I found an article I wrote for CraftsBusiness Magazine from July/August 2005! Here we go:
A reader responded to my blog on how I got started with my art biz. Like me, she, too, had to get serious when her husband was laid off. But she sometimes wonders if the resultant financial strain and arguments were worth the proverbial kick in the pants.
I think we ALL struggle with the ideas of what our artistic lives should be, and what our day-to-day life really looks like. We have a mental image of “the artist” working thoughtfully at his easel with an admiring throng of patrons looking on; the songwriter strumming a guitar dreamily as she jots down hauntingly beautiful bars of music; the novelist typing feverishly as prose pours forth from her overheated typewriter…er, keyboard.
Life ain’t like that, is it?
My environs are a mess. My house is a pigsty. (I’d blame it on the teenagers, but I’m a packrat and a rabid procrastinator, myself.) My sink is constantly full of dishes, there isn’t a spare square inch on my counters, and the kitchen floor crunches underneath. Magazines, books, and newspapers are precariously perched on every windowsill.
We are in a stage of “too many pets” and the mudroom is a cacophony of cooing pigeons and rampaging rabbits. Move on into my studio and we see stacks of unfiled paperwork and half-finished projects. Not a clear surface in sight. There’s a reason why artists say, “Studio hours by appointment only.” We have to fumigate first.
I remember a customer once saying, “I imagine you in your studio, all serene and thoughtful, with classical music playing in the background while you sew these beautiful pieces.”
I replied, “Actually, I like techno/industrial music, I throw fabric on the floor as soon as I cut a piece from it, and then I have a tug-of-war with the rabbit to get it back. One minute I’m arguing with my husband on whose turn it is to take my daughter to choir practice, and the next I’m begging my son to burn his smelly socks in the backyard before the neighbors suspect we’ve got a dead body on the premises and call the police. I haven’t cooked a meal in so long that last month I made soup, and both my children thanked me. For SOUP.”
The customer backed slowly out of my booth, and I realized that honesty is not always the best policy.
Sometimes it seems so ridiculous, and I dream of the nearby MacDowell Colonly artist retreats. Promising artists of all sorts are given a cabin of their own to work in solitude. There are no phones or computers. Meals are brought and left at the door. Even the cleaning staff is under orders NOT to engage the guests in conversation.
It sounds like a dream come true….
Or is it?
I heard a well-known musician (okay, it was Greg Brown) talk about when his children were very young, money was tight, and finding time to write songs was difficult. He ranted and raved about how much he could accomplish if only he could create in peace.
One day, he finally got the chance. He was gifted the use of an old cabin by a secluded lake. I can’t remember the exact circumstances, but his family was not present. It was what he’d always dreamed of: Beautiful views, solitude, and time.
The only problem was, he couldn’t write a damn thing. He was bored out of his mind. And he missed his family. It was the single most unproductive time in his entire career.
I think of this story a lot now.
Maybe there are some people out there who can work in peace, who are self-disciplined enough to sit down and write every day, rain or shine. There are people who only listen to lovely music as they work, and no one ever calls until the CD is finished. Maybe there are people whose friends and family take them seriously enough to never call until after dinner.
But that’s not MY life.
My home is messy. I’ve learned to refer to the dust as “patina”, and the windows as “lightly frosted”. Most of the furniture is second-hand, but rooms are also filled with beautiful things I’ve bought from and traded with other artists. My work graces the walls, and every time I wear my jewelry, I get compliments.
My husband does the work HE is passionate about. Though we sometimes wish we spent more weekends in Paris (actually, just one would be nice!) we also know the value of his choice.
My kids are now finding their own odd, very distinctive ways in life, and I know they have good blueprints to work from.
And I’ve come to believe that most of us need some amount of tension in our lives to work at our best. We need a wee bit of pressure, a little distraction. A deadline, a promise, a commitment we can’t easily fill. Something that pushes us, and eventually forces us to do things we didn’t think we could do, to accomplish things we didn’t think we were capable of.
This is the real “artistic life”–messy, noisy, sometimes stinky.
But also loving, and breathless, and FUN.
Art isn’t always some cerebral escape from this circus, it’s PART of the circus. Whenever you add what you love to the mix, the batter is better. (That’s my cake metaphor.) And when something beautiful and exciting is created in the midst of all this, somehow it seems even sweeter.
It sounds good, anyway. That’s my life, and welcome to it!