Updated: Jun 24, 2020
It's probably not what you think.
When I left my art studio in Milwaukee last fall I loaned the space out to a young artist who promised to keep the creative vibe alive while I was gone for the winter. Material Studios + Gallery is a generous community and I wanted to do my part to pay it forward. Last year, when I set up my studio space, pretty much everything I put in it was loaned or given to me by other artists. The comfy task chair...the shelving for my endless stash of glue, paint and tools...and the pristine work table my friend Nina loaned me, telling me it was an extra she didn't use that much.
Oops. When I got back to my studio, that table was no longer pristine. I wondered what it would cost to replace, even as I got to work cleaning it. No cleaning product I tried worked, so after a few attempts I walked away. The next day I came back and took a fresh look at the mess. I was determined to give that table back to her looking better than when I got it. A few safe chemical combinations and two sore arms later, the surface was completely restored.
Anyone who has worked with me, whether in law, law enforcement or the corporate world will attest: I'm THAT person, the one who hits a wall and refuses to accept it as a barrier. I'll find a way over it, under it, around it...heck, event through it...in order to find solutions. This messy tabletop was a good example of mindset, strategy and determination...and how those things combined can lead to success. Last year I made a conscious decision to walk away from any 9-to-5 opportunities. I stopped looking for work that trashed either my body or my spirit. I openly expressed the relief I feel at no longer working for this government. I spoke out against anything I saw that stripped people of their rights or dignity. I balked at spending another minute in a cubicle working for companies that treat employees as disposable. The release of my first feature-length documentary started a fire in me that still burns...and I continue to stoke it with all kinds of new media through my visual arts practice. I've never felt more alive, nor more honest about what matters to me. I discovered that living with chronic illness gets better when I use my voice to help others.
So this piece wasn't really supposed to be about Nina's table...I meant to start off my blog with a post about my choice to become an artist. I intended to share a behind-the-scenes look at what it all means, and the table offered a good example of the way I tackle challenges. Throughout the last year I've fielded a ton of questions (and unsolicited opinions!) from people who wonder why I would walk away from everything I know, what I've been trained to do, and what I've been doing for so many years. The short answer is, I really haven't. I'm the same person, just one who has chosen a different direction. I'm still raising awareness, helping people who feel unsafe...I'm just advocating in a different way. Sure, I could make more money at a full-time corporate job. Yes, of course, I could earn more income by taking on more consulting. Don't get me wrong, I take projects that come my way sometimes because really, who doesn't need money? But the difference in my mindset and everyone else's around me comes with what I want out of each and every day. If I spent my time marketing my consulting business...or doing work I don't like...or working for a company, even part time, doing whatever I've done before...how much would I develop as an artist? THAT is what drove my choice. My battle with autoimmune disease over the years has taught me that I have a finite amount of productive hours in every day...and some days less than others. This work is healing. It's intense, and it's stimulating my mind in ways I can't describe. Each piece takes on a life of its own...and I can't wait to see where it leads me.
To the person who said to me, "It must be nice to just get up and play with paint all day," I can cheerfully attest, I wish that was all I had to do! Being an artist requires creativity. It takes commitment and discipline, time and energy...in short, being an artist is hard work. I am learning to balance some of the less exciting (but necessary) portions of my art practice with the part about it I love best: my studio time. I have discovered that being a working artist is going to mean a heck of a lot more than painting, sculpting, drawing or making collages... my practice is a business! That means setting goals, planning, documenting, marketing, networking and of course budgeting as I grow. I am learning as I go, and the best part? I ABSOLUTELY LOVE THIS WORK. It makes every drop of sweat worth it when I create something that means something. And all the hard work to build this business makes my creative time that much sweeter. If you're curious about what my art practice is going to look like...six months from now, a year from now...heck, five years from now...Please subscribe and join me on this journey as I explore what it means to be a working artist! I am taking my lead from Ralph Waldo Emerson, who wrote, "Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail." I'd welcome your company and constructive feedback as I create my own unique trail, following my values, stretching my boundaries to create powerful and meaningful work.