Please please please be gentle with this post and please know that I am not trying to hurt anyone’s feelings. For some reason I am terrified to push publish on this one….
After Donnie and I were married and Mandy was born, Donnie and I decided to go back to school. I flip flopped around about what my major would be and finally decided to get a degree in Art. During this time we were really poor and struggling…so as soon as I bought my first nice camera I started trying to book sessions taking portraits, so we could maybe pay more of our bills. When we both graduated from school and moved to St. George I thought things would get a little quieter for me and my business. Donnie had a “real job” and I simply assumed it would pay the bills. Well, it didn’t quite, so I took on more and more work.
As our financial situation became increasingly desperate I started taking on any job I could find. I took pictures of people that I knew from the get go were not going to be respectful clients. I did design work for a city department that nit picked and micromanaged my work until it was ridiculously ugly and not something I considered art anymore. I taught classes in the evenings to some awesome people (who I’m still friends with) and some people who complained and nagged and I dreaded seeing each week. By the time we left St. George I was pretty sure I didn’t want to be an artist anymore. It seemed to me that as soon as money was involved I could no longer express myself but became a slave to whoever my client was at the time. Art became scary. Art became anxiety inducing and dreaded. I felt betrayed by art.
So basically, I quit. I tucked my camera away safely in its expensive backpack and only took it out on the rare occasion that I decided to take portraits as a gift or take fall pictures of my own kids.
Then, after a few years of keeping my artistic abilities tucked away, safely secured where they couldn’t be exploited, I started drawing. And I liked it. A lot. I could draw whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. I didn’t feel stressed about it or pressured or expected to do it.
Until I started selling it again.
Then, the requests immediately started (not commissioned pieces requests but requests for what I should make available in my shop)…you need to draw a girl with this length of hair…you should draw a few children…your shop needs more diversity…you haven’t done any animal portraits yet, do some of those…why aren’t there guys in your shop…I don’t see any with spiked hair….what about adding the words this way….and on and on. When I got my first request, for a guy with a specific look, I immediately took on the job and made the “perfect” portrait, just what this person wanted. And guess what, they didn’t buy one, I never heard from them again. I hadn’t wanted to draw that specific portrait at that specific time, but I’d done it, to try to make sure someone else liked what I was doing, to make sure that person would have a positive experience with my “company”. But doing what they wanted instead of what I need to do, hadn’t worked out. And then it happened again…and again. And while I had at first been excited and flattered by the requests, drawing started to feel like a chore, like a responsibility, like a “should”. I started to feel like I would never have enough time to draw what everyone wanted and that even if I did some of those drawings would never be bought or sold. I felt like I’d failed. I felt betrayed by art…again.
So what did I do…I quit. Again. I took some time off from my art. I tucked away my pens and pencils and paper into their special waterproof bag and the bag secured a corner of my room where it wouldn’t be seen or disturbed. And I felt sad.
Then, a few days ago I read an amazing book by Glennon (you can buy it here). In the book she talked about how she’d spent a good portion of her life betraying herself, her own thoughts and feelings, needs and wants. And I realized something. I hadn’t been betrayed by art. I had betrayed myself. I had stopped listening to the craving inside me to photograph and to draw and instead I’d started filling other peoples’ cravings for art. But that is not what art is about. Art is about uniqueness and personality and individuality. Art is about expression and love and wholeness and authenticity. My art needs to be about what I see and experience. My art needs to be mine.
Now, don’t get me wrong here…I still want suggestions and thoughts and requests, because art is also about community and collaboration and connection and people and friends. I just need to stay true to myself and my craft. So, if you make a request and don’t immediately see its fruits in my shop, it’s not because I don’t like you or that your suggestion wasn’t a good one…it’s because I didn’t feel like that was the next best thing for me to do. I don’t want to quit art anymore, because I need it, and it needs me. Instead I am going to do my best not to betray myself. I’m going to do my best to continue to create when I feel moved by something, when I feel like my heart may explode if I don’t put onto paper the feelings that are burning inside of it. I’m going to do my best to work with clients who respect me. I’m going to draw and photograph when I feel like it’s right and I’m going to take breaks when I know I need to. I’m going to do my best not to betray myself anymore. I probably still will sometimes, but I am learning more and more each day what it feels like to listen to my inner voice and that inner voice is saying that art is part of me.