Sunday, June 29, 2014

Do You Take Your Art Seriously?

By far the majority of students in my painting workshops are women over 50.  Most have had long and accomplished careers and many are either retired or planning their retirement.  With more time now, many want to return to their love of painting or come to learn how to paint abstractly or to develop new skills.

One thing I often hear is how difficult it is to create a space to work, to be serious about creativity and to make the time for art.  It's surprising to me, all these years after the feminist movement, to hear many of these accomplished women talking like this. You'd think that now when the children are grown and gone, and (perhaps) a regular pension is coming in,  that there would be much more time for creativity.  There are lots of things that seem to interfere.  Many regularly babysit their grandchildren or do volunteer work or are the main caregivers for aging parents.

Can you take your creativity seriously?  Who will give you that time and space?

I was in my mid-thirties when I began to paint. I took workshops one after another and I painted every day, for an hour or two or more if I could find the time.  Still, I had a hard time taking myself seriously.  It felt like painting was just a hobby.  I had a show in my home a few years after I began and sold everything.  Still, I didn't believe I was an artist, couldn't call myself one and didn't take myself seriously.  I painted on the kitchen table at first.  Then in a corner of the spare bedroom. Eventually I went to art school as a full time student to study Drawing and Painting.

Even when I'd finished art school, friends still phoned during the day, asking me to go for a walk, or for coffee or lunch.  When I said I couldn't because I was painting, some would laugh at me and say, "You're not serious are you?" There were  always demands on my time from friends and from family as well.

"One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice--
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop."...................... excerpt from Mary Oliver's poem, The Journey

How can you take your art seriously?

Do you have to sell your art before you can take yourself seriously?  Before others take you seriously?

I came to realize that no one would take me seriously unless I did. It became an issue of boundaries.  I set boundaries for myself to allow myself the freedom to work.  I made appointments at the end of the day or in the evening. I created a space in my house for a studio.  I called it the Studio.  I began to set studio hours that I blocked off on my calendar.  I didn't answer the phone during the day.

Gradually, gradually, it became a routine.  Friends stopped calling in the daytime or left a message.  No one asked me out to lunch. I built a bigger studio.  I organized my week around my studio time.

I still do that.

" strode deeper and deeper
into the world.
determined to do
the only thing you could do--
determined to save
the only life you could save."..........Mary Oliver, The Journey


  1. Oh yes, it is the only way. People do not take you seriously other wise. And even then. I have always been an artist. Always had a studio even while raising kids. Now it is especially important to me since I am helping to raise my grandson. I have specific hours when I don't answer the phone (unless it is him calling for a ride or he forgot something for school). My parents know not to call me either at those times. You just have to do it.

    1. Good for you Roberta to be so firm about your boundaries even while helping raise your grandson. I love your focus!

  2. A lovely post as usual, Janice. I have almost finished moving into my new "studio" at home and will get back into my schedule.

    1. That's wonderful Sylvia. Let me know when you post some images of it! I'd love to see it.

  3. Thank you for this well written and seriously needed post, Janice. I think of Virginia Woolf's "A Room of One's Own" as a good read for this topic. One must remain brutally determined to carve out and maintain a sacred space for one's own work. I was also older, in my 40's before giving myself permission to go to college and grad school, and then to pursue a career in art. Calling one's space a studio (with a door that locks if possible) is truly key to taking the work done there seriously, You make a very important point with that idea! Thank you.

  4. Thanks for writing Suzanne. I think it's an important topic to discuss with older artists and one I'll bring up more often in my workshops.

  5. I completely agree with you... I did the same. Made sure I always had a studio, even with young children... and as soon as they were in school every day I was in my studio. I ran errands, became the sports chauffeur and cleaned house after studio time. I always took my art very seriously and still do even now.

  6. Hello layers,
    Great self-discipline! I love to hear these kinds of stories!