The question that most artists are asked first after admitting? confessing? stating that they are an artist is "Oh, what kind of art do you make?" maybe followed by "are you a painter?" For a lot of years, I could manage with a vague description, like "I make public art projects with lots of participation from the community." Or, "I make public art projects that use needlework on a large scale." Who knows if anyone understood what that meant but it seemed to satisfy. These days however I really can't say my stock phrases without a sense that I am either lying or woefully out of date. Those kinds of large, participatory projects are no longer my focus.
As I have noted a few times, the past several years have been a time of change and not a little confusion. Moving away from such public-oriented work to a more studio-based practice has been strange and difficult. Perhaps more than that, I have let go of many of my long-held notions about what constitutes success as an artist. In a way, letting go of that ("that" being the cataloguing of exhibitions, projects, commissions, etc. as a measure of success) also pulled the ground out from under my feet. When you remove those external measures from the equation, what's left? Pretty sure that the only thing left is the art itself. Such a way of thinking, of making art, is both liberating and scary.
Even with this new perspective, when I see exhibitions happening, or books being written about art or projects being commissioned, I still sometimes think, hey, why wasn't I included in that? The answer that I work myself back to is always the same - your new work isn't ready yet. Be grateful for this time of solitude. If/when it is ready, it will get shown. When I look back at my early work, fresh out of art school, I remember those many years of feeling overlooked. I remember the conviction that I had within myself that I was an Artist. Why didn't people see it? Now, of course, I am so grateful that I didn't show that stuff. It was only semi-evolved and would have set me off on the wrong path. Instead, I worked and struggled and made some very iffy things. Then there came a moment when everything fell into alignment and the work flowed and people responded. The boom years!
I feel a bit like I am in those post-art school years again now. I know that I have something important and big within me but it is still only partially cooked. I also feel it getting closer. I had a moment the other day when I thought, "I make religious art. My objects are magical in a way that comes directly from connecting to spirit." To be honest, I can not think of a less popular way to describe one's artwork! Oh dearie me. (I mean, if I am going to be unpopular, I might as go whole hog and use old Grannie phrases like that too.) The cynical, calculating, conservative world of the business of art doesn't have a lot of room for such baldfaced sincerity. And to use the word "religious" is even bolder and more horrifying. Yet, once the thought was thunk, there was no denying it. Again: liberating and scary. But mostly liberating.
I will be artist in residence at Struts Artist-Run Centre in Sackville, NB in about a month's time. I am hoping to fully embrace this new found sense of where I stand and see what happens.