|Photograph by Vivi-Mari Carpelan|
Most of the time I have pretty extreme doubts about my art, and it hampers me a lot. What I try and do artistically is of such great importance to me, I just cannot take it lightly. Because of chronic illness it's the only thing I'm able to do in order to feel accomplished. It is in this respect my day job (I spend an average of five hours a day on creating, still I feel it's taking way too long to "get anywhere"). I also feel very driven to make a difference. Some money out of it all would of course be welcome, but I can just barely survive without it, and so don't make it into a priority. Life is stressful enough as it is.
However, I don't have a degree in fine arts and my line of thoughts and feelings run counter to those of the average art world. The blankness, rejection and general lack of encouragement is deadening to say the least. There was a time when I was successful with the general public, but times have changed. Today, there are more artists who compete for attention. My own art has changed and may not be as easy to take in as it was twenty years ago. People's habits in regards to consumption have changed. The internet has changed the way we view art because there's so much of it readily at hand, and information about exhibitions is also easily available. There's simply too much choice, people get overwhelmed. The collective consciousness is even more ridden with urgent challenges, and we are made increasingly aware of various forms of threat through an increasing variety of sources - art is seldom seen as a necessity in times of great upheaval. However, it's also in times of great upheaval that great art is often made, but the artist's contemporaries will no doubt find it difficult to distinguish greatness from the ordinary. It may take some perspective to perceive that which is truly meaningful and significant to the overall collective mind, and it's perfectly possible that no one will.
When I arrived in the UK and took up art again I soon realised just how competitive the art world has become. All bigger open exhibitions are connected to awards, and if you don't win them you're not considered a good artist. However, you probably won't win any awards unless you have a degree in fine arts. As an artist, you end up depending more and more on other people's opinion and criteria, and it can affect the way you make art. This will result in more mediocre art. What I see is that a lot of contemporary artists are not intuitive and true to their souls, but people pleasing and calculating. That's why so much contemporary art is so crap. For instance, everyone knows that art with a social message is more highly regarded than say expressive emotionalism, so young artists try and bend their minds towards a strategy of socially engaged conceptualism that satisfies the art world. Art with a social message is only good art if it comes from a deep place. But of course commercial art that is purely decorative is just as bad. Most people (i.e. the average person) are complying with rules and regulations, thus supplying more mediocre art to a world that is replete with blandness.
The lack of support and encouragement threatens to kill my spirit. I may not be making great art, and it certainly isn't always good... However, you would think that people had a heart and remembered the moral of smiling at least once a day at the person at the cashpoint or a random person at the bus stop. Make their day! Well, artists also need a "smile" to keep going. Be a good human being by being generous and kind to those who are struggling to do what they are destined to do, regardless whether they are making a huge contribution to society or not. Support will help them get better at what they are doing, and it's potentially for other people's benefit too. No one is an island.
If I ceased trying to get my art out there to the attention of the general public and art authorities, and focused on being creative on my own terms instead, I might get some kind of peace of mind. However it would also damage my desire to communicate and certainly ruin every chance of ever "making it" while still alive. Seriously - I'm in two minds about this. I'm driven to communicate so withdrawal doesn't seem to be the answer. No one likes rejection and some of us are more prone to suffering from it. It can hamper you so badly, that you just give up. You don't know for sure if you're making good art or not because you're not getting much validation, and it could mean the end of a really promising path (I rather say "path" than career). After all, a lot of writers and artists have struggled for quite a bit before making it. Often they had very little support until they were suddenly discovered by an authority who resonated with their work.
There was a recent TED talk with Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of "Eat, Pray, Love" who struggled with rejection for years until she made it. However, in this case we seem to be talking about stuff that's fairly commercial - I don't know about the book, but I saw the movie and it's pretty cheesy. I know that in the end it doesn't matter what you do as long as you do it creatively and with integrity. It really doesn't matter what you do, because there should be room for everyone in our world (that's what true diversity should be all about). However, if you're not looking for commercial success you may end up lacking in some drive. After all, who are you supposed to communicate with? What does success look like to you? It can be hard to imagine if you remove the rather straightforward commercial aspect, and so you may end up feeling pretty scatty and unfocused. You might have to think consciously about how you can bring yourself back to your own inner centre. Even when you are doing what you love, it's never an easy ride and a lot of the work you have to do is tedious and uninspiring. It's a little bit of inspiration and flow, and a lot of hard work. To remain in touch with your soul throughout all this is definitely not easy.
Every once and again I cry for a day and then pick up again when I got the sadness and frustration out of my system. I lick my wounds and consider that people might just be too stupid to get me (I know you shouldn't, but... I'm only human). I think of ways in which I can minimise exposure to disappointments, including trying too hard to get noticed. Trying too hard to gain attention is not a natural and fluent way of existing. I remind myself of the Taoist ideas about going with the flow along the lines of the least resistance. Take the watercourse way. Nowadays I also meditate at least once a day (three times would be better). Though it's sometimes a fruitless pursuit, it seems to be the only way in our chaotic world that one can regain some inner balance and poise. My husband then reminds me that my job is to make art for the future. It may not please society we know today, but it just might point the way in some way... I guess what I really want is to help people reflect upon the great pathologies within the collective psyche, and trying to be different is to go against my deepest concern, and it's a spiritual one which I'm well aware doesn't sit well in postmodernist society. I'm neither particularly clever nor geeky. Perhaps one day it will be appreciated in spite of all its shortcomings.
This blog post was inspired by another one from "For the Creators".