How long can a studio obsession last before you yearn for a new way? Many artists devote themselves to a narrow path of exploration that sustains them for an entire career. I admire their depth of study, mastery of technique and coherence of vision, but I admit to being inherently suspicious of pursuing such a limited range of expression for so long. Are the limitations self-imposed, medium-imposed or market-imposed? It’s not always clear to me. But I wonder if I can be that kind of artist. If I need to be. If I should be.
Having quit a job in a highly regulated profession (I was a New York lawyer for several years), I find myself wary of what looks like professional trappings – norms and expectations that can imprison us within the confines of our past achievements. (As I was writing this, Art 21 posted an interview with Eddie Martinez talking about just this thing.)
Lately I have had several conversations with fellow artists who remain passionate about the work they’re doing, but hint at a certain malaise or boredom creeping in as the years go by and a fear to move in a radically new direction. I was heartened to see artist Cathy Daley address this head on in her interview with ArtSync in which she defended her last show that was surprisingly devoid of her famous and wonderful drawings of dresses. Increasing demand cannot be sufficient reason to continue with a certain body of work. If it were all about creating/meeting/increasing demand, it would be wiser to make a more practical product than art. Trust me. Being a lawyer is so much easier than this.
I am at grad school right now, determined to not do what I was doing before. I’ve been doing prints for the first time, experimenting with photography and video, and expanding my compositions beyond the face to capture whole bodies encased in couture. I’ve even played with the idea of moving toward full abstraction. Anything is possible. It’s liberating, surprising, fascinating – and scary.
In my life so far, I have been lucky enough to follow my heart wherever it pulls me. I have had two careers, lived in six cities and earned four degrees. It makes me think I’m probably not that artist who is going to focus on one approach my whole life. I don’t mean to disparage artists that do. I just don’t want to be afraid of being that artist who doesn’t. In the words of Steve Jobs:
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”