With my first solo show opening this Friday, I have been facing more and more dialogue in my head about what various people will think if/when they come.
When I can finally get quiet in my studio, I know that I am making work for myself and my personal artistic pleasure- not for a specific audience in mind. But I do have to say that it is at times very difficult to get into that mental/emotional space. Having returned to school as an older student to emerge as an artist in my 30s instead of my 20s, I vowed not to allow school to change my artistic "vision". And while art school did not change what inspires me as an artist, it did change how I dialogue and question myself about my work. I now have a new perspective on craft and the art world that I certainly did not have before. I have a much greater sense of the history behind the work I do and what other current artists are doing. The positive aspects of this for me is a desire to push my work and my ideas continually- to see what I am doing as research or a constant work in progress as ideas unfold and develop. School has also given me the freedom and desire to explore more and more materials, along with the skills to do so.
The downside? Sometimes I feel downright schizophrenic in my studio. There are multiple professors and fellow students living in my head and critiquing me constantly. When I was in school, this was my audience and I had both failures and breakthroughs while listening and taking into account what was being said. What is difficult about this is I believe that academic art often clashes with art as a business, which adds a whole different dimension to studio work. School-based learning and work is about the idea, the new and the different- gearing work for high-end galleries and artistic fame in a particular setting. A kind-of make it or break-it attitude to making art. When does this push become contrived? As I write this, fragments of many conversations clamor in my head- about beauty verses art, and making work that only the art world is going to respect/understand. I respect the relatively few artists who are able to achieve this kind of notoriety with their work. I find that my personal ideas are never shocking/trendy or new enough to fit in this category. So far, pushing my work into this realm has only created work that I am not proud to show. And I have plenty of it stuffed into my studio closet! :).
Now that I am out in the real world, so to speak, come the other aspect- art as a sustained livelihood based on selling to regular people who like/appreciate art. This is the audience that at this point, I understand the least. I have noticed that generally, the "sweeter" the piece is, the more likely it is going to sell. For ex. I have two ink pieces featuring mice. The mouse pieces are sold already, the insects are not. But, as you can see, I LOVE to draw insects, finding their bodies beautifully foreign, challenging and fascinating. My personal insecurity is that this places me right in the middle- not crazy enough to be embraced by the art world, not pretty enough to be embraced by a wide paying audience. The general view in the art world about mass audience based arts is that it is too soft- not pushed enough and made to sit in a room instead of stimulate. Actually, I should specify the academic art world as the thing I speak of- I cannot speak for the what defines the art world in general. However, the more artists I meet making their living from their art is that this IS their personal expression- they are striving to stimulate in a different way- not to shock, but to beautify and enlighten. I equally respect these artists as well because they spend every day doing exactly what they love, express themselves and are making a living at it.
I think that this conversation is so dominant in my mind because people from both areas of my life are coming to this opening. Inside, there is a part of me that wants to please everyone and wants everyone to like my art. Knowing that such a variety of people are coming reminds me that there is absolutely no way that everyone liking my work is even possible. In fact, some people are going to hate it! Consequently, out pours all those sensitivities, fears and internal conversations. I know that to thrive, or even survive as an artist I am going to have to let this go. Otherwise this is the beginning of a very long and painful road.
I imagine (and realize) that one has to separate oneself from both business, academics and whatever else is speaking, to get down to the truth in making art.
That saying, I desire to make art that gets down to the essence of my being, while pushing my craft and my intention as far as it can go. To revel in the fact that art is a life-long learning process I will never completely master. This is the exciting part. In the end, those voices and fears only serve to remind me how determined I am to be the artist I want to be. It IS the beginning of a long, hard road- but one that I embrace with every fiber of my being.