Giving up on art: my personal history

Yesterday, I read a book called “The Artist in the Office – How to creatively survive and thrive seven days a week,” by Summer Pierre. Within the first few pages, I knew this was a book I needed to read. I posted this on Instagram the other day, but I that I had more to say (or, perhaps, I had more to more to admit).

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Making it meant … the ability to do art full time … Until then, I wasn’t a real artist. As a result, I felt ashamed and invisible next to the people who enjoyed their jobs. I wasn’t a real employee and I wasn’t a real artist.”

I let my own dreams be squashed mid-year grade 12.

I don’t recall anyone specifically saying that art was a useless career choice, but I do remember being encouraged to aim for “real” degrees and “real” jobs. When I applied for university, I applied to biology programs and didn’t even bother with a minor in art. I think that my art teacher and dad were the only ones who ever questioned my decision, but I was a people pleaser and lacked to courage to stand up to all the perceived naysayers.

For years, I used excuses to make myself feel better about not being a “real” artist: art won’t get me a stable job that pays well; I’m a busy student and need to focus on my studies; I have a “real” job and need to stop dreaming because I’m an adult now; I should be doing job related training when I have free time, not art; I’ve lost what skill I had, so I’m no longer an artist and should give up on that dream; etc. Eventually, I just gave up. There was no point in doing something I loved if I didn’t have the time or the skill.

One could argue that I gave up on myself in grade 12, but I still did art – doodling in class, hand drawing overhead sheets (this was back in the later 90’s and my small school still used overhead projectors in all but the larger classrooms), and even hand drawing graphics for friend’s projects. Quitting on my art (and, by extension, myself) came much later. I don’t know exactly when, but I know some of the contributing factors. With my mother dying and my father more-or-less out of the picture, I felt like I needed to be responsible and get a real job (it didn’t help that some pretty influential people in my life agreed). While my art had been encouraged when I was young, I no longer had that extra boost that I needed (most of my family seemed to think that art was just a hobby). I’d also just finished a degree that I had been passionate about, only to find that it was a dead end for me as I wasn’t willing (or, realistically, able) to lead a life of scrounging for contract work – I had student loans to pay and I no longer had a home (mom would have let me live with her for more-or-less-free at least until I was established enough to get regular contracts, but she’d died before my degree was even finished). All this combined with a few years of general bad luck, left me as a sad husk of my former self with nothing to show for it other than I career that I would quickly become bored with in just a few short years. [I should note that grad school happened between mom dying and my career starting– it was a good, but mostly artless, two years for me and I don’t regret getting a library studies degree.]

In retrospect, I think that giving up on art was, in many ways, a desperate attempt to not feel sad and angry about my wasted talent – if I wasn’t doing it, then I wasn’t being reminded of how I’d once had dreams of being at least a part time artist – someone who might work a day job, but go home to create art that was “real” and “good.”

At one point (I can’t remember exactly when or even what triggered it), I tried quilting and stitching. I had embroidered in the past (I was a creative kid, so I embroidered jeans pockets and such), but quilting was new to me. At first, I loved it and I was convinced that I’d found a creative outlet, but I started to get bored with it. I loved the pretty fabrics, but mostly I just wanted to study their patterns. I loved the ingenuity of some of the quilt artists, but I didn’t have the patience to do the same sorts of quilt projects. It was more or less the same for stitching, though on a smaller scale as it’s easier to complete a small stitching project (not to mention easier to take to work, tidy up, etc.).

Meanwhile, things weren’t much happier for me in the career department. I work a cubicle job. I’m a business analyst and I’m fairly senior on the scale, so my work often involves collaboration, advising clients, researching, etc. It’s not a bad job: I’m paid well, I have great benefits, and my boss is a nice guy. But, it can be very boring and it’s very far from anything that I have any love for, commitment to, or interest in (I was interested for the first year or so, but then I realized that I’d hit the end of what I needed to learn and was forever doomed to relearning the same concepts with different buzz words).

I felt bad for complaining (not that my guilt stopped me). There was nothing awful about my job; it was just the wrong one for me. I tried to shift my job back to actual librarianship, but had the bad luck of looking just when the library job market seemed to be taking a pretty big swing downwards. I tried to find similar work in other departments, hoping that having to learn their business and such would at least give me something new to learn. Again, the job market was on a downturn. I eventually found a new job within my current department that was at least a little different. It was good for a while, but it’s gotten boring again. I miss doing work that felt like it mattered or that required learning new things fairly regularly. My learning is pretty much limited to business skills at this point (project management, etc.) and it’s all dreadfully boring.

So, last year, I finally found myself in that terrible place: I didn’t fit at work and I didn’t fit in art. I was in the same place the author describes on the page I shared above.

I know there’s not much I can do about my career right now. I’ll keep my eyes open for something new or more interesting, but, as mentioned, I’m far afield of anything that interests me and I suspect that may mean having to make a pretty major career shift. I could do that, but I’m not willing to until I have greater stability (more money saved, etc.). Such is the life of someone who can’t rely on another person’s income for groceries :)

Art, on the other hand, is something that I can do something about. While I haven’t done anything huge, yet, I have been taking small steps. I bought myself a membership to the art gallery so that I’d go more often and not just when they have The Group of Seven or other favourites (the gallery pales in comparison to most of the others I’ve been to, but it’s better than nothing). I’ve also been doing a lot of reading, especially art related books and comics or graphic novels – basically anything that will remind me of what I used to know about art and inspire me. I’m also sketching a lot more often. It may not be every day (yet) and it may just be a tiny thumbnail of something I saw on a walk, but, right now, I’m trying to focus on habit versus skill. I plan to start taking some classes later this year (if nothing else, I have a couple Craftsy classes that I purchased ages ago, but haven’t yet watched).

This book, is one of the art related books I’m reading. I picked it up on a whim. I can’t remember where I read about it, but I’m already glad that I found it. It has some good insight and a wide variety of ideas for creative things that you can do at work (during your breaks, of course). It also acknowledges that some people do better with a day job (as opposed to being a full time artist), which was nice to read as I will likely always have a day job.

She touched on the false idea that your work has to matter in order to amount to anything (i.e., in order to have “worth”). This both makes us feel like we have to have large amounts of time set aside to get anything accomplished and stalls our progress (think of all that time preparing but not doing).

Speaking of preparing but not doing, she comes back to this problem several times in the book. Inspiration is good, but there comes a point where you just need to start doing things. I know that I’m bad about looking and looking and looking and looking, but never doing. As the book noted, looking, reading, getting ready will eventually become your life if you don’t include the actual art making. I don’t want that to be my life (not completely, anyway, though as a librarian, research is something that I enjoy). I know that I’ll have to keep that in check and remind myself to “do.” I’m letting myself read as much as I want right now, but I have a cut off date for when I have to start taking classes and actually making art. I’m also making myself work on a daily sketch habit. I’m not quite there yet, but I sketch most days for at least a few minutes.

I’m very glad I read this book, if only because it made me think about when and why I quit art. I have two other similar types of books that I will read next and I hope to find a few more resources to help encourage and inspire me.

Do you have any art resources that inspire you? Blogs? Galleries? Books (self-help, reference, graphic, or even novels)? I’d love to hear about them and about how they inspire you.

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One Response to Giving up on art: my personal history

  1. Pingback: Reading update | The Beached Librarian

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