"The artist is nothing without the gift, but the gift is nothing without work." - Émile Zola
Working where I do, I am in touch with some of the most amazing contemporary artists in the world. Being so close, especially when they come to the residency, I get to ask them questions, observe their way of life and making art. I even get to talk with them about both their professional and personal life choices and opinions about what they do.
Not only is my boss CEET currently one of my most influential mentors of late, he is also a role model to follow when it comes to being a true professional artist. I watch him in awe from the sidelines as he is constantly in motion: he is traveling multiple times a month for exhibitions in various countries, has meetings every week for mural jobs and product cross-over projects AND commutes to/from HK across the border for DJing and soccer games. He (literally) never stops!!
When I first thought to dedicate myself wholly to being an artist, I was worried how depending on my creative output in order to earn a living would ultimately suppress my desire to paint. I wanted to guard my intrinsic love for making art at all cost. I feared that going 'pro' could potentially make me a conformist to each new buyer's demands. I promised myself that I would never create something I didn't believe in - nor become a "pay by order" artist that tailored herself to the whims or suggestions of clients.
I've discovered, however, (while not publicizing it online) that many successful artists take "side jobs" because these positions and projects are what help sustain their studio endeavors. (Or as my boss said, "It puts food on the table.") Now I'm starting to realize too: being versatile and using my many talents can actually help me to maintain my autonomy and independence in the studio!
It's really like the "snowball" effect, in my eyes. The more you do, the more opportunities present themselves. The more prolifically you produce, the more places you can exhibit and the more people seek to have your work. Also, the more you learn, the more you realize what there is for you to still learn (in terms of skill sets, for example using Adobe Photoshop/Illustrator or combining various media) so that you can compete in the contemporary art market and increasingly digitalized world. But first, and always: you have to commit to tangible, reasonable goals (both short- and long-term) and hold yourself accountable.
Your personal life can also be impacted by the artist lifestyle in many ways... especially now that most international artists are traveling. I've heard some struggling with maintaining long-term relationships, as they are gone for at least half of the calendar year on business. [Their partners often complain or simply resent being left alone in one place while the artist sustains his/her professional life abroad.] Don't worry - I've seen plenty of success stories, as well. There are couples who are both artists and travel and paint together. There are other duos where one is the administrative manager of the artist... or where both are simply different kinds of artists (one actress, one painter) and stay locally-based.
As if, on top of all this, there's the issue of being an artist and wanting a family. This influences the scope and ambition of one's goals at certain points in his/her career. Some artists that I've gotten to know have had to put their careers on hold for years in order to raise their kids (particularly women) in a stable environment ... Then, there are those who simply decide not to have kids because they prefer to dedicate themselves wholly to their work and remain "untethered" in order to travel the world.
The artist's way is no longer set in stone. I guess from what I've seen from both aspiring and veteran artists is the same thing I've seen everyone else experiencing first-hand: life is what you make of it. The only limitations you encounter are the ones you impose on yourself. You can think of your options as a "this OR that" choice which means you only do a few things with your time. Or (like my accomplished boss) approach every opportunity with a "this AND that" mentality. Who says you can't be a muralist AND a DJ? Who says you can't be a watchmaker AND a sculptor? An architect AND a painter? I guess the only constraint that we all have in common is the amount of hours in each day and what we do with that time.
I think the best part about living in this day and age is that there is absolutely nothing precluding me from becoming an artist now, simply because I was a Humanities teacher the last few years. For those willing to start over, it's never too late. Actually, the funny thing is, my skills with language and teaching may have actually prescribed me to getting this particular job and situation. I admit, they are giving me a great chance! I have a studio, an apartment, a patient mentor and supportive colleagues... Of course, it doesn't hurt that I have a great community of friends across the world who are inspired by my choice to "reboot" professionally.
If I choose to apply myself to the fullest and "Paint! Paint! Paint!" over the next 2 or 3 years (wherever I am)... I don't see any reason why I won't be exhibiting, traveling and painting around the world in my own way. I just have to keep my eyes to the sky but my feet on the ground and carry myself there. For now, I am seizing each day and squeezing it for all its juice.
I am so grateful for being in this place and time, even with its ups and downs and lessons. Over the last year, Jardin Orange has allowed me so much insight, experience and an humble space to define for myself what I want to do... and I'm now very prepared to work hard for it each day.