Saturday, June 01, 2013

Question/Answer #1: Why Did You Decide to Give Up on Being an Artist?

As many of you know, I recently wrote a blog post requesting submissions for questions to be used as writing prompts, so here's the first in a series of posts I will call "Question/Answer." This request was inspired by a question from a long-lost friend who asked several questions about what had transpired in the two decades (!) worth of time since we last saw each other. Subsequently, my sister requested that I share the answer to that particular question, so here you go…

The question: Why did you decide to give up on being an artist?

Around age 20, after a few years as an art major, I made the conscious decision to stop making art. I have dabbled in it again over the years, but the decision was a fairly life-altering event and one that I felt I had to make or I would just go crazy. 

All growing up, I loved art. I always had art supplies, sketch pads, paints, etc. I was known as an "arts guy." In high school, I delved fully into the arts: Honors art, played trumpet in band, worked set (and eventually stage managed) the school musicals, designed school t-shirts, worked on layouts for the year book, etc. I was never the best, but I was pretty good and very dedicated. My senior year, I won the overall “Art Award” for the school. When I graduated, I went to Hinds Community College and double majored in Fine Art and Commercial Art Technology (AKA Graphic Design). My plan was to get the vo-tech degree in Design then go get a BA for Fine Arts.

But somewhere in there, I came to the realization that I didn’t ENJOY making art. It was not a fun process for me. This doesn’t mean that the physical act of drawing a picture was without any enjoyment. Rather, the whole concept of “creating something” just stressed me out. Was it good enough? Was the picture impressive? Did I make a mistake? Would people like it? I was unable to divorce the act of creating from a concern about others’ opinions of my work. Making art should be about the desire to create, not impressing other people. I stressed too much on whether it was “good” or what other people would think and it sapped away any of the pleasure of creating art for the sake of art. It took me a while, but I slowly came to recognize that this was the root of my problem, and I decided that I would stop. I made a very conscious decision to cease making art because it was literally driving me nuts. The decision made me sad, but it also gave me peace. I have pursued art projects in the years since, but for the most part, the decision was final. I tried to do some painting/assemblage type work again years ago, and once again, I had to pull back because the old feelings of stress and pressure crept back into the process. I stopped again.

To further put a nail in the coffin of my time as an artist in the traditional painting/drawing/fine arts sense, a few years ago, during a very fast purging of my mother’s house that occurred when we quickly moved her to a smaller house for health reasons, I had to make a decision on what to do with all my art from high school and college. I decided to take pictures of the better works…and then I threw it all away. Pretty much everything I had done, I put in the trash (I saved a few pieces). A very difficult process, but necessary in light of the circumstances. But on some level, it honestly felt almost like an albatross around my neck was purged; the thing that had caused me such stress over the years was washed away, almost with a trace (save a few photos). It was definately losing part of an identity, for better AND worse. Then a year or two after that, I packed up all my remaining art supplies (which I still hauled around for years) and gave it all to my niece, Lizzie, who IS inspired to dabble and create. It was the end of an era.

There’s a second side to my decision to NOT make art. The deep-seated desire to “be good at art” was sadly not accompanied by the desire to “BECOME" good at art. I never really wanted to commit the time that it would take to become better. That sounds lame, but honestly, honing a craft takes lots of time and energy and I wasn’t compelled to give the time to art. I did not have the passion that I saw in others that drove them to spend hours and hours in a studio, practicing, studying, making mistakes and learning from those errors. I just wasn’t drawn to it (pun intended). And honestly, I am “good” at art by conventional standards, but put me up against other artists who really mater their trade and I wasn’t all that great. Not bad, but nothing particularly noteworthy. So I opted to take a step away. Why drive myself crazy for something I wasn’t enjoying? So I walked away.

Well, mostly. I didn’t leave art completely thanks to my Graphic Design degree.

Now, I knew I didn’t want to be a full-time graphic designer before I even finished that degree (again, I could tell my skills weren’t up to snuff to really make it a profession) but I use that degree fairly regularly. Very glad I got it. I have used my training at every non-profit I have worked with, whether it’s designing fliers, creating logos, or just making a form or document look better. Even here in Tanzania, I redesigned all our regional materials and have designed 2 logos for different groups. One of the logos, for Chanua, a support group for orphans and their caregivers, is pictured to the right. My style is very conservative, simple, and clean, which doesn't make for particularly groundbreaking or exciting design but is exactly what most organizations need to spruce up their materials, so that's my niche. And I’m fine with that. (Nothing bothers me as much as a poorly designed flier or form!) I’ve also designed a few t-shirts over the years for friends and families, and even created a 50-page comic book with fairly not-very-good art, but it's funny and I’m very proud of it nonetheless. (Click here to download the comic or read it online.)

So there’s the reason that I did not pursue a career in art. I still have an artistic eye that serves me well, but overall, I don’t do art. I have some sketchpads here with me in Tanzania, but so far I have not cracked them open. The old pressure to create a perfect work of art rather than simply enjoying the process for its own sake is still present and still rears its head. And that’s OK. Some people’s demons drive them toward art. Mine just asks that I keep my distance.

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