time to hear one of the "real" artists say, "If she can win with those, what's the point of even bothering to enter?"


To be fair, I also heard a lot of cheering me on as I made that walk across the newsroom but those words coming out of the art department were louder. Why? Because I believed them. They were spoken by an artist I admired greatly. One I aspired to "be like." Someone who I thought "liked" me, "liked" my art.


That night was one of the most defining moments of my life. Something vital to me as an artist was stirred up inside and couldn't be swallowed back down again. I remember having almost an out-of-body experience floating away from that condemnation and past the congratulations of others as I made my way back to the copydesk I didn't want to sit at anymore waiting to be an artist. It was the night I emotionally (if not yet physically) set out on a solo journey to discover what kind of art I would make in my lifetime, free from the expectations, approval or disapproval of others. It was the night I realized no one's opinion mattered, not even mine - about my art being "good" or "bad" or anywhere in-between enough to let me make a living at making it. There would always be people who liked it or disliked what I did. Even I would make art that I liked and art that I disliked and neither of those opinions mattered either. All that mattered was what I would discover next as an artist if I kept exploring the possibilities.


I stayed long enough at that newspaper to not get hired on in that art department at the next opening and then, fueled by some other life circumstances that helped make it necessary, I left.


Was it a straight walkaway? By no means so. I made my way to another newspaper down the road (this time as a "real paid artist") but sadly mostly making maps and more maps and cringing whenever I had to try and understand football (a sport I really detest) enough to make a good graphic about it that everyone "liked." I made my real personal art on the side. I was growing more confident using that voice, trusting what it had to say and not worrying about how it was received.


Gradually I was able to see where I could make art and be free and where it would cause me to worry about the expectations of others and I quit accepting most commission work and started painting and creating for the pure pleasure of it. Granted, I can do this now because I don't HAVE to make a living at it. I don't HAVE to have an income big enough to raise a family. I don't have to sell a painting in order to eat. I still enjoy the business of making art and selling it, particularly when it helps fund my other life passions, but I don't ever pick up a paintbrush thinking I am going to make a painting that will sell. Because, for every person who might like it, there's another (or more) who won''t and more who won't even be able to see it to like it or not. I quit listening outside the art department door for validation a long time ago.


I was reminded of all this today when I got a package in the mail. A friend who collects many things I never bothered to, sent me copies of my early freelance illustrations at that newspaper and I was reminded of a time when I struggled so to be accepted as an artist. I didn't know that acceptance had to come from inside. not outside of me.


Where is your inner artist and what does he or she have to say? Who do you let determine if what you create is "good" enough to qualify you to be an "artist?"


I suggest you start quieting the opinions of others so you can hear the part of you that is already an artist and just wants to be heard.




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