Who Am I and What Am I Doing as a Full-Time Artist?
This is my first blog post for 2017 and marks the beginning of being a full-time artist. I wanted to write it earlier, but lately life has felt quite overwhelming and filled with distractions of late. The truth is, I’ve also been facing the ‘blank canvas’ syndrome.
At least it’s still January and close enough to the beginning of the year. I have girded myself with all the inspiration and optimistic hope necessary to believe that this is going to be a great and revolutionary year for me.
The reality of suddenly finding myself as a full-time artist
That’s it! I just quit my job at the end of November last year. And I’m now a full-time artist. As perhaps you could imagine, after the initial hurrah of leaping forth, I struggle with many sleepless nights now.
Worrying about how I can pay the bills or have money for things like art supplies, food and petrol. Planning and scheming. Wondering about when my next lucky break will come, my next commission, my next sale. It’s pretty scary.
I just have to have faith that this is my sacred path; that something is guiding me. Some people think I’m brave when I tell them I quit my dead-end job to become an artist. I see their eyes light up with excitement as they re-gauge me. Others think I’m a fool. I had no real plan before doing this.
I’m done with wasting my life
Damn to hell I’d had enough, and the way I was wasting my life just wasn’t worthwhile anymore! On the weekend of my 36th birthday in October, while we were staying in a rustic cabin on an olive farm in the Cederberg Mountains, I told my girlfriend Janine that I’m quitting my job.
Being an artist is a gift, and it is our duty and responsibility as artists to share these gifts with the world. I’m not going to go into a discussion about talent versus damn hard work – that’s a separate topic. But art is vital to the human race, don’t let anyone tell you it’s not important! Art is about sharing our gifts, our ideas and our vision.
How much would I hate myself when on my deathbed, filled with regret that I had never lived the life I was meant to, knowing that the only person who had prevented me from fulfilling my purpose and calling, was myself? I’m done wasting this life.
Taking stock of my life and taking myself seriously
I was lucky enough to have an exhibition running for the whole month of December near my home in Cape Town and strangely enough, I sold my cheapest and my most expensive paintings at the show. I also sold a large painting privately that is now in Germany.
Even though it was a very busy month, I knew that I had to find time to take a hard look at myself and take stock of what I was doing with my life. It wasn’t all clear yet, but I knew the general direction I wanted to go in as an artist.
As always, it’s very important to keep a notebook. I hand write down everything involving my art and career, from simple to-do lists, to experimental techniques, to philosophical ideas about art.
During the holidays, Janine and I drove up through Namibia to stay with her parents in Windhoek and at a friend’s house in Swakopmund. If you’re ever facing an existential moment in your life, Namibia is quite the country to experience it. The land and skies are like an open, endless canvas.
A small event caused a significant shift in me. On our journey to Namibia, at the South African border, the entry form asked arriving foreigners what their occupation was. I wrote down ‘unemployed’ as I had no job. Janine saw what I’d written and became very upset with me. “When are you going to start taking yourself seriously?” she reprimanded. “You’re an artist!”
I wrote that down, and since then it has felt more ‘official’.
Asking myself some important ‘soul’ questions
I came back to Cape Town, January 2017, with determination. This is gonna be one tough year. Being an artist is not for sissies, let me tell you!
But I’m grateful for a lot in my life, namely the constant support I receive from Janine. Perhaps she doesn’t always understand what I’m trying to achieve with my art, and the way that my mind works – with thought patterns like tangled fishing line – but that’s OK. I know what I want and what I’m doing. Kind of.
But there is something deeper gestating in me. I am changing. I am wiping the slate clean. These are some of the questions I now face, and will undoubtedly always face:
- If I am an artist, who am I as an artist?
- What am I trying to say?
- For what reasons do I even paint?
- What is my purpose and my meaning in this life as an artist?
- What path am I walking?
- If I am seeking the original, what is that? What do I want? What am I doing? Who am I?
Starting over from the beginning
There is only one way to paint. That is with soul. With passion. And with love. Intoxicated on the wings of the heart. Art has to move you. I am starting over. Each piece is going to speak to me. Every brushstroke from my soul. That is where art comes from. Pouring onto the canvas or paper – a poem. A song. Something that’s the best of me. Something I’ll never be ashamed of. Art so beautiful that it hurts.
And so, while ‘freedom’ fills me with a weird, on-edge feeling, I remind myself how stagnant my old life was. I’m done with under-selling myself. There is a difference between being someone who complains about their life endlessly, and the person who uses their dissatisfaction and frustration to make a jump and to make a change in their life. The difference between proactive and reactive.
I’m going to try not to worry about the future on my creative journey. The only thing I can do is paint my best, work hard, keep on this highway of daily learning and not worry unnecessarily about finances. I’m not going to worry about making it as an artist. I just need to remember my self-worth and have faith. I’m going to raise my glass of wine, toast to cutting away all the bullcrap in my life, recognize my own bravery for getting out of a stifling comfort-zone of minimal personal growth. I’m not here to make please anyone. It’s about me now. I’m raising my glass for 2017 and saying, “Here’s to being a full-time artist!”
And here’s to those who love and support me. Thank you for the push.