Making a leap – having the courage to try
It’s now mid-September and especially if you have kids, it can feel like all hell has broken loose. As the main “shuttler” (as in I shuttle my child to and fro) the back to school schedule means getting up and out of the house consistently earlier, and implementing homework rules, along with dealing with a seemingly endless barrage of by and large not important notices from school, the paper waste alone sending me into a long term depression as I imagine a small country’s rainforest cut down, on a daily basis, for this purpose.
But I digress. What’s been on my mind the past few days, is getting to a point where one realizes that in order to attempt to reach their goals, they will need help, consultation, and advice, from those who know more.
In past blog posts (although I’ve taken a bunch down) I have described the past year as challenging for me on a number of levels, one of which being professionally as an artist. While without a doubt the political climate has changed dramatically which has been one (huge) thing to process, at the same time, I started finding myself feeling worn out, less enthusiastic nor interested in pursuing some of the routes career wise, that had kept me occupied and motivated the past six or so years. I also started feeling like not only was I not where I wanted to be professionally, but that I was not feeling like a lot of the projects, shows, or community art organizations were the routes that would get me to that place. So I started thinking, still working- but withdrawing to a degree from the kinds of shows and organizations that I had been pursuing up until that time.
One harsh turning point that made me step away from an art association was a realization about jurying. I had been exhibiting at this gallery for maybe 3 years as a member, and I saw over time consistently who submitted work, what kind of work typically got in to shows, and what did not. I saw that consistently there were a greater number of women, than male artists, which is often the case in community and local art organizations. So every show there were consistently more women artists entering work, and meantime naturally more women chosen for a show. However, one show, with a male guest juror, I applied to, and while I almost always got in the organizations show, this time not only was I rejected, but when I looked at the accepted artist list, I saw a totally disproportionate ratio of male to female artists, accepted. I had never seen this at this gallery…and without question, I knew it was the bias of the juror, towards male artists. Now let’s be clear here, and I’ve written about this before- institutionally in the established art world, women fare so much worse than men- amazingly the art and museum world is behind the corporate world in terms of balance of financial success and representation. The activist group Guerilla Girls have done a great job of promoting the grim statistics on male bias for major galleries and museums. However, on a local level, now, by and large it is women who outnumber men as artists, at least in this area of the country. I’ve also observed it in art classes as well. At any rate, as much as I knew of the ultimate subjectivity of jurors, having known this organization for some time, and seeing what was a clear bias (or maybe they were all his friends? Who knows), it turned me off, and I decided I didn’t want to play a rigged game.
That was the first occurrence to really turn me off to local juried shows. While I enjoyed going to them and by and large enjoyed and appreciated much of the art, I started feeling like there was so little consequence to so many of the shows, or maybe it was just more a provincial pursuit. If that’s one’s interest, its fine, but when you are interested far beyond the local, one can feel some drive to outgrow these kind of places and exhibits.
One of the problems though has been, okay, what next? I would hear from people how hard it was to get in shows, to get grants, to apply and find endless rejection. So I did some reflection and came up with some strategies.
1. Face the fact you’ve known your whole life- it’s easier to do things through people you know. So as much as I wanted to try to achieve things on my own, so to speak, I realized, it made more sense to ask other art related people about opportunities, connections, etc…. This so far has worked out very well for me. An artist I met who I exhibited with in a few shows advised me of the Italian art residency, that I just completed, after I was rejected from one at a National Park in Florida. It turned out amazing. I realized I could either spent much, much more energy cold calling and come up with little or nothing, or use routes through introductions, for a much better outcome.
2. Identify what I have outgrown. The art world is very complicated and immense. There are opportunities for the most novice to the most experienced. What worked well initially may not work well now. Identify it, and step away.
3. Come up with my own projects. When I had gotten the hang of exhibiting in juried shows and group projects, I started feeling restless and maybe like I was not challenging myself. That was when I became motivated to learn more about a subject I was passionate about- climate change and native species. After that I started my work and began talking to people about it- teaming up with local colleges through introduction, exhibiting, writing and speaking. With connections and my own interest, I made some of my more interesting projects happen.
4. Find someone who knows more than you (or me). This is where I am today. I finally realized I needed the help of a professional who has worked in the world I’m trying to get into. I am now working with an art consultant who has that knowledge and directive, who has already made me express my concrete goals and who I pay a modest amount compared to her experience and knowledge. I realized I needed help and found someone who knows how to go after the goals I have. It took me a while to get to this point, but now I realize this is where I should be.
So after a year of a lot of reflection, a certain degree of angst, a “stewing” period in a sense- we all have them, I am finally feeling regrouped, and ready to go after my goals, to at least TRY to achieve what I hope for. I am old enough to know now that the most important thing is making the effort to achieve. It takes a lot of courage to own your desires and goals- a lot of people, for whatever reasons, fear making the effort to be successful. I think a lot of women, too, struggle with owning their desires and ambitions. Of course what the hell is success? For me it would be continuing to be creative, have interesting projects, engaging with the world, and supporting myself, my family, my community, and the causes I believe in, along with those who are struggling. Will I ever achieve it? Who knows, but at least at this time in my life, I can identify it, and make the effort. Trying is the most important thing. Because it is a horrible, horrible feeling, to think of the past, why didn’t I just try?