Thursday, February 5, 2009

What and Who defines an artist?

I am inspired to question what we are faced with when our creative endeavors are accepted into exhibits and receive accolades. Why do they suddenly seem to become more important. Why do we as artists need external validation to make us feel like accomplished artists? Is our work just as important whether or not it is ever seen or shown in a gallery or other public space? Who are we creating our art for? I am continually asked the question, "Oh, are you a professional artist?" and my personal favorite, "Is that what you do for a living"? Well if creating art for a living means that if I stopped creating my spirit would not be able to thrive, then the answer is yes! I am an artist because I must be! Now as I continue on my now over two year journey, challenged by my injured, post surgical right hand, I find it difficult to thrive, because I cannot create the way I want to. For the time being, I am angry, frustrated and am feeling that I am being cheated by not being able to live my calling fully. So the question becomes, "Am I less of an artist when I cannot create?"
The never ending question and debate that lives within that creative place I like to call my mind/heart is, "do I need outside affirmations to validate me as an artist?" I am currently visiting this question that lives in the dark side of my mind because, I was not accepted into a juried exhibit I just entered. This differs from "rejected" mind you, and this is a very important distinction that I constantly grapple with. Why do we continue to give "experts" the power to decide if our work is worthy of inclusion in exhibits? Why do we all dread the arrival of the generic, kind, rejection letter that attempts to console the artist? I tell myself I am proud of myself for taking on the creative challenge, as well as having the courage to put myself out there. I tell myself that acceptance does not matter. Am I constantly lying to myself to console my mind/heart? Those of us who tend to be the self-deprecating, sensitive type, do not fully acknowledge and absorb all our accomplishments, but rather diminish their importance. Yet why is it we fully embrace the non-acceptances?
The jurors take on the job of deciding what does and what does not get included in exhibits. That is their challenge. They come to this with their own eyes, their own artistic sensibilities, as well as their own visions and biases. As artists, we too share those characteristics. If we all liked the same things and created the same work, how boring it would be. Yet I expect this stranger who is deemed the "decider" (sorry, I promised myself I would NEVER use that phrase!), to love the very personal work I make, as much as I do. I begin to question whether or not my work is not as good as I think it is. Am I good enough? If my work is so personal and autobiographical, can the viewer relate to it and am I not good enough? We can weave quite a prison for ourselves!
Of course, out of curiosity and an ever so tiny bit of self confessed bitterness, I plan to go to the exhibit with my own biases to see the exhibit. I want to see if in fact the chosen work that was deemed "better" than mine. It is inevitable that I will see something in the exhibit and think, "how could that have made it into the exhibit and not mine"? I try to console myself. I know it is largely about my ego. My need for approval in order for me to continue to see myself as a "real artist".
Once I move beyond all this, I forget. I continue to create and continue to put myself into these vulnerable positions where I give my power over to a stranger. I can choose to let them decide who I am, and how good I am at what I do. I might as well let them hold my clay or look through the lens of my camera if I am going to relinquish that power! Why even bother?
The next time I am going to attempt to choose to view the situation differently. I am going to try to move beyond the ego. I acknowledge the fact that had it not been for the opportunity to enter this exhibit, I would not have examined thousands of my photographs, picking out the photos that are gems to me, and then create the narratives in three self published photography books in a week's time. I would never have taken on this challenge and I am very proud of myself for risking it. I look at these three coffee table artist books and think "did I make those? Hell I never knew I had it in me!" The next time I am going to take the credit for creating them, and absorb the pride that I feel is well deserved in my process and the resulting creations regardless of the external judgment. Why not?! It is my art and my choice! Now we all know that the next time I hang myself naked on a nail in front of a juror and give them the power to choose me or not, I will probably visit these feelings again (sort of like waiting and hoping as a kid not to be the last one picked to be on the softball team- but time to get over that one, don't ya think?) This time I am going to sit back on my cozy chair, put my feet up on the ottoman, pour myself a glass of wine and browse through my three self published coffee table books! Wow! Who made these? Cheers!

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