I recently had a dream about a chicken sitting on an eyeball instead of an egg. The egg hatched into a seed and became a flower that turned into a weed. The weed started to infiltrate all the cracks in a house I was standing in before breaking apart the windows and walls. I remember being slightly horrified while also mostly fascinated by the imagery that was taking place in these dream scapes. I was engaged enough to make note of them when I woke up.
Side Note, I considered titling this post: “What Came First? The Chicken or the Eyeball?”
By the end of the week I had started to abandon a few of the projects I was halfheartedly working on (in preparation for an upcoming holiday sale). I was far more into these new ideas than any I was previously exploring.
The problem was – my earlier ideas (above) were potentially more “sellable” and the new ones – just about as whack-a-doo in relation to my possible audience as my dreams seem in the light of day. I suppose that is a big issue for almost all artists making things for the new handmade market: How much do you try to appeal to the common denominator and how much do you satisfy your own creative impulses? This is a tricky edge to navigate.
I am not a big fan of the “do what you love” platitude simply because I think that it can give the wrong impression. Often what is required to make your dreams happen and the overall relevance of one’s dreams is far more complex than this statement suggests and I personally feel that this contributes to an expectation that you will somehow be successful simply because you are “doing what you love”. Because of this, this is not something I like to see my art students plaster all over their sketchbooks. However, I do agree that it is important to listen to your internal motivation and passions as a way to determine which career paths would be most successful for you in the long run.
One might argue that there is a bit of semantic quick-sand here but I would venture a guess that 99% of life is semantic quick-sand anyway.
On the flip side I also do not support the idea that “real” artist’s do not make art for anyone but themselves and that “selling out” involves – in anyway – thinking about the preferences of an audience. For real – can we for once and for all do away with the insane logic that dictates that for an artist must struggle to be authentic or be taken seriously? Honestly. That is crap. (The amazing Elizabeth Gilbert has an incredible TedTalk that circles around this point).
I think that there is a balance to strike here and in the emerging art world, I believe that the most successful artists will be those who figure out how to make a living doing what they enjoy because they have identified and market to an audience that just happens to share their passion and visual language. There are over 7 billion people on the planet – your niche IS surely out there somewhere.
All this is to say that – surprise! – I have NOT figured this out for myself. Also, I am not personally motivated to really do all the work that is necessary in order to accomplish these goals AND – I do not feel that this socially projected and expected “goal” is my own personal goal. I also do not believe that my personal success can be measured in such a limited way. At any given time in my life my goals have been different and I do not subscribe to any set course of action that isn’t flexible and forgiving.
And here we are – back at the problem at hand: Do I make what I enjoy more – what I feel more passionate about – or, do I make what I enjoy less (but still enjoy) just because I perceive that my audience will connect with it more. It is a gamble either way… after all sometimes when your work lacks that passion behind it your audience can feel it EVEN if it is hitting most of the right buttons with them.
So, I asked myself: Self, What would you be more engaged by? The thing you already know you like or the different thing that makes you pause?
My resounding answer was “the new weird stuff!”… and so now we have this… an embroidered hoop with a chicken sitting on an eye with sunflower roots. It is definitely different than my more typical stuff.
And from there, the flood gates just opened.
I am relieved to say that I have no regrets that I chose the path of my own personal passion but I still doubt I am any closer to embracing “Do What You Love” and embroidering it on a pillow. I will say that I feel like we all need to take more risks in our art from time to time – to encourage ourselves to step out of our comfort zone and just see what happens.
I felt empowered to do this because I already had a lot of the more traditional items available along-side of these new contributions – a safety net, so to speak. And for me, this felt like a good and logical compromise. Maybe I will learn later that (like me) my audience can appreciate the opportunity to see something they might not have seen before*.
For now, I am happy to be done with items for the holiday sales I participate in and am eager for a much deserved break to focus on personal family gifts and time with my kiddo. The little and I have big plans as these new “kinda weird” sketches and pieces have inspired some interesting and imaginative designs from her that she wants us to make together.
*Post Holiday Update: My risk paid off – the new items did far better than expected and were more successful overall than my more traditional items. I am relieved as I was not confident this would be the case. However, I feel encouraged by this turn of events. Perhaps there is more to this “do what you love” theory than meets the evil-eyeball… the jury is still out for me.