Getting from point A to B.
People pursuing creative careers often look up to the very successful for guidance on what to do. Creative careers don’t have the benefit of a rigid, structured career path, which is part of the draw of them. The freedom! The independence! But the main disadvantage of that is, of course, that it can sometimes feel like all your efforts are leading nowhere, or not in the right direction, or to something you don’t really want (or, maybe you’re not even completely sure what you want in the first place.)
Feeling directionless is not pleasant, especially when you look around at your peers and see them all in their structured, cushy jobs while you’re still trying to nurture an art career. At least if you want to be a doctor, there’s a way to figure out EXACTLY what you need to do to get there (not that actually BECOMING one isn’t hard, but at least you get a road map.) Artists don’t get a road map. There is no one, formulaic, way to become a successful artist. And that fact can sometimes be refreshing, oftentimes maddening.
I would take any opportunity to ask successful people in my field the question: any advice? What should I do? And they pretty much always say the same thing- just keep on making work. Okay. I would get so frustrated with this answer, because I felt like they were deliberately keeping some secret from me. I wanted to shake them and say “but what should I really DO! JUST FREAKIN’ TELL ME THE SECRET!” That answer is frustrating because it negates the idealistic fantasy that there is some sort of “secret formula” for success. That you can just gather the right ingredients, cook it under the right conditions, and BAM!, you have success gumbo.
So I’ve started to realize and accept this fact. It’s a scary thing to accept as a young, aspiring artist because it means accepting that you’ll have to go out and make a lot of calls for yourself, and that you will have to trust yourself to make said calls. Not crumbling when you make a bad one is where the “keep making work” advice kicks in. Gathering the strength to keep going, despite failure, or hopelessness, is really what “keep making work,” means. Although it’s no secret formula, it is great, valuable advice.
I very recently graduated with my BFA, and I must say, I have some mixed feelings about it. Part of me obviously feels really great to have graduated and to be done. Another, strong, part of me really didn’t want to leave.
Art school is a very nurturing environment. In my case, I had even secured a shared studio space with some friends for my senior year. We had a keurig in there and everything! My professors would visit and give impromptu critiques on what I was doing! I could take a painting straight from class to my studio space for more attention! It was great. And I even had a life-affirming experience there on Spring break. My solo painting show (that I’ve already posted about!) was happening right after break, so that was truly the cutoff point to finish any paintings. So, I ended up driving down to the studio just about every day of what was supposed to be my vacation like it was my job- coming in in the morning, leaving in the evening. I remember driving there- to my studio, to work on my paintings, and feeling like “this is it. this is the feeling I want to have every day of my life.” And now I’ve moved out and graduated and it feels like all of that is gone. It feels like I spent all this time building something over 4 years and now I have to start all over.
We art students are human. We feel all the time the subtle (and rudely unsubtle) disapproval from others for daring to pursue a creative degree (apparently, to them, universities are just glorified vocational schools.) But in the supportive environment of art school, you get positive affirmation every day from fellow students, mentors, and professors. You have an (albeit insular) place where you belong and are appreciated. Then, you graduate and it can feel like you’ve been cast out of Eden or something.
Then I snap out of feeling sorry for myself and realize that this uneasiness is pretty natural for recent grads. It’s natural that, after four years of structured schedules and assignments and being surrounded by people literally being paid to help you, being spit out into the world where we have such an abundance of freedom can feel overwhelming. I now have to find my own place in my art community and eke out a career for myself and that means putting myself out there without my professors standing beside me. And that’s scary. But that’s okay. Looking back, every positive change that I’ve gone through started with me feeling at least a bit uncomfortable in the beginning. And that’s what this is: a beginning. I think I and other grads should take comfort in the fact that this uncomfortable feeling, like all things, will eventually pass as we settle into lives of our own creation.