Of stories and branding and marketing of any good or service, Seth Godin says, “The story we tell ourselves is actually what is being sold. The challenge is not how to be successful, but how do we figure out how to matter. And the way we matter is by connecting with people with a story. A story that resonates, a story they care about and a story they’ll tell other people.”
As I mine through my creative life to see what I can see this new year, the question I am asking myself is, “What’s my story?”
Thing is, you see, I am made up of so many stories and you are too.
And I don’t simply want to make up a pretty sounding story (or a morose one either, for that matter) just for the sake of selling my art. I truly, really, for reals want to connect with myself—what is my story? The story that exists around my artmaking, why I do it, how I came to it, why this and not that. What about art resonates with me? Why do I care about it? Why does it matter to me?
It feels so insular and egotistic all of this me, me, me—but the truth of the matter is, I have so much unravelling to do so that I can be clear about what’s inside so that I can give OUT. Because if I’m not my true self and I’m not telling my most authentic story, then I’m not going to make an impact in the world that helps anyone.
So here is the story I am writing today.
My first art-love was writing. It began in grade school with a voracious appetite for reading, writing poetry and a creative writing class for gifted students that I dropped myself out of because it made me feel “different-bad” from other students. Fast-forward. In college, I found some small success with my writing, but I never seriously considered this as an avenue for creative work because I could not fathom writing for a living. And, at the same time, I became obsessed with the visual art classes I took. Before I knew it, I had studio art classes stacked up like hotcakes—drawing, black and white photography, graphic design, japanese papermaking, and a smattering of printmaking, sculpture and other visual art classes thrown into the mix. I ended up graduating with a BFA with a concentration in graphic design. I spent about 7 years in the field, before leaving design and all traces of the artworld behind. I gave away my french curves, design library, and mechanical pens. The corporate design world had soured me for various reasons, and I just knew (at the ripe age of 28) that not fitting into the corporate graphic design world equaled not being an artist.
So I walked away from all art for the next decade. Got a MEd in teaching and went on my not so merry way to become an elementary school teacher, sure that THIS field had the meaningful work I was seeking. I was wrong.
At the depth of my misery and depression, I decided to take a wheel throwing course at the university leisure center. It was my saving grace. I found so much happiness again, covered in mud, in the ceramics studio. I realized that I wanted to feel this happy all of the time, especially in my work. And so, I ever so slowly made my way back to the arts, with another ceramics class…and then two babies came.
And then bills mounted and savings got eaten and I found myself back in the classroom.
But not before getting my heart back into the arts—mixed media, some blogging, jewelry making and illustration. That’s where I find myself today. My feet are planted in the first grade classroom with 21 littles, and my heart pounds in the studio.
I want to believe with everything I am that my art and I both have a place in this world to belong to…that I just haven’t found it yet. After all of this wandering and yearning I get weary easily. My heart isn’t as resilient and bouncy as it once was, but it still beats.
And I can’t explain why messy mixed-media art feels good in the making—I can only say that it does. But so does a lot of other artmaking. Drawing, especially pencil on gesso—I love that chalky drag! And painting, though I honestly can’t say I know what I’m doing.
And like the writing I once put aside, I don’t go this route, mainly because I can’t fathom making a living from making this kind of art. (Does this line of thinking sound familiar?!!) And plus, it isn’t any good (next post). That’s the truth of what I think. I said it out loud. And so I’m wondering out loud now, whether this is a good enough reason to STOP making this kind of art. Is illustration really my true love? I’m very fickle and I can’t give myself a definitive answer. Or maybe just not yet.
All I DO know is this: I need in the most honest way, to figure things out for myself. To either do this creative life or not. And not for money either, although I always end up thinking of this and it gets confusing then. I want to know, “What am I made for? Who am I as an artist?” because I want to make a difference in this world, an impact. I want to give myself over fully to that which is so much larger than myself, to be of service to this world.