I have touched on this a few times before, but yet again last night the same topic came up with even more artist friends. Why do we feel guilty for wanting to do something different than our “signature” works? For those who don’t understand the term of “signature work”, that is the style and/or imagery for which people know us. When our name is mentioned, someone can immediately call to mind something we have created. It is an instant connection of indentation and classification. She paints _____ or he makes __________. This circumstance is not limited to us visual folks, but musicians, actors and writers all get typecast if you will. When a singer does a cross over album, they get skeptical reviews. When a romantic comedy lead decides to do some serious drama work, the critics do their thing even before seeing a film…such is it with the visual arts category.
We have this sense that we “owe” our followers to produce a certain style of work. These followers are a dedicated and loyal group of people, but they rarely actually purchase anything. We find ourselves making work that sits around, piling up, sapping our energy just to be pulled out of storage and put on display for the entertainment of the occasional viewer. Empty walls? We got art… but then it comes back again. We get discouraged. Yes, I keep using “we” because there are so many of us in the same boat that it might as well be a cruise liner…but non-artists don’t know that dirty little secret…just how much work we have stored away. Now there are those who sell stuff like hotcakes for sure….many smaller and low priced pieces, an excellent marketing plan, produced quickly, put up for sale via the social media circuit and gone.
Where one of the problems lies for us “guilty” artists is with our generational art education, brought up before technology, taught by artists who were even more old school, who came from the NY or nothing era. We learned to build a body of work, to establish a visual identity that was unique and strong, to not deviate from a style because when one went to market themselves in the “real” art world of NY, LA and other gallery strongholds, any show of “too much variety” was a sign of weakness, of unprofessionalism. Remember, this is all before computers. We had a slide sheet and a big old black portfolio. Phone calls were made (from the ones with curly cords before answering machines) and slides mailed out…only 20. That was your calling card. Those 20 images were who you were an artist. So we painted and sculptured and created the same thing over and over. We were told that we needed an inventory. We worked on pieces for weeks or months at a time, because quality was important. Quick meant cheap.
Then the world changed.
Quick was good. Images could be sent in seconds, by the multiples. Copies and prints could take seconds not weeks or a month. The availability of “art” to whomever wanted it in whatever form or definition was a click away including payment and shipment and even customized. Now what? Here we are with our bodies of work, well crafted, time consuming pieces of high quality handmade sweat and tears talent and nobody wants it. BUT, they want to see it. So here we are at mid to late career stages questioning ourselves. And we are willing to say that we have had enough.
Typecast be damned! We have earned our right to have some fun, to cut loose, to toss out the watercolors in favor of a fat sharpie on some big paper. We want to forgo the weeks of agonizing over one piece and challenge ourselves to create in 30 minutes (okay, maybe a few days…we aren’t THAT daring yet). We want to toss out the flowers and the faces and the vases for say… a duck. Yeah, that is one pretty fowl with some shimmering feathers….screw you people, I am going to paint me a f---ing duck! And what happens? We feel guilty, we feel bad when someone says…oh but I like your _____________ pictures. To which we silently say, did you ever buy one of them? So we paint something new and different, almost feeling as if we need to hide in the garage for fear of being caught reading porn. We pull each other aside and ask if the other feels bad about doing something different, seeking support from fellow deserters. Do we need to start a refugee camp for artists who no longer feel loyal to their own work?
This is a hard feeling to put into words. I love what I do, I love what I did. I love what my fellow artists do and their signature works, but I get it that sometimes we have to move on to keep the creative juices fresh. Yes, some of our inner muses may just have an expiration date that we need to look at. When we feel the need, have the urge or just must for whatever reason, move on with our own visions and dreams, please don’t make us feel bad for not fulfilling your impression of us. We don’t want to intentionally let you down, we don’t want to lose your support (but secretly fear we will for stepping outside our self-imposed box), we don’t mean to appear ungrateful or any other type of emotion. We just want to move on with something new, and fresh and motivating and challenging and liberating and fun and hope that you will follow along with us. We are catching up and catching on slowly but surely with the “new” art world and what is available to us…and it is exciting and scary and motivating and intimidating all at the same time. So fellow artists, we need to know it is okay to “say no to drudgery”, to free ourselves from the self-imposed bindings of style and imagery, to boldly go where….yeah whatever. Stop feeling guilty for being true to your own voice. Tell those nay-sayers to buy their favorites now because sometimes there is no going back. Damn those who want to torpedo our new endeavors, full steam ahead mates!!