ARTdart: There are as many ways to think about art as there are to create it. Join Pamela Beck in her column, ARTdart, as she explores and considers the different perspectives that define the art world.
“Am I wasting my time? Is this worth it? Am I really any good?”
While these seem like questions between lovers at an impasse, they were actually at the heart of a conversation I had with an artist friend. She had begun to doubt the quality and originality of her work. She wondered if she should keep on painting at all. Without a gallery to represent her, most of her work remained unsold.
Like most painters, my friend doesn’t feel she has any choice but to paint. She told me that she tried unsuccessfully to stop a few years ago so she could concentrate on more practical goals. But the need to paint grew even greater in the absence of being able to do so. She found herself sneaking into her studio in the middle of the night where she would alphabetically arrange her unused paint tubes, just so that she would be able to touch them again. “It’s not like I can put on something like a smoker’s patch and drop this addiction,” she told me. “Not that I really want to,” she added.
Most of the time my friend feels energized by her painting. She loves the release and expression it provides. She enjoys the time spent in close connection with her creativity. But it’s hard for her to shake the feeling that other artist friends have gained recognition and moved forward while she has been left behind. And it has become increasingly clear to her that she will have to keep her day job…indefinitely.
My friend fears that perhaps it’s not because she’s competing with thousands of known and unknown artists who attempt to get selected by well-established galleries. (Galleries who themselves, usually have limited resources to serve the artists they already represent.) And it’s not because these galleries often select artists who come with their own impressive client list or have been personally referred to them; and it’s not because she has a small budget to promote herself and buy painting material; and it’s not because her day job and family needs make it hard for her to do the footwork, travel and schmoozing necessary to introduce herself to others beyond where she lives; and it’s not because her work doesn’t dovetail with current popular taste and fashion. No, the lack of gallery interest in my friend’s work has convinced her that she’s simply not a good enough painter.
Whether she is or isn’t a good enough painter to find a gallery to represent her and then succeed once she’s there, I wouldn’t know; nor does anyone else. It’s all highly subjective and unpredictable. In the meantime, my friend is left to determine if her painting has enough personal value to overcome her doubts.
Of course she would like positive recognition, both for the satisfaction and to be able to support herself through her art. However, as that is not the case at the moment, can she let go of judging her art as a success or failure and accept it as necessary for her wellbeing? She’s clearly going to continue to paint, regardless of whether she can sell anything. But my friend worries that if she’s the only one who finds her work meaningful, does her art really have any worth?
I’ll leave it to the great philosophers and shrinks to grapple with that last question. I have a hunch though, that my friend already knows the answer- unless she wants to go back to alphabetizing her paint tubes again.