Are you an artist? Have you always known you wanted to dedicate your life to creating art? I didn't until quite recently.
I've been extremely creative since I was a little girl. Not only did I like to draw, but I also liked to do all sorts of DIY's, collaging and writing. I wrote A LOT. I kept journals, wrote short stories and also poetry in both English and Spanish. I've always had my head full of different ideas and never really paid any mind to doing things the way others around me did them. At an early age I already knew that life is too short to spend doing things that we don't really want to do.
That said, I've also always known that it takes hard work, determination and patience to get to where we want to be in life. Most of us have to be willing to ¨pay our dues¨ and do whatever it takes to eventually get there (within reason). Of course, before any of that happens, we have to find out what our life goals truly are and make sure that they are coming from within ourselves and not external factors that are pressuring us to be specific types of people. This journey, in itself, takes time and courage. It is not easy to find out what will truly make us happy. The lucky ones are able to figure out their goals early in life and start paving their road towards success early on, others take longer. We are all different. Personally, I had to experience a lot of different things before realizing that what truly makes me happy is to create art and to feel the confidence that I can make something of this gift that I have been given.
When I finished High School I decided Graphic Design would be the best option for me because, in my head, it was Art-related and I would have more of a chance to pursue steadier job opportunities as opposed to the Fine/Studio Arts Major. I have a wonderful mother who always supported my decisions and taught me that I could achieve anything that I put my mind and effort to, but I never really saw becoming a ¨Fine Artist¨ per se as a serious option for my future. I guess I bought into the whole ¨starving artist" mentality somehow and thought of it more as a hobby than something that could actually generate an income to life off of.
I maintained a scholarship while in university and went off to work at Graphic Design and Advertising agencies after graduation. I enjoyed it and learned A LOT from very talented people but eventually I started to feel like something was missing. Though I enjoy Graphic Design and will probably always do design work in some way, I discovered through those job experiences that I didn't want to spend all day in front of a computer. I wanted to experiment with supplies, get my hands dirty and create something from scratch. And though I firmly believe that the best Graphic Design work initiates with hand-drawn sketches, in day-to-day agency life the workload, tight timeframes, and the need to use pre-determined style guidelines doesn't allow for much experimentation and creation as I would have liked. So after a while I decided to resign and look for something that would make me happier, though I was completely lost at that point and had no idea what that might be. Sure, I sketched every now and then, but that was pretty much it. I don't regret choosing Graphic Design as a major. What I learned in university and these first Graphic Design jobs will forever be engrained in my head and will probably always influence my artwork in some way. Also, what I learned regarding design software and technology will only improve my work.
After resigning, I spent several months doing freelance work just to keep some money coming in and my portfolio fresh, but I was really confused as to what to do next. Part of me felt like I had wasted 6+ years (between my studies and first jobs) in a field that would end up draining me out. I had a little devil standing on my shoulder telling me that I was never going to find a job that would make me happy and I was simply going to have to accept that work is not meant to be enjoyed.
I was running out of the money I had saved up and, out of nowhere, came this opportunity to work as a First Grade Teacher's Assistant at a great private school. I went for it and I really enjoyed it. Later on in the year I became interested in the Art Teaching position and started learning more about what the job entailed. It seemed like a blast, but I surely didn't have the experience of organizing and managing a functional Art room for over 250 students at a time. A new campus of the same school was opening in a different part of the city and, with it, came the possibility of applying for the job. So I did and that is how I ended up in the position I was in for the last five years. I honestly lucked-out big time and thank my lucky stars for the opportunity I was given!
I quickly learned that teaching Art in a school environment is extremely difficult. I have posted about it before (read my post about Arts Advocacy in the School Environment/My Ideas for Effective Student Art Exhibits here and my post about The Dangers of Striving for Artistic Perfection here). Obviously, when you are teaching its more about what your students learn and experience during your classes that what you do personally, so you firstly have to love children and education. Between class planning, grading, meetings, professional developments, communicating with parents, and organizing/mounting student Art Exhibits, there is little time for anything else. When my work days ended I felt completely exhausted, but fulfilled. I felt like I was leaving something positive in others by using my own gifts and there's simply nothing like it. I was on my feet for most of the day, using my hands to experiment with a wide array of supplies and it seemed like my mind had to be working non-stop throughout the day to solve a million things at once in creative ways.
Throughout those five years I not only developed both personal and professional skills that are extremely valuable to have, but once more I got closer to what I really wanted to dedicate my life to. I was able to conclude that I enjoyed Art more than I enjoyed Graphic Design. Of course, the art I was making was mostly for class purposes or for school events and I did little to no art for myself probably until my last year teaching. During my first few years in the position I didn't have the usual teaching vacation periods because I was studying to get my Master in Education degree during times off from work (sometimes even simultaneously), so I didn't even have that. Most Art Teachers I got to know (especially school Art Teachers), stopped making Art for themselves because they simply didn't have time to between keeping up with job responsibilities and/or taking care of their families. All of these things started to bother me more and more.
At the end of the last school year I had made the decision to get serious about my art and that I wasn't going to approach it as a hobby or something secondary. I discovered that I adored teaching but, at a personal level, I NEEDED to make art for myself. I YEARNED to have the time to experiment with different techniques, improve my skills and find a personal art style that I could eventually share with the world. I KNEW that if I made time for this, I would not only be much happier, but I would also be able to offer a lot more to my students in the future. I knew that I had to make a decision about what to do soon, especially because I was already over 30.
And thus came my decision to resign from my wonderful full-time teaching position and only teach part time. It took me around 14 years of studies and jobs to discover what is important to me and what I need to do to be happy, but I realize that those years were not lost. I personally needed to go through that time of self-discovery. I also needed to build up those personal and professional skills that will help me pave the road towards success. I can honestly say that my true objectives in life became clear to me until recently and it isn't until now that I actually have the courage to ignore other people's expectations and dedicate my time/energy to becoming an artist.
There are people that live their whole lives and never pay any special attention to what they TRULY want. Many of us are too pressured by external factors (time, money, OTHER PEOPLE, difficult situations in our living environments, etc.) that we simply give in to the idea that life has to be lived a certain specific way. We ignore that little voice in our heads that asks ¨What if I had....?" every now and then, doing what is safe and what is expected. I am extremely thankful that I finally have discovered what makes me happy and that, after a lot of hard work (and perhaps some luck), I am in a position to be able to work towards my dreams.
Thank you for reading this extremely long and personal post. I'd LOVE to hear from you! Did you decide to go for a ¨safe¨ career choice due to external pressures? Was it always clear for you that you wanted to dedicate every available moment to make art and that you wanted to make a career of it? Are you an artist that is struggling to live from your art? Drop me a line and I'll write back!
Let's be friends!