Sunday, September 04, 2005

failure

















The summer shows are over. At one point this summer I had about 40 paintings in five different galleries, from a brand new quasi commercial/quasi co-op gallery to an established museum-type public space. I'd worked hard and expected to make a few sales, but at summer's end I have sold only a single painting. I've been rationalising the situation by telling myself that nobody has sold much this summer, and it's true, but to have so much exposure and so little success is still extremely deflating. Sometimes I can channel my angst by focusing on the financial aspect, surgery on the dog and replacing the furnace being thousands of dollars that we did not need to go into the hole for this summer. But on a deeper level it's a failure of identity.

So the huns are at the door. School is starting on Tuesday and I finally had to give up my teaching contract in June when my hopes were still high, so there is no longer a fall-back position on which to rely. Fortunately, Andy recommended a couple of books to me that have helped me think about this more objectively. The first was First Things First. What I got most from this book was the basic human necessity of leaving a legacy. For many people this means raising and launching the next generation, but it also means doing personally meaningful work if that is something you feel a pressing need to do. I have always known what I was "meant" to do, it just took many years of sorting through the crap that had built up around my mind to find it again. And now that I'm there it's not easy, but then that's one of the reasons I didn't do it in the first place. I had finally reached the point where this quote glaringly applied to me: People won’t pursue their callings until the fear of doing so is finally exceeded by the pain of not doing so. The major wrench in the works for me waiting until now is that I have two children whose needs precede my own.

I am now starting to read David Whyte's Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work As A Pilgrimage of Identity. I'm barely into it, but this paragraph resonated with me at this time:

The stakes in good work are necessarily high. Our competence may be at stake in ordinary, unthinking work, but in good work that is a heartfelt expression of ourselves, we necessarily put our very identities to hazard. Perhaps it is because we know, in the end, we are our gift to others and the world. Failure in truly creativre work is not some mechanical breakdown but the prospect of a failure in our very essence, a kind of living death. Little wonder we often choose the less vulnerable, more familiar approach, that places work mostly in terms of provision. If I can reduce my image of work to just a job I have to do, then I keep myself safely away from the losses to be endured in putting my heart's desire at stake.

So back to the drawing board. After all, who needs motivational self-help books when you've got Rudy's latest recommendation?

16 Comments:

Blogger andy said...

Deflation I can understand. To put so much at stake and not yet have a tangible affirmation of that stand must be hard to bear.

But does poor sales really equate to failure of identity? I could make a stronger case that to sell everything you'd painted would also represent a failure of identity, because it would mean you'd been painting for commercial success, not out of personal commitment.

It's a bummer, certainly, but it ain't failure. But I think you know that anyway.

Incidentally, I have that passage underlined in my copy of Whyte's book too.

4/9/05 2:51 PM  
Blogger Mick said...

I know how you feel. I also know that reviewing the sales history of, to name but two, Van Gogh or Modigliani (when they were alive, obviously) won't change much in your mind. This is just me, but some of my favorite self-help advice comes out of the diet & nutrion arena: "you are what you eat!" Pass the sweet corn.

4/9/05 3:25 PM  
Blogger carla said...

Andrea, I can understand the level of your disappointment when you put it in terms of identity. Yet I was really struck by the qoute, People won’t pursue their callings until the fear of doing so is finally exceeded by the pain of not doing so. I admire the clarity of purpose that gave you the courage to walk away from the sure thing so that you cut put yourself fully into something you love. I have been feeling absolutely miserable since I've been back at work...the amount of time I have to spend preparing for three different courses and grading all the papers is enough, but then we also have to do all kinds of other extra things. Bottom line...no free time during the week and most of the weekend. I've been indoors for two days working while the sun is shining, and I'm resenting every minute of it.

Oh, I'm not dumping my complaints on you simply to vent. I'm really trying to say in my roundabout way that I wish I could find the same courage you found and make a change in my life. I have books I want to write and talents I want to develop, but I just don't have much time or mental energy left when I've finished fulfilling all my obligations.

One of my BF's favorite sayings is If you keep doing what you're doing, you'll keep getting what you're getting. It's not always as easy as that, but maybe it's time to think of a different approach to marketing your work? Hang in there. Your work is breathtaking, and things will happen for you.

Take care :>

4/9/05 5:56 PM  
Blogger The Whippy Curly Tails said...

Girlfriend, do not dispair!
I can't speak to why the sales did not happen but would hope this does not get you down for long.

I am sure there are others who would interested, like we bloggers. Do you have photos of your work on flickr or a place they could be viewed online...your online gallery?

Many times I have thought I wish I could buy what I see within a blogger's site.

Agree 100% with Mick about the food...comfort food is a big thing here in the south.

I am currently so mad/horrified at FOXnews that I whipped up cheese dip...velvetta & rotel..both misspelled, and both bad for my body, but meeting my needs! Chocolate ice cream or your favorite food fix.

Take care & post your work for us potential buyers
, =^..^=

4/9/05 5:59 PM  
Blogger kyknoord said...

Courage, talent, vision, humour. These are just a few words that really apply to you.

5/9/05 1:39 AM  
Blogger andy said...

Andrea, I'm feeling a tad guilty about posting such an unsympathetic-sounding comment earlier. I do sympathise, you know that, right? It was just the f-word at the start that got me going...

Carla, forgive me for wading in here (and Andrea, forgive me for hijacking your comments!) - if what you're currently doing isn't what you want to be doing, do you have a clear vision of what you'd like instead? And I do mean clear; without worrying at this stage about any constraints of practicality, can you describe a typical day or week in the work you'd rather be doing?

If that vision is sufficiently clear and compelling, I believe it will draw you towards itself; in the terms of that wonderful quote, the clearer the vision, the greater the pain of ignoring it.

For many people, myself included, that's the critical step we never get past. I have huge admiration for Andrea not only for getting out there and starting to live a dream, but for having the imagination to create the dream in the first place.

5/9/05 5:05 AM  
Blogger andrea said...

I felt a little uncomfortable yesterday "laying it all out there" (fear of whining) but I'm glad I did now. Thank you for the much-needed moral support and kind words.

Andy: It never occurred to me that you were being unsympathetic, just your usual objective self.

Sweet Corn ... er ... Mick: I have to admit that I've indulged in comparing my plight with the one-eared wonder on more than one occasion! :)

Carla: listen to that Andy guy (and read his blog). He knows what's what. And it took me many years of self-examination to get to this spot. Fortunately I'm in the position to not starve by taking this path (thank you, Greg), but finances are an ongoing problem that I could better handle if not for my kids.

Lyn: I've been eating a lot of 85% cocoa Lindt chocolate lately! My website (see my sidebar) could see more traffic! Part of my selling problem is that dealers require a certain minimum price level to make make it worth their while, so my work is entering mainstream galleries but I'm still an unknown quantity, so I feel my work should be lower priced. It's a partnership, though, so I'm playing the game as best I know how. I have a lot to learn!

Kyknoord: and raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens? Seriously though, I appreciate it.

5/9/05 7:03 AM  
Blogger andy said...

85% cocoa Lindt chocolate - my favourite! I always keep some in the fridge :-)

5/9/05 7:53 AM  
Blogger onclejohann said...

Nothing done for good is a waste of time. I paint for the pleasure of it and I paint for the good of it. Agree with me or not does not make it one degree less than what it is. And then there comes a time when there is nothing more one can do unconditionally and then move on to more positive things. I know I will.

5/9/05 10:00 AM  
Anonymous chitty said...

Think of it as investing in your future and paying your dues... for now.
I could shower you with cliches but I am not going to do that.
Take courage in knowing that you've been brave enough to take the first steps towards doing what you really want and were meant to do.
All that needs to happen now is for the universe to come to the party.
And come it will.

5/9/05 12:07 PM  
Blogger It is the question said...

Hey Andrea

I have been an artist. As a hobby though and not for some time. Once an artist though, I guess always an artist.

I think this goes to the reason for your creative process.

I think we have to make a choice as artists: do we create for ourselves, as a means of earning a living or happily, both. The former two options are perhaps choices, the latter, perhaps, a happy coincedence.

Some artist friends describe creating with commercial appeal as a whoring of the soul. I think that is a load of crap.

My best friend is a kitchen designer. He is the best person I have ever seen at listening to a client and creating something good that makes them happy. That might be country, modern, whatever. At the end of the day, he might not like the style the client picked, but he is proud that he delivered something that is good within that requirement.

If you are in the fortunate position that you can create without financial pressures, fantastic. But few are and it does not sound as though you fall into that category.

But just as creating for oneself whilst still having commercial appeal is a happy coincidence, is creating without commercial appeal a disaster? Does it mean you are worth less?

If I run for my fitness, but without hope of being competitive, does that make me a less worthy runner? Silly, trivial example I know. But it illustrates my point. True artists create in an emotionally connected way. They might innovate new techniques - but why? To better convey something important to them?

The one-eared one is a good example - he was largely supported by his brother throughout his life (if I remember my art history correctly). But as a post-impressionist he pioneered techniques that became the cornerstone of modern art. He also used the art as a window to his tormented soul.

To see someone who manages the commercial aspect well, take a look at www.philipbarlow.com. I cannot say how he enjoys / derives from the creative experience. But he is very succesful. My favourite painting is Cream. I'm still tryying to buy it after missing it on exhibition.

On the other hand, South Africa's most famous artist and perhaps one of the greatest in the world today, William Kentridge, is inspiring in his personal success at creating for himself. Happily, it has also made him a wealthy man.

Long rambling post. Hope it helped. As I say, I think a concious choice is the important part.

6/9/05 1:07 PM  
Blogger The Whippy Curly Tails said...

Come to my blog to see the art on eBay for hurricane relief effort...=^..^=

Loved your treehouse comment...we never had a treehouse as a kid, but our friends did!

6/9/05 3:19 PM  
Blogger andrea said...

Chitty: I guess the trick is to design better invitations for the party! But thanks.

IITQ: The ol' integrity vs. commerce conundrum is one that has plagued me for several years now: trying to dance for the dealers while knowing that what I do for myself is better work. I don't think it's working. Interestingly but probably not surprisingly, the work I do that is most appreciated by other artists and that wins awards is *not* what dealers are looking for. (I'm giving myself a headache now.)

6/9/05 7:22 PM  
Anonymous Christina said...

It's funny that I came across this website. I'm working on a novel about the "basement generation," a term I've established for both young artists of the written word and of image- people struggling to make it in a society where it is hard for us to make art for the sake of art and to move out of "basements" in both a literal sense as well as a metaphoric sense. Your entry really hit home because I can clearly see the talent and continue to ask myself this question of why we have so much trouble selling our work. Should we be supporting eachother more like Gertrude Stein says in A Moveable Feast? Please if you'd like to discuss this more or having any more insights as to what holds us down as successful artists, please, please, email me. chrissy1582@hotmail.com
and good luck with your beautiful work.
Christina Matthews

9/9/05 11:09 AM  
Blogger Lois said...

Andrea: I wish you were close enough to sit down over many cups of coffee or tea. Having such talent and finding time to pursue it is both challenge and opportunity. I have agonized over the thing with children and work so much over the years. I suspect you are doing an excellent job with both, but feeling torn down the middle much of the time. Your art work looks wonderful. Please feel free to "talk" via email if you ever need support!

11/9/05 5:25 AM  
Blogger andrea said...

Lois: Thanks for the understanding voice out there. I will take you up on your offer next time the worms work their way to the surface -- and meantime, I'll keep checking out what's happening on your blog!

11/9/05 4:43 PM  

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