I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what motivates the art that we make, and how commercial artists can still retain sense of authentic self within a body of work they create. For me, stepping back and taking a year away from ‘making Art to sell’ has been the most liberating things I could do to reignite the deeper artist within me.
25 years ago, when I left a lucrative career in advertising and marketing in favour of creating full time in clay, I had no real plan for the future artist me. I just had this big urge to make pots. Enthusiastic youth and boundless creativity fueled my fire, resulting in a flow of constant inspiration. I had a brand label, a vision and a drive to make. In the beginning, of course I had to learn the technical aspects of making (usually the hard way) but the excitement of it all drove me out of bed in the morning filling my head-space with fresh ideas. Until one day, years later, the artist me needed a re-boot.
It was time to take action..
Looking from outside in, I realised I had become ‘a brand manager’ to myself and my art business, and as Gallery owner, I was curating and promoting the work of more than 60 other artists above my own. I loved every minute of it, but the artist in me was kicking hard to get heard. She was starting to question ‘What kind of artist are you’.. !? What do you want your art to say? Do you feel challenged, fulfilled, curious, excited ? Do you have the courage to step away from your current role and start something fresh ?
Many of you have already been through this journey, and can probably relate to where I am on this.. You’re probably also familiar with the diagram titled “The Comfort Zone”… A simplification really of four zones and the movement through each to get to the ultimate goal of living with purpose… It starts with a place of low risk and reward ie Your Comfort zone, then moves up through the Fear Zone, Learning Zone and finally ending in the Growth Zone – which is where the magic happens, and where we artists function at our best …
So it was that after selling our gallery and revamping my compact multi-function studio space, I took the leap and threw myself to the unknown crocodiles. I signed up to learn how to paint abstract with UK based teacher, Louise Fletcher… Prior to this I had no real experience except dabbling a bit with acrylic portrait painting, channelling Frida Khalo and Tretchikoff for guidance.
I had two rules for the year:
Have fun and have no plan to make any personal art to sell. Unsurprisingly, the universe took care of everything; rewarding me with clay commission orders that I love to make, plus some well paying workshops to help take care of the bills.
To be honest, in the beginning I struggled. I felt vulnerable and exposed in my online tribe of 300 artists sharing from all over the world… and surprisingly I battled at first to truly PLAY at making art. “We are not trying to make a painting” our teacher would reiterate.. But somehow, I couldn’t get past the swooshes of paint, mark-making and scratching through layers in an attempt to paint ‘a feeling’ without using imagery or symbols. Clearly I was holding on too tight… Until one day, quite out the blue, I could actually feel what she meant from a place deep inside me. Everything up until that moment I had made in clay or put down in paint was towards ‘looking like something’. So ‘Getting out the way’ (ie letting go of the outcome) became my new mantra.
When we share our art, our photography, our writing, we share who we are, our ideas and our emotions, with the risk of not being accepted or appreciated.
Understanding this made it all ok. I learnt in that moment to fall in love with my softness, my fears and insecurities …and my stories. That it didn’t matter what anyone else thought. I was at last doing this for me, with no need for the opinions of others.
Before long I could begin to see the things I liked and what I didn’t like in other artists work as well as my own. I combined so many colour palettes until I realised certain colours that worked for me… and that it would be ok if tomorrow it all changed. Then I went back to writing journals, keeping notes, making drawings, seeing with my heart.
Suddenly a connection happened…
I had popped up from somewhere deep within. Like a snake sheds a skin, it was an act of burying the butterfly, and finding an authentic voice that felt real and truly me again. I had stepped back on to my creative path. A path that has no end… Just a wholehearted joyful middle bit of discovery, learning and storytelling. And because of it, I think I’ve reprogrammed the start button to a more fulfilling creative life…
First published in CERAMICS SOUTHERN AFRICA magazine issue 18/2020