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It was the last day of the College Art Association conference in Washington DC and I was beat.
I’d spent weeks preparing for it. And then 4 long days either in meetings or chasing more meetings. I’d attended sessions, made new contacts, and talked to dozens of artists about their practice.
It was a fabulous time, and a very successful conference. I’d learned that I’m not the only one concerned about the professional prospects of graduating art students. That many others are working behind the scenes to improve the plight of those of us who live from our creativity.
But it was exhausting. And I was afraid to admit that if I heard the word “art” one more time, I might just weep.
24 hours until my flight home.
My soul cried out for help. I needed to be saved from my very own work ethic.
I needed to be saved from that voice that begged me to keep going, even though I felt drained. The voice that urged me to visit just one more gallery, one more art museum, schedule one more meeting.
NO! I just couldn’t do it.
But then I found myself wondering, “What would be … FUN?”
I’d heard that there were simulated roller coasters in the basement of the Smithsonian Museum. I couldn't resist. So off I went to join 2700 twelve-year olds on the rides.
We’d no sooner finish screaming our way through one ride and then race back in line to do it all over again. I laughed myself silly, oblivious to the stares of the staff. The kids too, eyed me suspiciously at first, but soon respected me as one of their own.
I rode those coasters until the museum closed.
I was still smiling as I made my way back to the hotel, using my camera to chase the golden light and soft shadows that the setting sun cast over the DC streets. It was magical to be engaging with my own creativity again.
Back at the hotel, I asked myself once more, “What would be fun?”
I ran a bath using ALL of the bubbles, like the whole bottle. And then I luxuriated in the decadence with a wee bottle from the mini bar.
The next morning was all mine too. “What SHOULD I do?” is the question I always ask automatically upon waking.
But that voice had already been silenced. And my imagination ran riot with all the fun things one could do in Washington DC on a Sunday morning.
So I made my way to an African Gospel church and introduced myself at the door. They greeted me warmly, walked me to a pew front and center, where they treated me as an honored guest.
Never mind that I’m not a member of their faith, nor any faith. Never mind that I was the only white face in a sea of black. Never mind that my blue jeans clashed with their finery. Never mind that I can’t carry a tune nor keep a beat.
For the next 2½ hours, I danced.
I sang. I swayed. I prayed and threw my arms up in the air shouting AMEN!
And as the choir belted out their hymns, and as the congregation rocked, and as the preacher whipped us into a frenzy with his sermon, the woman next to me shouted, “Sister, I ask you - are you saved?”
And I cried out, “HALLELUJAH! I am now!”
So now, I ask YOU a question.
What could you do, right now, today, that would be FUN?
I was speaking to a group of university students. As I finished, a young woman approached the stage.
“May I ask you a question?”
Of course! I asked if she was an artist. I inquired about her work and her practice.
“But the question I have isn’t about me. It’s about my boyfriend. He’s an artist too. We’ve decided to promote his career first and then once he can support us, we’ll focus on mine.”
She then proceeded to ask me questions about how to best market his work. And I just wanted to put my arms around her and weep.
Because this isn’t the first time I’ve heard this story.
Listen, it’s not just girls. We’ve all been there. In one way or another, we’ve all given our power away. Made someone or something more important than our work, forgetting that our work isn’t just what we do – it’s who we are.
But women are the most guilty culprits. And we simply must stop doing this to ourselves.
Furthermore, we’ve got to stop accepting it in our culture.
Now I’m going to talk about gender and you’re going to roll your eyes. But bear with me for a minute, because this affects all of us.
I believe that one of the biggest reasons that art is important is because it represents the culture it lives in.
Think about it. Art is how we say “I was here” both as individuals and as a society.
Throughout my career, I’ve found that there are more females in the art school classrooms than males. And that number just seems to be growing.
But that number is not represented in the galleries, museums, and collections. It’s considerably more difficult for a woman to succeed in the art world than a man. (And don’t even get me started on the difficulties faced by artists of color!)
Today, the exhibition history of our most important institutions is shameful.
Don’t believe me? Look at these numbers.
Last year, the Guggenheim Museum gave only one solo show to a woman. The Metropolitan Museum gave only one solo show to a woman. The Whitney gave only one solo show to a woman. And New York’s much more enlightened Museum of Modern Art graciously gave two.
Of all the solo exhibitions at Paris' Centre Pompidou since 2007, only 16% went to women. In the UK, the Hayward Gallery boasted only 22% of solo exhibitions dedicated to female artists over the past 7 years. Tate Modern has granted women artists solo exhibitions only 25% of the time. And last year’s Venice Biennale came in at 33%.
Art should include everybody’s voice. Otherwise, as the Guerrilla Girls say, “It’s not the history of art but the history of power.”
That young artist who was willing to subjugate her voice for that of her boyfriend took on the same student loan debt as he, she toiled and worked to develop her craft as hard as he. But she’s agreed to set that aside so that his voice can be heard first.
Do you trust that she’ll ever have the opportunity to stand in her own light? And what about us as a culture? What are we waiting for?
If you look at the walls of the Modern Art section of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, you’ll find 4% of the artists represented there are women. But 76% of the nudes are female.
Why must a woman be naked to get into a museum?
Summer Lydick is a Working Artist.
After receiving a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in drawing and a Master of Arts in painting, Summer continued her work in fine art while developing The Painted Wall, a decorative painting business. There, she created large-scale public and private murals and plaster finishes for homes and corporate offices.
Summer began as an abstract painter, but has found her true voice in her current work, which centers on the “spiritual simplicity of the mandala.”
Summer found The Working Artist at just the right time in her career. She and her partner, also a painter, were both just beginning to stretch their wings as career artists when they discovered the course. “Crista came swooping in with the answers we needed at just the right time.”
Through taking The Working Artist, Summer was able to clearly see the steps she needed to take to become a successful working artist. “Every morning is like Christmas morning now! We wake up so FIRED up about our possibilities as artists.”
The Working Artist helped her see that her work is her brand. “We’re artists! We make art! We have a unique product to sell, so now we’re salesmen. And suddenly the business of art is like any other business model.”
In addition to building her website, and participating in local and regional art exhibitions in Texas, Summer is focused on building her inventory. And she recently created a pop-up exhibition of her work in conjunction with a public reading by author Elizabeth Gilbert in Miami.
Because of the lessons she learned through The Working Artist, Summer understands that possibilities are all around her. “It’s SO EASY now to see the big picture!”
Check out Summer’s work at http://www.summerlydick.com/
So you’ve taken the jump and chosen to be an artist.
Where’s the fabulous gallery opening in New York City? Where are the international collectors to lavish praise and money on you? Where’s the gallery to take care of all those pesky marketing tasks and details?
Instead, you battle rejection. You wonder where the money is going to come from. You find closed doors and indifference.
This isn’t what you signed up for.
Some of us are still so shaken from taking the jump that we don’t even realize that we’ve already landed.
Stop. Take a breath. Look around.
You’re an artist! You’ve taken that giant step toward authenticity. Do you recognize how very blessed you are? How many people never choose to take that jump but continue to hide their light in fear? How many more never even have the opportunity?
Don’t look at your world with eyes that see lack. Instead, search for the blessings. Be grateful for all you see.
Yes, there are things that need to change to get to where you want to go next. Guess what? There always will be. As soon as you get to the next level, you’ll badly want to get to the next one. And then the next, and then the next.
Art world superstar Kiki Smith once admitted to me that choosing to be an artist is like choosing to be in a free-fall for the rest of your life. And this is an artist who’s got the fabulous openings, the attentive collectors and caring galleries. Yet she still feels that way!
So instead of complaining about what you don’t have, identify what you need to do to get it. Then start taking the steps. Baby steps. Every day.
Bless the fact that you’re an artist; that you’re doing what you love. Acknowledge the courage it took to take that jump.
And then enjoy the ride.
I like a hero as much as the next girl, maybe more. Probably more. But my heroes aren’t action stars, sports legends, nor Kardashians. They’re not even all artists.
My heroes tend to be the special teachers I’ve had over the years.
A few of them worked in a classroom, most of them didn’t. But they each showed me new ways of looking, seeing, working, and being. And that’s why those special teachers are my greatest heroes.
My Companion doesn’t talk of heroes. They frown on that kind of exuberant language in England. Instead, the Brits nod approvingly and say things like “jolly good.”
But over the years, Companion has spoken softly of his college art professor in tones that suggest great fondness and admiration.
It was many, many years ago now. Arthur Bell Foster was already an old man. He was a landscape painter whose medium was watercolor and whose subject was the breathtaking, yet sometimes monotone, grandeur of Engand’s Lake District.
Companion always smiles when he remembers Mr. Foster’s hand-tied bow ties, brown tweed jacket, mustard colored waistcoat with a discreet crimson check, his old-fashioned exactness, and his habit of referring to everyone as “Old Chap.”
He remembers that each day Mr. Foster was asked what he’d like for lunch. And each day Mr. Foster thought hard about the question, as if he was hearing it for the first time. And then he’s always order the same: “A tongue and mustard sandwich and perhaps a cheese and pickle one as well, if you don’t mind.”
Companion remembers how the new art teachers, with their long hair and radical ideas sniffed in disdain at Mr. Foster’s outmoded work. It was the era of the “Pop Art” mobile and daubs of abstract color, which in the hands of anyone a few leagues below Rothko, bore an uncanny resemblance to the color charts released by manufacturers of mass-produced household paint.
He remembers how Mr. Foster would be pushed out of education, replaced by these young men who were more interested in chasing their own careers than in teaching their students.
But mostly Companion remembers the lessons, the attention, and the care Mr. Foster put into the craft of painting.
It took me a long time to find a painting by Arthur Bell Foster. History has long forgotten him and his work. One might wonder if his whole career was in vain?
But though it’s been decades since he’s seen it, and the gift was a surprise, Companion recognized his Teacher’s work the moment he unwrapped that package.
He showed me where Mr. Foster had used wax with his watercolor to give it texture. He showed me how he used color, his brushstrokes. He remembered the lessons he’d learned that had become a part of who he is now and the work he continues to do.
Arthur Bell Foster had been more than a teacher. He’d been The Teacher.
And to me, that’s heroic.
Once upon a time, I was stressed to the breaking point. Nothing, it seemed, was going my way.
Have you ever felt this way?
I had plans to visit a friend that night. He plays live music and I wanted to catch his show. We’d been friends forever, and I refer to him as my “Guardian Angel” because of the wisdom bombs he drops.
He didn’t disappoint.
After the show I climbed up on stage to say hello. “How you doing?” he asked as he packed his gear. The tears started flowing. Right there on stage!
But we’ve been friends for a long time, so he knew just what to do. He quickly led me to chocolate.
“Tell me what’s going on.”
It all spilled out. I’d worked so hard, stated my intentions to the universe and put in the effort. Yet when I looked at the results, nothing had gone the way I’d wanted.
The universe had not given me what I requested within the timeline I set.
And my Guardian Angel said one word that changed everything, “Allow.”
“Stop bossing the universe around! Stop dictating your terms! Instead, state your intention, do the work, follow the path, and bless the journey. Walk in faith that the universe has its own timeline and agenda, and it’s far greater than what you can ever imagine.”
In that moment, I could clearly see all aspects of my life: in my relationships, my career, and even my creative work… I was not allowing. And something inside shifted. I let go of my need for control of the outcome.
As artists, we often feel we have to try harder than everyone else. It doesn’t help that our very work puts our vulnerabilities on display for all to see. But what happens if you stop trying so hard? Stop pushing your agenda on the universe?
What happens if you simply do the work and do it joyfully?
My Guardian Angel explained, “Stress is a signal that your ego’s in charge. Doubts push success away. You’ve gotta learn to love yourself on a higher level. Staying focused and intentional is different than obsessing, it’s different than stress.”
Allow. That one word rocked my world. And today, it’s my mantra.
But what about you?
Maybe you’ve also had an exhibition of your work with high expectations of sales and critical acclaim? And when those expectations weren’t met, you used the experience to turn against yourself. You used words like failure, disappointment, not good enough.
We’ve all been there. But I’ve also witnessed what’s on the other side.
Someone sees the show and remembers it. They tell a friend who works as a curator and a few years later, those pieces are going to a museum. It’s a good thing they didn’t sell because now their value has greatly increased.
The point is you never know what door is going to open. Allow the universe the space to do its magic. Don’t curse what may well turn out to be a blessing.
And when it all gets too much, when life has you against the ropes and you can’t stop the tears, do what I do: share some chocolate with an Angel.
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It's been exactly seven years since I stepped on that airplane to France. I was so frazzled that when I arrived, I slept for 24 straight hours.
Selling everything you own, saying goodbye to everyone you know, especially your Mom, and then taking a one-way flight to a new life is exhausting.
Particularly when there's nothing waiting for you on the other side.
It takes faith in the invisible to be an artist. Think about it, we're always working with ideas that are unseen until we create them and make them real.
Only this time, I was doing it with my life.
Luckily, when I jumped the universe caught me. Several times, actually.
And over these past seven years, I've learned a lot. About life. About art. About business.
But you don't have to run away to France to learn these lessons.
I'm just putting the final touches on a very special new workshop. It's called The Working Artist Manifesto: Making Sense of Art, Life, and Time.
These are the lessons I've learned from life inside the art world and what it means to be an artist. It's the hard won knowledge about our relationships with time and money and with our work.
But this workshop's not really about me. It's about you.
Because by the time you finish it, you'll have created your very own Working Artist Manifesto.
The Working Artist Manifesto will be released next week. I'll be sharing this powerful new workshop for FREE. But only for a very limited time.
Because on November 16th, I'll be opening the next session of The Working Artist! (cue applause) This new session will be bigger and better than ever.
So watch this space!
It might just change your life.
Be sure not to miss it! Sign up here and receive my FREE ebook too!
What do you want to do when you grow up?
Do you think we ever stop asking ourselves that question? It seems to be one of life's great mysteries.
When I was young I yearned to be a child prodigy. It seemed an easy way out. Let fate and genetics take the wheel, it was exhausting trying to sort life out on my own. It still is!
When my natural talent failed to reveal itself, I thought about other career options. I tried to imagine what sort of tasks I would do. And more importantly, what would I wear?
I carefully considered every job I saw portrayed on TV and in films. I thought I might like to be a detective, like Kelly Garrett, the sensitive one in Charlie's Angels. But I try as I might, I just couldn't run in high heels.
Dismayed, I looked to my parents and their friends for career inspiration, immediately turning away with a shudder.
What do you want to do when you grow up?
This seemingly innocent question carries a false implication -- that what we do determines who we are. The truth is, we're better served by letting who we are determine what we do.
When faced with any decision, particularly life decisions, I like to begin at the end. So picture yourself at the very end of your life and look backward.
What do you want your life to have stood for? What do you want to leave behind? What kinds of experiences would you like to have had?
Dream big! Why not?
The point is to have fun with it and see where your imagination takes you.
Thinking about your heroes also reveals a great deal about yourself. Who are the people you admire most? What qualities do they have that attract you? Are these qualities you hope to cultivate in your own life?
What about your favorite fictional characters? Are they clever, adventurous, funny, or artistic? What challenges have they overcome? Can they run in high heels?
My friend Guy had the luxury of knowing that he wanted to be an architect from the time of his first Lego set. But many, many years later, ready to retire after a full career as a high-school English teacher, Guy was a sad figure.
As I sat amongst the dozens of architecture coffee-table books in his library, and moved aside those piled upon his coffee-table so that I could find a place to actually put down my cup of coffee.
I asked why Guy he never became an architect? He obviously still loved the field.
He replied with a shrug, "My math skills are weak." I was shocked. Guy may never be a physicist but certainly, with some hard work, applied thinking, and maybe a patient tutor, he could have improved his math skills.
Guy chose not to attain his dream but to spend his working life in a career he admittedly wasn't suited for, because he did not give himself permission to learn.
As your own dreams whisper to you, remember that we never really "grow up." We never stop changing or dreaming or grasping toward new experiences -- until we die.
Or decide to stop.
So as you reach for your dreams, don't let ignorance or fear stop you from attaining them. Yes, sometimes learning is awkward and uncomfortable and even difficult. But it's always possible.
What matters most is that once you choose a path to walk, you begin to take the steps toward your goal. Even if they're baby steps.
And I promise you that in no time at all, you'll be running in high heels.