To be a medical doctor, you take the right courses, attend the best University, narrow the field of study to a specialization, work hard, receive accreditation and then open a practice and begin the life long honing of the knowledge into a fine skill and a reputation goes out from there, coming back to that Doctor. Most careers have a defined path to achieve the goal – if you learn a skill or pass a course of study you are rewarded with a paying job and this reward fans out into the rest of your life.
painting a frontlet carved by Bill Kuhnley Jr 1992
There is no such path for a career artist. Each path is as unique as each artist. There is no view to see the next bend, the steepness of the next hill, the bang of a pothole or enough time to screech on the brakes before plowing over the edge of a washout and hope we don’t drown in the surging muddy flood waters below.
The metaphors of the path are real. There is no such thing as a regular pay cheque, its trial by fire; make an error and the flames lick you up one side and down the other. We don’t know what the next painting will look like; we may have a vision, but we can never produce the nuances of magnificence we see in our minds eye on canvas, we simply begin and it either come close or it does not.
Tomorrow could be the greatest day – a huge commission, or a painting breakthrough, or it could be the worst day – a blunder on canvas that cannot be recovered after weeks of work, or there’s a letter from the mortgage holder that time is up. This is the path for many. No wonder we artists retreat to the place in our minds where the reverie lives and just paint. Looking too far ahead is scary business and not planning ahead is career suicide.
An artist can plan a strategy to reach the masses and sell artwork and have exhibitions but there is no organization that says yes, you are ready to launch a career and yes, you have all the skills it requires, here you go, just open this door, hand in your application and ta-dah you’re a working artist.
An artist wears about 25 different hats to do the job well. The obvious one is painter, and less obvious, archivist, restorer, counsellor, photographer, teacher, marketer, agent, banker, accountant, salesperson, project manager, brain stormer, student, philosopher, chemist, writer, organizer, socialite, host, critic and then we have a life with family and friends, travel holidays, national holidays, pets and our home. It’s a career all right!
So why do it?
Because we can’t sleep or get ill if we ignore it. Artists must answer the call and we persist because we trust in what we do. We have been given the seeds of the unknown and when that plant is ready to bloom it finds a way of translating our world view or views never previously revealed for the pleasure of others, or opens us up to analyses of our inner workings by others. In this arena we are judged by anyone and everyone, the few who get it and the many who reject it. Creative thinkers cut the edge to the new view.
To survive walking the path we develop thinking that pushes away the fear that creeps into an unguarded mind at sleep; that prepares us against the fear of rejection before an unveiling, the fear of losing our home, the fear of not resolving a painting gone wrong for the client who waits – fingers drumming; and coming to accept, in spite of what living in the western world has ground into us from birth, that what we earn is not who we are, how much I make is not equal to my value as a human being (yes, I switched pronouns, because its personal).
Learning to use an adze on a Raven Moon totem pole 1991
Our riches are within and we share them, not to brag but to share honestly.
“This is the beautiful human being I see – that’s who my work is about.”
I know at the core of all of us there is beauty, some spend their entire life in denial that it lives within them, but it is there. When someone is offered a helping hand without obligation, but for the purpose of easing pain – there, right there – is beauty found. This thinking sends tidal waves of inspiration through me.
Painting people is
and it all adds up to beauty.
I’m not new to the journey of life but my art career is only in its second Chapter. Chapter 1 ended with the screeching brakes plowing over the edge because I refused to wear all the “hats.” Re entering the world where I once drowned is not for the faint of heart.
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