At times, I forget how solitary art-creating can be.
Push aside interacting online or showing your work to others, or even being published --all you create comes from you, a stillness within, and comes out in your own secret alphabet on paper or canvas or fabric. You are the only one who sees all you’ve created, can see the struggle hidden beneath the layers of a painting or the pain in the swirled doodles running off the edge of a journal page. No one else pages through your journals the way you do, reading the words seen and unseen.
Simply put, the outside world has no idea what you go through to create.
A few days ago, I was feeling the pressure of getting a few projects finished. I’ve improved a bit when it comes to deadlines, finishing bits up at least a day or two before they’re due, but this is the result of putting incredible pressure on myself to finish, and finish early so you’re sending in quality -- not rushed -- work. I’d been sick for about a week, starting off with a horrible flare-up of my fibromyalgia (to the point I couldn’t get out of my bed without crying from the pain) and ending with a stomach bug that kept me up for 36 hours straight. All in all, I could only think of all the things I should be doing, while trying to remind myself to forget that incorrigible word.
Recovery takes longer when you have fibromyalgia. What takes you a day takes me a few, and on that day at the beginning of the week, I was really feeling everything fall on my shoulders.
And so, when talking to my mother, I said:
“I don’t understand why you don’t see what I’m doing as work.”
A bit of back-story: I work my ass off. There’s a lot more to living as an artist full-time than just making paintings and having no set work schedule. There’s administrative things. Posts and social media to keep up on. Images to snap and crop and fix up. Clients to speak to. Money and accounts to balance. Emails to answer (you’ll be happy to know I’ve instituted an ‘answer when you read it’ policy when it comes to comments and notes). Packages to mail.
And this all happens in a small area at the back of my apartment, away from others. Remember how I said art-making is solitary?
She responded with something that really got me thinking:
“That’s because we never see any of the money.”
I know we don’t do this for the money, that art is a way for us to express ourselves, deal with the difficulties of our lives, even works as a meditative state for many of us. But that’s inside our world. Outside, the world still measures worth by how profitable it is, even if that statements a bit backwards and capitalist.
But her statement got me thinking about a few things. First, the solitary nature of art-creating. How many of you share all you create with your families? Do they understand when you’ve been re-tweeted or linked to by someone well-known, or that you’ve won a workshop or print from someone they’ve never heard of? How many of us have taken the time to really explain what our world consists of -- and what is valuable to us, as artists?
We should invite our families into our studios and show them what we’re doing. Explain to them how important this is to you -- let them see the joy it brings. Bring them into the fold when it comes to swaps or projects you’re working on, and try to impart the significance of what you’re doing. Let them share the victories and comfort you when things don’t go so well.
For example, whenever I’m working on a painting or piece for a project, I show it to my family and close friends and ask for their honest opinions of what I’m creating. It doesn’t matter that, maybe, my style isn’t their favorite kind of art, or if they even like art. What matters is they get to see something as I work on it, the steps in-between, and offer constructive criticism that might actually help me improve my art.
Most of my funds come through Paypal, and if you’re not reading my emails, you won’t see any activity. When I do get paid for articles or interviews, I jump up and down and show it off -- let my family and friends see the little steps of success I’ve made, and that helps them to appreciate what I work on. But what about the other stuff? Maybe I should take them out to dinner, or offer to pay for movie tickets once and awhile. I don’t make a huge amount of money with what I do, but I think it is important to show others my world in terms they can understand.
The second part was actually a realization prompted by a combination of my mother’s comment and Dawn Sokol’s treasured friendship. It is the value of your work.
I love my (mostly) weekly coffee dates with Dawn. We talk about what we’re working on, what we’ve seen, share our art and lives. She gets things in a way my family doesn’t (which is why what I’ve written above is so important).
She also is a great voice of reason and reality.
She has said, “Kira, I think you’re undervaluing yourself.”
How many of us do this? How many of us look at the work we’re creating and compare it to others’ and figure it isn’t worth much? I think there’s a difference between being humble and having a low self-esteem, and it’s so hard to find that balance in the art world.
When I priced my paintings for the Charity Sale to help Japan (which is still running, if you’re looking for a way to donate to the Red Cross & get a painting to boot!), I actually had to message my friend Nolwenn and said, “Can you go look at the prices I’ve picked and make sure I’m not undervaluing myself?”
Sometimes we need others to show us how much we’re worth. I may think listing a painting for $105 is silly, but I sold that painting within 24 hours of putting up the charity sale. We need others to be there to knock us on the head when we’re not at our best, to be an outside source looking at our creations. All I can see are flaws. All others can see is perfection.
By the way, when I told my mother I sold that painting, she went, “You could have gotten $105 for that?”
I think that was a big message to her as to how far I’ve come.
So show your family and friends what you’re really worth. Take the time to share your world and art and thoughts. Let your kids create alongside you. Turn off the TV for a half-hour to babble on about your latest blog post or amazing email.
By sharing your world, it’ll grow and blossom in ways you never imagined.