More and more, I am becoming a fan of our shared humanity. The unpredictability of it all. The shadows behind every facade of perfection. The embarrassing truth.
In the beginning of August 2014, I was the recipient of a windfall. An opportunity to make art for a year. This was the first time since art school in 2003, that I have had a chance like this, to delve into art making with some real time. In my own art space, to boot.
Expectations soared, of course. After all, isn’t it the epitome of happiness, to be able to make art, almost full time? (I can hear the universe giggling in the background, while writing this.)
The work of an artist
What I had conveniently forgotten, of course, is the true work of an artist. To feel everything, experience all nuances of what is happening, to knock on inner doors or knock them down and drink deeply of the cup of life. Then, make art about it.
So, instead of feeling happy, suitably grateful, productive and inspired, I found myself resistant, edgy and defensive much more of the time than I thought proper.
All of my ideals of making art, all of the uplifted expectations of the artist’s life crashed head on with the raw loneliness of the studio, the reality of putting paint on canvas in a suffering world. To make art, instead of having a “real job”. There is a reason why we avoid empty space and big reaches of time. It all opens up the door to the question: Why am I here? Does anything I do matter? At all?
I asked myself repeatedly: If I feel like this while making art, what’s the point?
Vision rubbing against reality
What I’m coming to realize – excruciatingly slowly, again and again – is that there is no “there”. No perfection, no people who always succeed, no teachers who always walk their talk, no impeccable work communities, nothing finished. It makes me gag with disappointment, because the mixture of light and dark is so heady, hard to comprehend. But there is some relief, as well. Nothing has gone wrong. I can stay in this discomfort, aware of the temptation to seek solid ground and just hang out with the raw and tender moment.
I wanted to share the encounter I had this morning, with you.
First some background. For years now, I have been selling my paintings one by one, online and when having an art show. It’s been fine.
Except that every time I have thought about marketing, the next reaction has been a pit deep in my stomach, the fear of overwhelm. So I’ve staid small.
Before my trip to Switzerland, I received my Swisspass through TNT. Because of my gemstone hobby, I’ve been dealing regularly with Fedex, DHL and USP for years. There was something different about the way TNT did things and I noticed it immediately; A genuine concern for the customer’s experience. Impressed, I logged my company into their service and forgot all about it.
A few weeks later I received a call from TNT, they wanted to know more about in which way they could be of service.
Today I met their representative. This was the fifth contact that I had experienced with this company. Again I met a warm, present and wonderful person who was sincerely interested in the needs of Crealife and how they could be met. That is an impressive track record, for any company.
Here’s the thing. As an artist I connect to imagination and my everyday life, explore phenomena that interest me – like transformative emotional work, conscious life creation, relationships, compassion, practicing idealism – and make them visible through different art modalities. That is the magic and the process.
The weird thing [for me] is that from a purely rational company perspective, I sell stuff. Things. Paintings, cards, posters, prints. And boy do I need help with that aspect of things.
So today at my studio, in sweeps the warmest, most professional and grounded TNT sales manager who walks me through packaging, filling forms, country codes, prices and safety of my work. In our one hour meeting, she solved a huge hurdle for Crealife’s growth. Just like that. And I hadn’t yet spent any money at all for all this clarity, logistical process and information on pricing.
The reason I wanted to tell you this is twofold. The first is that there are still global companies who work from the heart, on an organizational level. The other is that I am working behind the scenes, so you, my customers and readers whom I appreciate deeply, will find it easier and easier to buy my art, when you feel like it. And receive it safely & swiftly, to your door.
Where can your rational mind ask for help with organization in support of your creativity, today?
The ones of you, my dear readers, who have followed this blog for a while know that in 2010 I decided to take on the tyranny of my own beliefs, internalized from well meaning parents, peers and art school. These were beliefs that in unending circles spouted out shoulds, musts and not good enoughs.
At this time my daughter was on her second year and I realized the return to work was imminent. Were I to ever have time to be a full time artist, it was time to start making some art – any art, no excuses.
The three guiding principles that allowed me to break free from my self-imposed prison of shame, self-doubt, creative blocks and resistance were:
1. Easy access to the act of creation.
2. Create something every day.
3. No need to plan, know or understand, just start playfully.
Four and a half years have passed. During these years I’ve created more than ever before. I’ve also been suffering less than ever before in my life.
But, coming back from Switzerland, about four weeks ago, it seemed I had to work at squeezing myself into the life that just a week ago had seemed wonderful. I felt like an ocean that tried to squeeze itself into the utensils drawer. So many tiny compartments. So little space for expansive processes and uninterrupted time.
Time for a change.
After a few weeks of uncomfortable fidgeting and some simple structural changes, an opportunity presented itself. A storage space, close by, reasonable rent. Easy peasy?
The vulnerability of a shining core
Again and again, I’m surprised, inside myself and in working with my clients, of the kind of strength and vulnerability core desires exude. This past week, I have gathered thought books, pastels, art works from every nook and cranny in our home, in the Engineer’s office, in the far reaches of closets, behind photographs, in the high kitchen cupboards. Tear inducing work. I have been trembling so my bones are shaking, in order to encompass the enormity of what I am allowing myself to do and become.
I never imagined I had created this much. The tendrils of my most protected and naked core dreams have reached all through our home, until they simply did not fit anymore. Time for the dream to move out from the cocoon of our home.
Flashback to eighteen years ago. I had finished High School, with excellent grades. I felt I had earned the right to make independent decisions and although I attended entrance exams at the University of Helsinki, mainly to please my father, I was seeking other options. When I found a school that combined an intensive year long visual art and writing class, I knew it was the right thing for me. The fact that they rented a room I could live in just made the whole thing better.
I applied for a job at a shopping mall, as a cashier, and got it. Having secured a place of study, a home of my own and a job to finance it all, I presented the plan to my father. He took one look at the curriculum, at the price and said:
“Marie, this is the worst mistake of your life. You will regret this.”
So I went and did it anyway.
Taking permission to do what makes life alive
Dreams do not make life easy.
They’re not supposed to.
In fact, the transformational work that is included in any dream from the core will probably bring up everything we are hiding from ourselves to the surface.
Dreams do not [necessarily] bring in millions, or even enough to pay the rent at first.
There are no guarantees. Hard times may be ahead. This is not for wimps.
Proceed only with awareness, gentleness and support.
This is why rational minded people try their best to steer us away from dreaming in the first place. My beloved Dad was absolutely. Completely. Right.
Not when he said I would regret my decision to pursue art.
Just definitely when he said I was choosing a spiralling, backward, hard path, when I could have just driven on the highway [to a well paying job]. He was being the stern parent out of love and concern for me. He could not see into my soul. He did not see the reality of impending death that was driving me. Every road that lead toward deadening myself was too expensive to contemplate.
No money in this world can buy aliveness. The aliveness of a bungee jump lasts for a few seconds, jumping with a parachute, it lasts a little longer. But the skin caressing, soul squeezing, heart pumping aliveness that comes from bringing alive a core dream expands with each step. You just may end up with a life worth living.
If you wouldn’t have to
plan or understand
your dream on a rational level, yet, which next step toward your dream beckons to you?
I was out meeting my accountant today. Things are moving in my company and we were crunching the numbers to see how everything adds up. My book keeper is gentle as a doe, yet I walked away from my encounter both weary and overwhelmed. The urge to make art, create, move hearts and energy, transform creative blocks with freedom and exuberance seems to mix poorly with numbers.
Somewhat later, I talked to a friend. She asked me:
“What would you and your family look like, if you hadn’t been making art all of these years”?
This image immediately popped to mind. My parallel future self, without the presence of transformative art making, would be an obese therapist, listening to everyone else instead of creating herself.
Images of my husband working full time at some nameless company (because when you don’t have time for your art, giving it to someone else becomes verrrry hard), imbalances in my relationships with the kids, all the shopping I would do to make up for the lack of direct creativity flashed through my mind. Then I remembered.
Some years ago I was studying expressive art therapy. During those studies we were required to engage in therapy of our own. At one moment there, painting a sky big and blue, talking to the therapist, I had the clearest flash of insight; studying expressive art therapy was the perfect compromise for the little girl caught in between mommy’s and daddy’s wishes for me. An academic degree (Dad) that incorporated the arts (Mom).
That moment and insight was a crossroad. I left my therapy studies (for the second time) and went on to pursue art making, for real.
That choice. Making art every day. Has transformed my life experience.
I’ve learned to stand and contain chaos, to let completely opposite feelings or concepts play with each other in the same space. Art has taught me to start where I am and say yes to whatever is born. Creating every day has taught me to trust the void of not knowing, lean into beliefs of uselessness and open up to uncertainty.
Without art my life would be more rational and controlled. And less alive.
If you would create something, just for you, today. What would it be? [mental note: the more useless, the better. You do not need to justify creating.]
Sometimes I think such a big part of creativity is the ability to stomach tension.
There is the tension that starts building an hour before it is time to get the kids from school and the meter is running out on work time. There is the pressure of making room for imagination, art and creation, while money is needed, the bills are piling up and responsibility is weighing down on the shoulders. There is the balance between the ideal vision and the messiness, imperfection and humanity of the reality that is born out of the vision.
When you don’t take the sometimes considerable force of this raw energy personally, you can learn to let it all slosh around in your body, keeping the energy moving, letting it all mix together in divine chaos. Then you pour it all into what you are creating.
What could help you keep the tension and energy moving today?
The Loving Offer. Did you know you can buy my work?
There is a blog post that I’ve been wanting to write. It’s come up again, with all this talk of creativity monsters and gremlins. I’m probably not alone in having one big creativity monster.
I haven’t dared write about this as of yet.
But days go by and I hear stories from clients, colleagues and friends. In these times we are living, so many of us are facing the same kinds of situations.
The old structures are crumbling. We have great ideals, we’ve spent time on discerning our values, we want to walk our talk. Do what we love, market with soul, be authentic and ethical. Live!
When the money doesn’t come in, it’s easy to feel you’re on the outside, looking in, and everyone else is doing better. It’s easy to get bogged down by shame. So – deep breath.
The following story is a typical one on my spiritual journey this far.
1) I get frustrated with a recurring phenomenon in my life. (This time it was money.)
2) I say: “It’s time to put this thing in order! Let me learn all I can about this.”
Two days before Christmas 2013, I lost my biggest client.
This was a wonderful, valued, longtime client with meaningful, heartfelt projects that created practical solutions. But the changing economy required tough choices and we had to part ways. In a way, this was the demolition of a bridge between two eras of my life. The era of being an Artist-in-waiting and the era of being a Professional. This time, though, I didn’t take the leap of faith myself, and I sorely felt the sting of that boot, kicking me out of the nest of the relative safety of monthly income.
So, a third of my yearly income was suddenly gone.
My head felt like it was floating a meter above my shoulders and all I could think of was: “Where is the money going to come from?” At the same time everything became very clear, as if lit by lightning and followed by thunder. Instead of going out shopping for Christmas presents with wild abandon, I chose deliberately, carefully, breathing deeply and attempting to find the present that was essential for each child.
Dealing with fear, shame and panic
Every morning during the two weeks our kids were on holiday, I started the day with a cry. Fear of the future, shame for being fired, panic about the overwhelming reality of being utterly broke washed over me. Yet, being on a spiritual path since I was thirteen, I knew, this was happening for me, no matter how much it did not feel like it. I knew, the paradoxical balance between completely accepting what I was feeling and at the same time taking action in my everyday to create change was going to help me.
I started writing down everything I owed, daily. All the bills that needed to be paid, all the actions I had to take and everything I worried about.
I went through the list and marked a star for everything that could be acted upon that day (call creditors, ask for time, write e-mails), a leaf for everything I didn’t yet have an answer to but would give to my creative self to ruminate and a hashtag for everything I was ready to let go of.
During the day, each time I felt a bout of panic clench my belly into an accordion, I would look at the list, remind myself that I was doing everything in my power to solve the situation and then I would watch something that made me feel happy and preferably made me laugh. (Thank you Ylvis.)
Moving through the feelings caused by this involuntary leap of faith took me about two weeks of staying as close as I could to the present moment, just noticing all the fearful scenarios that my mind was producing. Geneen Roth’s book Lost and Found helped me put my situation into perspective.
By the time a wonderful journalist called me for an interview about change, right before New Year, the worst hurricane of survival panic had mellowed.
Having less money to deal with than ever before in my adult life has opened up a spaciousness in my everyday life. Discerning between what is essential, important, nice and expendable has become very easy. I’m more grateful than I was before, for things like buying groceries, a client ordering a pack of creativity cards or someone offering complimentary coaching.
Paradoxically, this return to a less is more kind of affluence has made me value my time more. A whole day spent on making art, on marketing it and on caring for my Etsy store is something to prioritize.
Making a living becomes so tangible and visceral, when it is indeed something you are creating yourself, breath by breath.
Money love in the arts
I’m reading a book. Money Love, by Kate Northrup. Slowly, I am starting to understand that taking care of my money, knowing what I spend to the last hundred euro, saving money and just being aware of what comes in and what goes out, is a way of loving myself. Money is an indication of value.
I can learn to value myself, my time and my art making skills.
Am I alone in having heard, time and time again: “Can’t you do something useful?” Meaning, anything else than art. Or, “Do you have to be so sensitive? You have to toughen up!” “Are you ever going to get a real job?” Implying that making art is something that isn’t work, or real.
It’s time to change that monologue now.
And that, more than anything, is why I am writing this today. As artists, we are prone to carry a lot of mental crap about art, money, value, our own value and what we have to do or compromise in order to be able to live and make a living. I know I do.
Love sees clearly. When we learn to love and value both our money and our art, we can start building our corners of the world into communities where artists can and do make a good living.
Being one isn’t easy, but it is worth it. Promise.
Luckily, all we need to do in this particular nook of the universe, is to start where we are. There are lots and lots of resources to start untangling the knots between money and art. And I wanted to say you’re not alone.
In the meantime, here at Marie D. Tiger Artworks the artboat is sailing onward, drawing by drawing, day by day, impulse by impulse. 🙂
I would love to read your thoughts about art, money and love in the comments. <3
The Loving Offer. Did you know you can buy my work?