Long time, no art. Redefining myself as an artist.

Levacy-Mockingbird-(sm web)

I suppose the title of this post is a little overly-dramatic – but “long time, no art” is really how I’m feeling about things lately. The spring semester was intense for me – I overloaded myself at school with too many service activities and the huge energy suck essentially bombed my creative mind for a good 3 months and counting. I tried to keep things together for awhile there – pretending to be doing “this or that” but really, I didn’t do much that wasn’t also somehow tied to my teaching.

I was told that the first couple of years as a tenure-track professor are the hardest but now that I’ve successfully reached my two year mark I’m starting to feel like I’m out of excuses. Truth is – I’m just plain tired ALL the time. I can’t fathom how my colleagues with kids manage to do this and sometimes wonder if perhaps my diet is lacking some essential vitamin (like B12) which would help keep me out of my perpetually comatose state of mind.

Over the past few months I’ve been trying to re-evaluate what it is I want from myself in terms of an art career – what is it that is most important to me as a whole? There are a great number of expectations about what I should want – I have expectations from my peers and family as well as my job to do something and the view of what that should be can sometimes vary greatly.

I take the work obligations seriously but feel that I begin to fill these expectations in ways that do not always include actually making work (like speaking at conferences and such). These tasks take pressure off of my need to have a more productive studio practice but also take time away from that studio practice. While I enjoy such endeavors and do feel that they boost my “professional development,” I’m not quite sure if they are as helpful to me on a personal level as they are on an academic one.

My peers seem to project their own career expectations on to me and thus, I begin to confuse what they think I should be doing for what I think I should be doing. In my experience, this kind of projection – especially in academia – is so ingrained from graduate school onward that I’m not entirely convinced that I ever am really doing what I “want” even though I feel like I should want it.

Of course, this also is something that people pick up on because I’m “nice” and don’t appear to always “say no” when they would have said no – therefore, the assumption is often made that I naively take on things that I didn’t want to be a part of. While this would almost certainly be true until about 4 or 5 years ago, I have been actively working on this and feel that, in the past two years at my new job, 95% of all of the decisions I’ve made have been choices born of actual intent and desire and not from peer pressure.  I’m 31 years old for goodness sake – I’m not that vapid.

Soap  Box Side-Bar: I really wish people would give others more credit and stop making them feel guilty for wanting to be a part of things and participate fully in their commitments. When this happens to me, I tell myself that this response is not really about me and is actually more about them because my actions make them feel guilty or insecure about how much they’re doing at that time – the old “stop working so hard, you’ll make the rest of us look bad” criticism – but really – STOP, just stop. When you do this you shame others into feeling like they’re doing something wrong when you’re the one that is probably not doing the right thing. 

So – here I am, almost exactly 2 years since moving to Atlanta, and I’m genuinely asking myself “what do I want?”.

I’ll have to see how this plays out over the next few weeks. I’m in the process of applying for promotion to the rank I really should have been hired at in the first place and thus – I have to develop a 5 year plan. I don’t want to spout some bullshit that I think someone wants to hear – I want to be honest about my goals and intentions. I don’t just want to be able to fill a page or two with some generalized expectations for the future, I want to have an actual grasp of what I really want for myself over the next 5 years, even if all of that data doesn’t make it into my actual 5 year plan.

So, what exactly that I’m ruminating on? Here’s a glimpse, for starters

  • Do I want to step down as chair or project director for some of my service obligations to allow for more studio time – am I comfortable allowing someone else to step in and take the credit for all the work I’ve already invested?
  • Do I want to apply to residencies or write a grant for the photo/painting project (Spirits Within) that I’ve been contemplating for 3 years now? Will I be able to have time if I happen to get the grant or residency?
  •  Is it okay to spend extra time on work (developing my courses) when I have time off for the summer and feel like I need to be in the studio and have spent enough time on work already?
  • Do I want to participate in smaller group or solo shows (at all) or am I content with (getting back into) submitting work to juried exhibitions? Would it be perceived as “enough” for work if I only did the later and would I be able to tolerate the judgement by my peers if I am actually personally okay with this being “enough” for me?
  • Do I want to start pursuing a more design oriented path instead of what I’ve traditionally done in the past? Do I want to work on an artist book or create an illustration portfolio in order to start that journey?
  • Will a return to painting make me happier or do I want to do more printmaking and photography for awhile? Do I want to recommit to the collaborative project I started with my friend (or finally suck it up and say – this isn’t going to happen, stop waiting on me to get my shit together?).
  • Is is “okay” to want to make things that are crafty when I feel like I am expected to make “Art” – should I feel guilty when I devote time to crafting?
  • Can I ever really let go of the guilt I might have if I fail to live up to the expectations others have of me – even if my choices meet my own personal expectations? (This is deceptively hard to do, especially if you’ve been raised as a “people pleaser”.)

It’s not like I expect to wake up one morning in the near future and suddenly have all the answers to these questions. I also know that simply thinking about these questions will not be enough – many of these require “doing” in order to bust through. At least I have some substantial time off over the next five weeks (the first time I’ve had more than just a couple of weeks off in over 5 years) to explore some options…

Better get to it.

 

 

 

4 thoughts on “Long time, no art. Redefining myself as an artist.

  1. You sure do have a LOT to think over!
    My advice… as you stated, take your time, do various projects and eventually you will get an instinctive feeling for what YOU really want to do. Then, GO WITH IT!
    You have reached a point in your life/career and have indisputably EARNED the right to do just EXACTLY what YOU want to do.
    Good luck.

  2. I enjoyed your post, particularly as someone who is a bit new to art but older in years! Maybe struggling with what to do when will always be part of the equation, but I’ve been helped by doing some of the things you’ve already noted here….simply planning can help sometimes! And know that your directions will change many times as you go on. Whatever seems to be sparking your spirit, so that you are energized and not tired, will help….and sometimes those things are things that others don’t value…but if you do, go for it! In the end, if you are true to yourself even all of the detours lead you to a better place – for you! Best of luck!

    • Thanks for such kind words and support – it is much appreciated. Sorry for the extremely tardy response – I’ve been recovering from some back problems the last few months and have been completely ignoring my blog as an unnecessary extra bit of time sitting in front of a computer (which hurts!). 🙂 It’s getting better now though and your comment was a great welcome back. I hope that you have found some things to help keep you energized as well. Best of luck to you too.

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