I went to art school from the mid ’70s until the early ’80s. In those days, it was standard operating procedure, if you were a painting student, that you were to look down on, or at least askance at, any of the other disciplines that were taught at your school.
This especially included—for painters—printmaking and illustration. Never, never, never should you admit to any interest in or regard for these disciplines. At all costs, you must be faithful and obsessive about the supremacy of fine art (and by that we mean oil painting) and the non-existence of everything else.
Let’s fast-forward a few…um…decades. Funny thing is, many of those other students left school and got jobs doing what they trained to do. Oh how shallow, all the painting MFA grads said, from their posts as waiters and baristas. A job! How very quaint and commercial!
I don’t regret the years I spent working menial jobs to support my chosen destiny as a painter. I could not be the painter I am today had I had work that interfered with my determination to be the best painter I could be.
What has changed over time is my need to be quite so single-minded about the whole thing.
The change came gradually. In the mid ’90s, I started doing printmaking—etching and lithography. There were two revelations: First, it created an alternate income stream so that my finances weren’t quite so “boom or bust” anymore, as I waited from annual show to annual show to see if I would get paid that year. Second, it made my painting better. Particularly in etching, where you work with limited colors, your drawing and composition has to become much stronger to carry the work. This had a major positive effect on my paintings, which had a positive effect on sales, which…well, you get the picture.
Any artist worth her salt knows that art is not a static endeavor. If you keep doing the same thing year in and year out, you are going to get stale and your paintings will become boring. About 12 years ago, I started adding people into my paintings, which added a new challenge and an element of narrative, which led me to an interest in visual story telling, which led me to children’s book illustration—and somewhere along the line, I started drawing cartoons, and before I knew it I was writing and I had three blogs! Where will it all (not to mention, that last sentence) end????!!!!!
It is both a bad and a good thing that the art business is changing. Our country’s recent economic woes put some galleries out of business and caused others to trim their list of artists. Many artists believed that once you had a gallery or two showing your work, you had it made and could leave the driving to them. It turned out that a gallery’s requirement that you show with them exclusively in a region did not constitute a commitment to continuing representation by said gallery.
The good news is that we no longer have to let someone else define what our creative career should look like.
We no longer have to pigeonhole ourselves, or allow someone else to do it to us. This applies to the writing and publishing industry as well. With so many options for self-production now open to us, we can redefine ourselves and our work. We still have to do the work, and it needs to be the best we can make it. I still want to work with traditional galleries and publishers, but I can reject those who say “You do it my way and my way only, or hit the highway.” To them I say:
Hasta la vista, baby.
Thanks and a couple of cuppycakes to Kelly/Cordelia for inviting me to do a guest post on her blog. You are the bear!
Anne Belov paints, writes, makes prints, and is the founder of The Institute for Contemporary Panda Satire. You can find her paintings at the Rob Schouten Gallery and on her blog Nothing Overlooked, her cartoons on The Panda Chronicles, and her new book here. She will be teaching beginning egg tempera at the Whidbey Island Fine Art Studio in April. For more information, contact WIFAS. She also writes regularly for The Whidbey Life Magazine, a free journal of art and culture on Whidbey Island.
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