Committing To Your Art Career Journey

Last week I dragged my busy butt down to a mineral springs resort and spa for a getaway with my dear friend, Kelly.

Road trip!

Conveniently, the getaway coincided with a discussion I had with one of my coaches about the need to create more “space” in my life.

Since that time, which hasn’t even been two weeks, I have found space not only in soaking in the springs, but also in embracing silence; seeking questions rather than answers; and saying No.

©Laura Leeder, Pink Perfection Peonies. Watercolor on English watercolor paper, 19.25 x 15.25 inches. Used with permission.

©Laura Leeder, Pink Perfection Peonies. Watercolor on English watercolor paper, 19.25 x 15.25 inches. Used with permission.

Kelly and I also found space on the road. The trip down to the springs should be just over 5 hours. We somehow turned that into 7+ hours.

There are people who see the dot on the map and race toward it without stopping for a restroom break. And then there are those who, like me, look for any diversion to learn or to be entertained along the route.

I tend to explore on my road trips. I have been caught:

  • Coming across a newspaper from a nearby town and rerouting the return trip because it might be an ideal place to retire. (It wasn’t.)
  • Visiting the local cemetery.
  • Driving out of the way because I heard on NPR about the “green” rebuilding of Greensburg, Kansas ten years after a devastating tornado and I wanted to see it. (It’s pretty cool. I’d go back! And I’d eat again at this Mexican restaurant where they were lovely and one of the few places open on Memorial Day.)
  • Veering an hour off the interstate to see a visionary artist’s creation.

Yeah, I could get there faster if I focused on the dot on the map, but where’s the adventure in that? I prefer the stories I can gather along the way – stories that will become part of the fabric of my life forever.

What stories are you gathering?

Your Career Journey

Your career path is marked by exhilarating highs and devastating lows. I wish I had learned earlier the wisdom in riding the waves rather than fighting against them.

©Debbie Mathew, Healing Hand. Mixed media, 24 x 11 x 8.5 inches. Used with permission.

©Debbie Mathew, Healing Hand. Mixed media, 24 x 11 x 8.5 inches. Used with permission.

When you seek shortcuts, you miss out on opportunities that might lead to bigger rewards.

When you have your eye only on the end goal (the dot on the map), you become blind to all that can enrich your art and life.

I contend that if you aren’t committed to the journey of your career, you surely won’t be satisfied with the destination.

Of course, the journey isn’t all roses and fairy dust. It’s messy.

What You’ll Encounter on the Journey

Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way. Among the artist’s lows are:

Rejection from shows, grants, residencies, and buyers.
Doubts about your talent.
Criticism from others and, worst of all, yourself.
Anxiety over lack of <income, opportunities, recognition, … >.
Discomfort with making bold moves.
Impatience with your pace of progress.
Confusion about your next moves.
Frustration with yourself and the system.
Overwhelm from all that is possible.

They all suck. I’m pretty sure you have experienced every one of these downers, but the danger is when you find yourself swirling in a vortex of self-flagellation.

You can’t afford to wallow when you’re committed to your art. Your art needs you.

©Jeanette Goulart, Stop While You’re Ahead. Acrylic on gallery wrapped canvas, 24 x 24 inches. Used with permission.

©Jeanette Goulart, Stop While You’re Ahead. Acrylic on gallery-wrapped canvas, 24 x 24 inches. Used with permission.

And … you understand that the rewards, which really do exist, are the brighter half of this journey. Your highs include:

Validation that you’re doing the right thing.
Acceptance by your audience, other artists, juries, critics, and curators.
Utter bliss when you do your best creative work.
Understanding when you find your tribe.
Pride when your friends and family show up at your first solo show.
Appreciation from students and your audience.
Recognition from the art world.
Love of what you do every day.
Accomplishment because you went for it.

Remember these potential rewards when you find yourself questioning your commitment to the journey.

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42 comments to Committing To Your Art Career Journey

  • Let me add one other….When you look at the work of some of the fabulously talented people out there, sometimes you wonder, why bother? I wonder how many artists have had this thought. Thx for the inspirational words.

  • Jo Ann F.

    Thank you for this article – all true.

  • Let me also add another…give yourself the gift of down time to actually think about your art/business.

    We all get so busy with our agendas, we can sometimes forget to “check in” with ourselves. I believe this is really important and often overlooked for less critical things in our life.

    Recently, during a long power outage, I sat in the candle lit room asking myself some tough questions and writing down the answers. It shifted my art focus and the way I do business. I’m so much happier for that down time.

  • I’ve been following your articles and appreciating them immensely. Thank you for elucidating the essence- in the practical sense-of what it is to be an artist.

  • Three weeks ago I had my first studio tour. I have been asked before but never thought my 1/6th of a garage studio was good enough to share with the public. I am so glad I did it!
    I had 16 women in my 110 degree studio (I provided cold water and chairs and 4 fans). I showed them how an idea becomes a bronze sculpture, showing them with pictures and actual molds and wax castings…..and a whole lot of words from me. They were enthralled and I was delighted! They had been touring artists ‘ studios for six years and this was the first time anyone ever explained the process from beginning to end. what a joy!
    As a result, I have scheduled two more studio tours with other groups. What fun!
    It felt risking to say “yes” when I was asked. so glad I did😊

    • TK

      That was my senior project 37 years ago, documenting the entire bronze casting process. It’s a great thing to do as most people haven’t a clue!

    • Karen, this comment is very encouraging to me too — I have been hesitant about inviting anyone to my less-than-ideal basement studio, but maybe I should go ahead and take the plunge! Your experience affirms that people aren’t really concerned with how nice the space is (or isn’t) — what they love is getting a first hand look at what’s happening in your studio.

  • Thanks Alyson what a beautiful narrative about your trip, I think most artists love to explore and and so to speak, “paint outside the lines” as we travel. It goes along perfectly with the parallel on our profesional lives, sometimes we just don’t see it. We forget to step back.

  • My wife and I discuss this sometimes and we agree that no matter how bad the lows are, giving up our art is not possible – emotionally of course. An then the good days come along. There is never perfection. Only going along the journey.

  • Thank you, Alyson, for your impeccable timing. We all feel depleted at times, filling the cup is just as important. Gratitude and sense of wonder – the perfect spring for filling my cup. Thank you for the reminder.

  • Thank you for this, Alyson.
    It couldn’t have come at a better time, as I’ve just been dropped from my gallery of 10+ years and I’m currently recognizing 4 – 5 other bullet points from your list of “suck”. Fortunately, I’m also finding at least the same amount of high points from the other list, so it’s all balancing out.

    Life IS all about the Journey….the decisions we make, the side trips we take, and staying truly “awake” to it all.

  • Perfect timing and always a great reminder about enjoying the journey. Thanks

  • Yes, balance in life and career is so important in order to faces the challenges we face in art careers. ‘Pink Perfection, Peonies’ is one of my all time favourite paintings of Laura Leeder’s, so it was delightful to see it here in this post.

  • I can so relate to your posting. The other day I read “passion doesn’t equal talent.” That was the proof I have no talent. I perversely cling to these kinds of proofs.
    Yet I’ve shed so many tears over your bad stuff list. Which makes me more aware and appreciative of the gifts, and might even make it worthwhile, that happen because I have chosen a creative path.
    The life journey fuels my spirituality, which inspires my art. Love, marriage, and motherhood has been such a blessing. The awe of nature and waterfalls; a 2nd grade class’s play on biblical parables accompanied by popsicle stick puppets; a Mother Mary nightlight makes me laugh and gives me “quality” time.
    The thing I never thought about when I was so focused on being published was the artists, librarians, and other fun and interesting people, like on this blog, that give me comfort, advice, and are pleasant to pass the time with along the way.

  • Wonderfully said! And you’re my kind of traveler!

  • Great article, Alyson. I completely agree about making room, making space to relax, play, and coming up for air. I caught myself recently forgetting that and needing to take a step back. It’s funny how easy it is to feel like we are in some race to the finish line.

  • How is it that your posts are always so perfectly timed? Read this one while taking a break from a less than stellar day in the studio wondering what the heck I am doing up to my eyeballs in unfinished paintings for an upcoming solo exhibit. Thanks for the reminder that it’s about the journey and all the wonderful people and experiences along the way.

  • Hi Alyson
    What great blog! I could so relate!

    As an artist I’ve had to accept that I’m on a journey… MY journey.
    I found it freeing to not compare my journey with those of other artists as it only leads to frustration and discouragement.
    I love your idea of enjoying every part of the trip even the down times.

    Karen: I started monthly open studios 4 years ago and helped set up a local arts trail.
    It’s a fabulous opportunity to meet people, help educate them about art and find collectors too.
    Most of my sales and new collectors come from open studios.

  • Oh, how I needed to read this today. I’m a ‘Go directly to ___ as fast and efficiently as possible’ type of person usually. I need to slow down. I need to look for happy in a lot of different places. My journey is not anyone else’s and it’s OK for me to do it my way. [and slow down.]

  • Excellent stuff, Alyson. Your journey story can be spelled out into life in general for anybody. Thanks for sharing. The good news is, after many years of painting, or creating, marketing and selling your work, some of the lows don’t come back. As I read them I thought, yes, been there to all of them at some point, but only maybe half or less of them are a reality today … as I’ve gained knowledge, confidence and skills over the years.

    I thought of another really awesome high too … selling the work! I LOVE that high, as for me it’s an affirmation that what I’m doing has an important place or role in people’s lives.

    Thanks Alyson, for the reminder to find, take or make space. I do tend to point at that destination on the map of life and run like the dickens towards it, forgetting or not even thinking about enjoying “the ride” or smelling the roses … but it’s absolutely essential, isn’t it! More power to you, my fellow artists! LET’S START ENJOYING THE RIDE!

  • Such a timely post Alyson! I get so focused on the destination that I often forget to enjoy the journey. Thank You!

  • Oh my, I am a point A to point B kind of gal. Do what you came to do and back to point A. My trip is usually planned in advance. So many times I pass beautiful spots and think . . . I’ll have more time next trip. I can only imagine the creative ideas that might come from taking the road less traveled. How sad to limit ourselves and our lives. Thanks Alyson for letting me see me in a clearer light. You’ve been doing that a lot lately. I appreciate you.

  • Hey your blog is very nice, such useful information you are sharing.

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