Thursday, February 07, 2013
Thoughtful Thursday-Jenny's Influence Continues
"So—base your own work on a deep exploration of your own life and times, so that you have your most meaningful continuity and growth outward—AND inward —really the other way around—from there."
Jenny's gifts continue even though she is gone. I've opened my Jenny envelope and reread her letters. Several long letters sent in the late '80s were absolutely pivotal then and continue to teach me now. She has freed me once again.
I started doing calligraphy in 1978. It took me until 1991 to be able to have the words "I'm an artist" come out of my mouth when people asked me what I did. The difficulty I have now is explaining why I don't actively sell my work or so rarely use the skills I have acquired over the past thirty plus years (calligraphy, design, bookmaking) to make money.
In 1988, Jenny wrote me:
"Follow where your passion lies. It has never been false to me. It will not mislead you. Forget about 'marketing'."
Shortly after, I made the decision to teach for money and do my art for myself. I developed my program of teaching bookmaking in schools and for years my problem was balancing the two. I always did feel that the teaching justified the art in both the sense that I made money and that I was giving to the larger community.
In the past few years, I have left that teaching behind and struggle to be at peace with the idea that I am primarily an artist and more significantly, an artist who makes very little money from her work. There are two sides to this. One is that I am not immune to our culture's way of judging people by their livelihood. I don't feel pressure to make a lot of money, but rather to contribute what I think of as my financial share. It needs to be said here that my husband believes in me and says we can manage with whatever I do. And two, I have a strong belief that I need to give to the community and the world at large. I understand how I do that when I teach, but I can't quite believe that making art is enough.
Here's something I wrote this summer:
In some ways it all comes down to how one defines success which is something I have a hard time with. I want success as the world gives it out yet I don't want to do the things that the one needs to do. I have to understand what being an artist means to me, what I can and can't do because I am who I am, what to change and what to accept and how to move forward without burdens (many of which I gather myself) into the future.
While Jenny's letters may not have freed me from my doubts and sense of obligations, they have told me what I need to do. It's my attitude that needs to change, not the world's. I am taking a deep breath and saying: You are an artist. You can be one in whatever way you need and want to be. I am listening to Jenny when she wrote "have faith in your 'rightness' and mystery."