Thick Skin, Soft Heart
Originally posted July 24, 2007
I recently turned 30, and while this may be a traumatic event for those who see the loss of their 20's as the beginning of the end, I have been enjoying a few of the perks of my new decade. I like the fact that, while in my twenties, my opinion tended to be discounted as the idealism of youth, at thirty I have spent a decade establishing a reputation that gives credibility to my words.
Another bonus of growing older is that I feel that I am beginning to shake off my selfconsciousness. It matters less to me now whether others understand or approve of me than it used to, and as I let go of self-focus, I feel freer to be me.
I see many talented artists whose work piles up in closets and storage sheds because they are too sensitive to potential criticism to expose their work publicly. Working as a graphic artist cured me of this tendency, as I created art for clients on a daily basis, and then altered it to suit their preferences. However, when I began to exhibit, I struggled with being taken seriously as an artist.
Seems like you can't be a successful commercial artist and also be respected by the arts community. Because I paint pictures of things I find beautiful, and don't attempt to make a great statement, or break new ground, many don't consider me a serious artist. The curator of our local art gallery struggles with the gallery's funding being decreased because we are not located in a big city, or exhibiting the big names in art (though many of the exhibits are very contemporary and showcase great talent). In both instances we find ourselves failing or succeeding based on the opinions of others.
I am still embarrassed by an incident that took place while I was studying art at a small college in our area. The instructor gathered all his students in a circle to talk about what our goals were for our work, and we all outdid ourselves trying to be profound. When it came to be my turn, I said I would like to explore the people in Papua New Guinea and their attitudes about death. Which would probably be a great concept to pursue as an artist, but it was so far from anything I was truly interested in or equipped to pursue.
Today, nearly ten years later, I am happy with the direction my art has taken. I love to express the beauty I see, and I am excited about the new freedom I am finding in some of my more spontaneous paintings. I have ideas for new projects and wish I had more time to get going on them. Some of this freedom is due to the fact that right now my art hasn't lately been exhibited publicly, so I really haven't had to think about what others think. In my personal life, I often remind myself that I answer to God for the choices I make, so whether or not I am understood or approved of by family, friends or strangers is unimportant. In art, as in life, I need a thick skin where criticism is concerned, but a soft heart that is open to embrace life.