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The Secret Life of an Artist

the passion and the anguish...

I have been a fulltime professional creative since 2019. At the young’ish age of 55 I made the leap of faith from a secure well-paying job onto an uncertain path of stable income and livelihood. It was one of the most reckless decisions of my life, but I had to make it, I had to burn down the life I was living in order to build something new. I could not ignore the throb in my bones and pulsing of my heart to see how the path would appear if I went after it.

I had little idea that I had just signed up for a life of both profound passion as well as heartdeep anguish.

From the outside looking in, it may appear that the life of an artist is filled with painting and inspiration. And it is. I paint more than ever since I gave up my job at the factory. This year alone I have created more than 100 original artworks. Since I became a fulltime artist that number is in the many hundreds.

It requires focused dedication to have such a relentless life of creating. It takes grit and unwavering resolve to stay the course of the creative life. The highs are the best, like when I sell a painting and the patron is crying and hugging me because the artwork has spoke to them so deeply. Like the time a 72-year old woman bought a large painting from me telling me it was the first time in her life to ever buy original art. She hugged me three times and told me she loved me. This was how significant the art … my art… was affecting her. My heart soared and swooned with such an honor.

There is anguish, too, with being an artist, a kind of anguish that is unlike the common varieties of anguish familiar in the human experience. Like the time I could not pull off a commission that a woman had tasked me with. I was obsessive. I stayed up all night trying to get it right, a painting of her in my signature style. I gave it all I had, drawing, painting, redrawing and repainting at least two dozen times. I was obsessed. I could not think of anything else except of making an artwork that would be pleasing for her. She had already paid me half the commission price.

In the end, I had to surrender to what felt like an earth-shattering defeat. What kind of artist was I that I could not create this commission? I felt like the biggest fraud in the history of frauds. This was a kind of sorrow that hit my core. I remained in the grip of anguish for weeks over it, and yet, because I am a creative, I took that pain and transmuted it into failing forward. I took some art classes, I talked to mature artists who reassured me that as a fulltime pro, there are guaranteed to be some fails. Not every art challenge ends in triumph.

Self-doubt is a given if you are any kind of creative or entrepreneur. No one warned me about that. No one warned me about anything. I had to learn from forging this new path as a creative that self-doubt is something that is not vanquished once and for all, but is instead a pressure gauge that reminds me to assess and adjust. Self-doubt can inflict quite a degree of anguish if I let it, and I have let it many times especially with that failed commission, but I have learned by staying true to my path that self-doubt can serve as a helpful motivator.

I no longer resist episodes of self-doubt which reduces the accompaniment of anguish to a trace. I just carry on and know that the doubts will fade like gray clouds passing through on a stormy day.

It has been said that what compels us as adults is often rooted in unmet needs from our childhood. I was suppressed as a kid by domestic violence in my home and unkind children at school. I learned early to shrink and dim myself so as to remain unnoticed. The safe space was to be as invisible as possible. I was rarely singled out for any kind of accolades at home or school. I learned to stay in the background, quiet and unseen.

Is it any wonder I have become a colorful red-headed tattooed artist who revels in commanding attention?

The attention denied me in my growing up years has now become a satisfying and meaningful way to live my life as a creative and to also inspire others to lean into their version of unhindered self-expression, whatever that may look like for them.

In short, I am driven.

Is that healthy?

I do not know.

Someone just asked me if being driven was a good thing or maybe it’s something I need to examine about myself.

As a creative, I live in a state of constant self-examination for how can I inspire others if I am unconnected to myself and uninspired in who I am and what I offer?

I must first be inspired in my own life in order to inspire my students and audience. It is in many ways this unrelenting passion to inspire and be inspired that keeps me ever exploring ways to create art, story and the very tapestry of my creative life.

To inspire means for me to be vulnerable. Vulnerability can be defined as Being Seen for Who you Really Are. To be exposed. Unfiltered. Unmasked. For me vulnerability also means Unprotected, for there is an armoring I learned a long time ago as a coping mechanism from being in an unsafe home.

Every act of true self-expression for me whether it be art, writing, teaching or presenting means I am choosing to be vulnerable to some degree or another. All art making is a physical manifestation of my energy. If you don’t like it, then it is natural for me to decide, You Don’t Like Me. If my art turns you off, then it is reasonable to conclude, I Turn You Off.

Just like everybody else, I want to be liked and well received. I want to belong. I crave being accepted and yet will live in the tension of not. The passion as well as the anguish of being an artist is to stay authentic even when someone does not like my art or me. To put myself out there again and again with paintings, writings and public speaking is to accept the inherent risk that not everyone will receive what I offer and some people may outright reject who I am for whatever reason.

Despite the challenges and the sacrifices, I continue to create as I am indeed driven by an indomitable spirit that refuses to be silenced like I was when I was a girl. For it is through my art and storytelling that I make myself known and in doing so, inspire others to make themselves known, too. This then is my passion, as well as my anguish, in being an inspiring creative with my art, my words and my life.


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