20 November 2013

Climbing Back On the Horse

The life of a fine artist is weird. The only experience I have to compare it with is the life of a commercial illustrator, which was my life for 20+ years until I started with the woodblock prints. There's a lot of clarity in illustration. Someone contacts you with a proposal, you talk about the details, the price, the schedule and then you say yes or no. The typical turnaround time for the type of work I did was one to two weeks, which included sketches, edits to sketches, final rendering, and often edits to the final rendering. I usually had between five and eight jobs on my desk at any given time. Hard work, but the deadlines kept everything moving and prevented anything from becoming too precious. And for the most part I got paid pretty well.

But fine art is weird. The cycles are l-o-n-g. Crazy long. I've been spending an average of 18 months per print series. Since there are never clear deadlines, or for that matter clear parameters to the work (other than self-imposed), the only thing keeping me on track is my inner resolve to make the work and the dialog with the work itself. With no deadlines or external demands, there are dangers everywhere: the danger of losing interest, the danger of letting things get too precious, the struggles with inertia, the toggling between discouragement and delusions of grandeur. Then, in addition to making the work, there's a need to be persistent in keeping up with submissions to juried shows or applications for grants and residencies, and to devote continued attention to web sites and social media. And finally, there are the economics of the whole thing, which I'm discovering are absolutely absurd. The financial situation for artists in the U.S. is by and large abysmal. There have been a number of excellent articles about this recently, like here and here.

Two weeks ago I mounted a solo show at Historic Northampton. The opening was spectacular: well attended, exciting, a night full of great feedback, and a few sales. I couldn't have asked for a better experience. Yet still, I felt a kind of crash afterwards. Other artists tell me this is normal. It probably is -- I'm not yet an old hand at this. But compared to life as an illustrator, this strange cycle of being holed up in my studio for months at a time followed by big 'coming out' experiences at exhibitions followed by back to the studio for a bunch more months... it's just strange. When I decided to throw myself into the transition from illustration into fine art I really thought that my skills would be transferable. From a technical point of view, they are transferable. But the lifestyle is so different, the culture of the 'art world' so different... I had no idea.

So here I am, back in the studio after spending six solid weeks prepping for a four-week show, groping around for what to do next. Today I carved some hieroglyphics on a 4 by 6 inch block of shina plywood. I'm on the move again!


William Evertson said...

Excellent thoughts of the difference between creative occupations and working as an artist. I think exhibits are often the end of chapters and sometimes getting onto the next one takes a little time.

Celia Hart said...

Interesting and true.
I've also gradually left the commissioned illustration world and become a full time printmaker - although I now also produce my own card range based on my prints and am venturing into surface pattern design/fabrics. So I'm having to fit with the schedules of retail - which is interesting to say the least!
Good luck with the new project Annie, my studio door is stuck with scribbled ideas for my new projects, just have to get through the pre Christmas peak of orders and get started on them.

Anita Thomhave Simonsen said...

so nice of you to share your thoughts of life as an artist...I appreciate it very much ....sending you my good vibrations for your Work....


starkeyart said...

So true about the differences between the commercial and fine art worlds. I've found that some things do translate well, such as dealing with fine art deadlines when you've spent a couple decades dealing with commercial deadlines. On the other hand, since I am still doing both, the danger is the fine art deadlines feeling too much like work. It's hard to switch thinking spaces, if that makes sense.

I am totally with you on the post show crash and the need to regroup after being so focused an getting the show accomplished. Congrats on yours!! And best wishes on your new series. I'll look forward, as always, to watching your progress.