Saturday, July 2, 2011

Asserting Art

Tact, subtlety, and withholding have never been talents of mine. When I was a child, my frankness often caused me a lot of pain, anguish, and friends. I -famously- one time told the most popular girl at my middle school: "I like your hair cut so much. It looked so stringy and dirty all the time when it was long." Oops. As I've aged, I've learned to hold back a bit more, much to my detriment. The older I get, the more I realize I just need to be my frank self. Sure, there are moments, when keeping your mouth shut is best, but the true test of maturity (for me) is to know when those moments are and when they are not.

I say all of this because it seems like the whole world (myself included) has a hard time understanding that your right to swing your fist stops at my face.

As an artist/creative person, do you ever get tired of constantly having to prove and/or validate your existence, career, chosen path, and passions? And sometimes, this is even to other artists?

I was at a dinner party years ago at a colleague's very fancy downtown apartment. We have known each other for years, and while we have never been close friends, we have found ourselves consistently in one another's social circles for a long time. She, and many of the other people at the party, work in the visual aesthetics industry and are amoung the social climbers of the Atlanta social scene. She asked what I had been up to, and I replied that I was still teaching art. To which her eyes grew very big and she said: "Wow. Still?! But, you're studying to do something more right? You don't just want to be a teacher?"

I'm southern. So, while i'm appallingly frank, I also know that when you are a guest in someone else's home, you never (NEVER) make an untoward comment or action towards them. And, as such, I kept my mouth shut. Luckily, my date that night is even more frank than I am, and is not southern. My colleague got quite a mouthful!

Year later this comment still haunts me. And, it has very little to do with my colleague. Honestly, I think she was just verbalizing a nasty little "opinionated truth": Celebrating and pursuing art for the sake of art is questionable at best.

As teachers, we teach art because we love art. Art has been a lifetime study for us, and it will continue long after we retire. I think we have to struggle to find the intersection of celebrating art and being seen as professionals.

Look, we all know that we are professionals. But, for whatever reason, everyone else can't seem to wrap their heads around this fact. I think some of this has to do with how Western society categories pursuits. So many people take their hobbies and put them into cottage industries and/or find ways of making their hobbies financially viable. Truthfully, I think that is beyond awesome. Yet, it also can be a rub.

As an illustrator, my friends are constantly telling me about the some-what hair-brained schemes they have for me to "make more money off of art." It is sooo hard for them to understand that I am primarily just interestd in making the art. It would be great to make money from it, but marketing and selling items takes time away from art making. . .And, I don't have enough time for art-making as it is.

I don't know what the answer is. My gut tells me that we need to always strive to be as professional as possible. . And my heart tells me we need to bring some of our frankness to the table when our passions are questioned. For instance, what if -all those years ago- I had asked my colleague: "Well, don't you think it is important to have quality, talented artists who teach art? Didn't you have a phenomenal art teacher who made you want to pursue the aesthetic industry? I do serve an important role, and I love it." There. not rude, not rude at all, but still assertive and clear!

In closing, I have to leave you with this hilarious story one of my cohort members (we're still hanging out long after graduation -yay!) told me this week. A wildlife photographer attended a fancy dinner at a colleagues home. The colleague having seen the photographer's pictures said: "Wow these are wonderful photographs; you must have a great camera." The photographer said nothing and finished his meal with gusto and then said: "Wow that was a wonderful meal; you must have a great oven."

Happy 4th everyone!

5 comments:

  1. I've heard a similar comment about the photograph and "Mozart must have had a great piano." The comments I dislike is categorizing art teachers separately from artists. My sister (of all people) was talking about her daughter taking a class this summer from "an artist" not an art teacher, as if this was preferable. I said nothing. I told my husband about it and was so proud when he said "what's the difference? I always tell people you are an artist and teacher." I'm so glad at least he gets it.

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  2. Great post!

    I think we are the most likely of kindred spirits - the (older) vertically challenged NY Jewish girl living in the "north country" and the (younger) tall southern girl, but both of us opinionated, outspoken, and not afraid to say what we think. Cool.

    I recall years ago, as a high school art teacher, I was also in charge of the Yearbook. I edited everything that went into the book (this was BPC - Before Personal Computers so it was a LOT of careful work). So when my student editor-in-chief wrote his editor's statement, and I insisted on looking it over before sending it in, he said "but you're JUST an art teacher". Let me tell you, I set him straight on that! I explained that I was a TEACHER, and it just happened that the subject I chose to teach was art, but that my education was the same as - actually, NO, it was BETTER than - most other teachers, as instead of just a "concentration" in my undergrad subject of choice it had been a double major. And as a spelling/grammar freak, of course I found a heap of errors in what he'd written.

    By the way - about your awesome comment on my blog - let me mull it all over and we can definitely talk about it via email. As I said before, COOL.

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  3. In my first sentence, I meant we are the most UNLIKELY of kindred spirits... but I'm sure you understand. Ironic that I made an editorial mistake after my comment :-)

    And by the way, I didn't mean to diminish in my statement the artist part of who we are. But not every artist can be a teacher. We are educators because of something special that we have above and beyond our need to create.

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