This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. Luann also writes a column (“Craft Matters”) for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explores the funnier side of her life in craft. She’s a double-juried member of the prestigious League of New Hampshire Craftsmen (fiber and art jewelry). Her work has appeared in books, magazines and newspapers across the country and she is a published writer. She’s blogged since 2002 about the business side–and the spiritual inside–of art. She says, “I share my experiences so you won’t have to make ALL the same mistakes I did….”
I used to think there was something wrong with me, for all the thinking I do about death. Now I’m learning this is actually common. No, not even common—it’s part of the human condition.
In fact, one professor of psychiatry posits that fear and anxiety about death are at the foundation of ALL our fears and anxieties. What we know and experience intellectually is very different than what we know emotionally. As we say in hospice, “Everyone knows they’re going to die. But nobody wants to die today.”
I’ve been reading STARING AT THE SUN: Overcoming the Terror of Death by Irvin D. Yalom. A reviewer says, “…Once we confront our own mortality, Dr. Yalom writes, we are inspired to rearrange our priorities, communicate more deeply with those we love, appreciate more keenly the beauty of life, and increase our willingness to take the risks necessary for personal fulfillment.”
These aspects speak directly to being an artist in today’s modern world.
We’ve rearranged our priorities. We strive to communicate, deeply. We appreciate the beauty of the world around us, and inside us. We are willing to take the risks necessary to be the artist we dream of, and to get our work out into the world.
I’ve talked before about creating a legacy. I believe this drives all our actions to create our work, exhibit it, market it, and perhaps even sell it. If you have a FASO website, then you are already committed to finding an audience and a market for your work.
I once mistakenly stated that Emily Dickinson never published any of her poetry, and therefore she didn’t care, and kept writing anyway. “Oh, she cared desperately,” a more learned acquaintance corrected me. “She wasn’t published, but she really, really wanted to be!”
So in an age where someone halfway around the world can see, and like, and even buy your work…
In an age where someone halfway around the world can see, like and even copy your work…
In an age where, no matter how many artists there are, there is no one who works exactly like you…
In an age where you are one artist among tens, hundreds, thousands of thousands of other creative types with a website…
In an age where Bieber fever reigns (he started on Youtube) and videos of silly cat tricks garner a million views…
In an age where the most popular television shows cater to the dreams of people who want to be stars, and said people enter contests to achieve their goals…
What does it mean to create a body of work? What does it mean to be successful? What does it mean to “make it big”? What does it mean to create a legacy?
Sorry, no answers today! Just some questions to get you thinking about what these goals would mean to you.
What will survive of us? The only way we know anything about the people who lived in the dawn of prehistory is through the art they left behind.
But if you study archeology, you know that garbage is just as revealing. (Most archeology finds are found in ‘midden heaps’, which is a nice way of saying ‘trash pit’. The ancient Mayans had to move their entire cities when too much garbage made life in the area unsustainable.) Will future civilizations (or aliens) learn about us through our artwork? And will they judge us by the work of Thomas Kincade? Or perhaps from the plastic clamshell packaging that everything we buy is packaged in?
And whose work will survive? Whose art will define our times? One of my favorite stories from the art history textbook Janson’s History of Art told of a mediocre Victorian painter who was the most popular painter of his day. But the artists whose work now defines the age? Monet. Renoir. Cezanne. Even one who died in relative obscurity (then)—Vincent Van Gogh.
So how do we proceed? How should we live our lives? How do we approach our art? How do we shape our legacy?
I believe there’s no way to anticipate what we will leave behind. There’s certainly very little we can do to control what that will be, for more than a few decades, anyway.
All we can do is let ourselves be guided by the strongest intuition we have:
What is it you love?
Do you love to paint landscapes? Still lifes? Clowns? Paint them!
Do you love to sell your work? Sell with all your heart.
Do you love to see your name in print? Submit your work to every publication/exhibition/website you can.
Do you love to teach? Teach!
Do you love to write about art? Write!
Do you love to support yourself with your art? Be the professional you want to be, learn the skills you need, and sit in the driver’s seat of your art automobile.
Do you resent trying to make your art a business? Do the work you love to earn a living, and focus on keeping your art making open-ended and fun.
Trying to set a balance between all this? Set the balance that’s right for you.
What matters, in the end, is the kind of life you strive to lead. The ripple effect of your actions in the world—the kindnesses, love, energy, opportunities you were given, and in turn gave to others, create wavelets that move far past our own seeing. We have to simply trust they carry our best intentions, wherever they go.
What comes after us…
Whatever is made of our efforts when we are gone,
Whatever it will mean to those others who remain, what they will understand,
There is only one thing we know for sure….
It will be what serves their need, not ours.
I love the last stanza in Philip Larkin’s haunting poem, An Arundel Tomb. As he looks upon the figures carved in stone, he realizes that, whether those who lie there meant to be remembered this way or not, this is, truly, how we will remember them:
“…Time has transfigured them into
Untruth. The stone fidelity
They hardly meant has come to be
Their final blazon, and to prove
Our almost-instinct almost true:
What will survive of us is love.“
An Arundel Tomb by Philip Larkin