Artists work in isolation typically and isolation is one of the ‘occupational hazards’ that can do us in from time to time on many levels. Isolation can be, for example, the high road to burn out. It can also work on us and our little character flaws and psychic fissures to do a number on us in the end. We have far too many tragic stories to deny that. Suicide, at the extreme, is a story peppered among the masters of our field. All of us know at least one personal favorite who’s life ended that way. I believe, too, if we are diligently working at the deep level our art can take us, that most of us can relate to the artist’s hazards that can take one there—not to take the plunge, of course, but to sense the abyss and its gravity—to understand by looking at the lives and deep art how that artist could given the ‘right’ set of circumstances.
Unfortunately, our profession has also traditionally been one of intense competition. We compete even when we’re not selling anything! There are little ‘secret’ things we do—admire someone’s work, but be conservative in the praise we give, for example, or simply not support our colleagues in attending shows or keeping up the social niceties that sustain each other. Over time I’ve come to see these sorts of things as related to not only a sense of competition but often feelings to more pervasive feelings of insecurity about our own worth as artists (perhaps even people). Sometimes, even deeper and more personally perhaps, it is our criticism of our own work that holds us back from supporting others. It is a double-edged and proverbial sword: my criticism of my work makes me better and it sometimes hurts me deeply.
It’s a complicated process. Usually we offer up our time limitations as a reason to stay home when a colleague is succeeding or a reason to withhold support by not commenting, inquiring or simply communicating with fellow artists. We are all busy supporting ourselves and our loved ones. Most of us have ‘day jobs’ and families.
One of the reasons I have grown to love Redbubble is that I can very quickly hit that “favorite” button and say to my friends “Hey, that’s great!” “I’m thinking about you.” “I’m still here for you.” It’s fast and it’s wonderful. I feel sustained by anyone taking the few seconds to peek in and hit the button in my direction. Just as easy and perhaps even more validating is the split second it takes to hit the “watchlist” button. How flattering, sustaining and supportive that small gesture is.
These are things we can give to each other in this venue. They’re some of the things I’ve grown to love about our site. Yes, I wanted to sell here and at the beginning I was disappointed when I didn’t or I only sold a bit, but this is not specific to rb. This is the story of my life as an artist. I am one of those whose work has never sold well enough to sustain me. I have a day job that I rely upon for that—in fact, most times I have more than one, but I keep working as an artist and I’ve found my satisfactions in places other than my bank account.
Yes, I’ve done the shows and marketing. I’ve concentrated and I’ve diversified. Competition is stiff when it comes to bottom lines. I am sustained, however, by the ‘real’ stuff of working as an artist. I remember over and over that it is not money that got me here in the first place. It is something else, many other things, personal things that money never touches anyway.
Someone told me once that I was an artist’s artist. I’m not sure if I believe that or even if I know what that is, but it has stayed with me, though and I’ve worked it over in my mind from time to time. It’s taught me things. Where it’s seemed to make the most sense is in my interactions with fellow artists. I fit there. I like them. They’re my people and they welcome me. We ‘profess’ the same things. We’re colleagues.