Thursday, May 28, 2015

Overcoming My "Artist Fears"

Last year I followed an artist mentorship.  I wasn't being mentored personally, but was in an online group following another artist in the process.   During the course, the instructor/mentor talked about having a uniform way to present your artwork so that it didn't look schizophrenic or as if many different artists had contributed to the collection.   I immediately realized that my presentation variety was the epitome of the schizophrenic style he had been talking about.  Most of my work is printed, matted with a white matt and framed in a simple, black frame, but I have a series in brown, wood frames and a series in copper frames as well.  I also have a canvas print and prints that have been mounted on gator board and laminated, complete with a wire hanger on back for direct hanging.   Some of my pieces have colored matts and some even have colored frames!  Aside from the bright, vibrant colors, it does not look like one complete body of work by one artist.  It does show how my preferences have changed and shifted throughout the years.  I didn't know what to do except to start over with one focused style of printing (fully knowing that even the new style would shift and change through the years, but at least it would all match now).  The problem was, what to do with all of the artwork in my current possession that has been finished in different styles?   I asked the mentor.   His answer was to have a sale.   Now, in fairness to him, in general he believes in not discounting your artwork, but in my situation, he thought a stock reduction sale would be in order.  

I was excited by the idea of this at first, but when I set out to make it happen, I became paralyzed with fear.   I called it busyness at the time.  I mean, I did have plenty on my plate.  I was homeschooling my kids and running my photography business, as well as volunteering at church.  However, it wasn't the busyness that stopped me, it was fear.  Fear that my work wouldn't be good enough to actually sell, and then where would I be?  Feeling rejected and insufficient as an artist.  Feeling as if I may as well stop trying because really, who was going to like my work enough to buy it other than my friends and family when they felt sorry for me?  I guess you can see that it doesn't take me very long to spiral into negative self talk when it comes to my artwork.  That is a problem that I'm working on, this post is part of that work.  I'm identifying the problem so that I can address it.

Now, I know that artwork is subjective.  You really do need to find the right audience for your work to sell.  So, even if it didn't sell, that doesn't mean it's not good enough for someone to buy, it just means that the right person hasn't seen it and doesn't even realize it's out there for them.   Enter my second fear....that I just didn't know how to market it in a way that it would actually reach the "right audience", the audience that would appreciate it enough to want to own it.   This was accompanied by my third fear, how do I price it?!?!?!   Some of these pieces have been with me for years.  They have hung on our walls, they have moved with us, they have traveled to different art shows and been hung in varies gallery spaces, etc.  Because of this, some of them have scratches or even dents.   Some of the matting isn't perfect, because I cut it myself, years ago when I was trying so hard to do it all myself.  That was before I learned that it is better to do the parts I am great at and let someone who is great at the parts I am not, do the rest.    I was so tempted to get rid of any of the work that had imperfections, but I couldn't, I still love them, they are still part of me.  I have an attachment to each piece.   Even the fact that the thought crossed my mind, that there were some I should leave out, made me extra thankful that God doesn't work like that.  He sees our flaws, but doesn't discount us because of them, instead He makes strengths out of our weaknesses.  So, here He is in me now, giving me this work to do so that my weaknesses can be turned into strengths.   Of course, I'm not God, I can't turn the dents or scratches into strengths for my artwork, so I am going to discount those, but not by an unreasonable amount, because I'm finally learning that they are valuable.  They were each inspired by God and created with love by me as a response to His inspiration.   They are collaboration pieces.  Each one illustrates a different point in my life, a different season of growth, and a different level of learning.   None of them are completely masterful, because as long as I am alive, I will continue to be learning new skills and depths of skills, but they are all masterpieces, and they are all valuable.   I realize that one of my problems has been that I have been estimating their value solely on what other people say about them and whether or not they sell.  That isn't an accurate way to asses value.

I was reminded last weekend at church, from Dr. Dave Martin, that we shouldn't rate ourselves by the way others see us, or even the way we see ourselves, but only by the way God sees us.  I think the same is true of the work we do.  I can't rate it by how I think others perceive it, or even through my own eyes (because as an artist, I am ALWAYS my worst critic).  I have to learn to look past those and see in them what God sees.  He sees the heart behind them.  The surrender and the love that it took to make them.  He sees the time I spent with Him as I was "perfecting" them, all the questions that I asked Him as I was trying to figure out the perfect color or opacity to use.  He sees who He created me to be, a vessel through which He could flow.  He sees that I was working through the gifts that He gave me.  He sees my love for my husband that inspired me to make certain pieces or my desire to grow that inspired others.  He sees my appreciation for the small details in His creation that led me to photograph a small flower or how my heart leapt when I saw the perfect light it was framed in at the moment I came across it.   He sees the love story in each piece.  It's a love story that I can almost perceive as I work on an image and that I may vaguely remember years later when I catch a glimpse of the artwork out of the corner of my eye, but He sees it fully and someday I will too.

I was listening to Les Brown the other night and one of the things that he said really struck my heart, "A lot of people don't act on their ideas and dreams because they are scared because they don't know how to do it and they aren't willing to be awkward.  Find something that will make it worth it to become an explorer in life."  He likened it to a baby first learning to walk.  They don't just give up after the first few falls, they keep going until they can do it.  They aren't inhibited by failure, and likewise, we don't try to stop them because we think they will never learn.  We encourage them to keep going because we know it's worth it.   Today, I think that my artwork is worth it.   Maybe I should say that I'm on my way to knowing it's worth it, because that last sentence made me cringe a bit.  ;)    Anyway, I'm putting this out here in a willingness to be awkward for the growth that it will bring.

If you would like to view the gallery of my current personal collection for sale, please do, you can find it here.