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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Oh, That Tricky, Tricky Ego...

One thing I struggle with sometimes is comparing myself and where I am in my career with my colleagues.  I imagine this is fairly common within all fields, but I think that perhaps those of us who consider ourselves artists take it maybe a little more personally because we have such close personal ties to our work.  When I read something about one of my contemporaries, maybe someone I went to school with, for instance, and they're having a moment of great success, I'm happy for them (really, I am), but I can't help comparing what I'm doing with what they're doing.  I mean, yes, I feel like I have some amazing things going on right now, but I always feel like I should be doing more, especially in my own jewelry and metalwork. 

Last year at this time, I was working feverishly on my portfolio for my grad school application.  I felt mostly good about my work, and felt like I was moving in the right direction. I only applied to one school, VCU, and it was really the reason Mark and I decided to go ahead and move to Richmond.  When I found out I was third on the list when they realized that they only had the funding to bring two new students into the program, I was disappointed to say the least.  But I decided to reapply in a year, and in the meantime work on my portfolio, pursue my jewelry business, and continue working for my friends at NC Black Co. 

Well, here it is, two months from application time again, and I have so many things going on, I haven't had time to work on my portfolio all year.  I have ideas and sketches for some great pieces, but I haven't made them yet.  And I have to ask myself, why is that?  Why are these other pursuits taking precedent over my portfolio work?  Well, the answer is clear, they're just more important to me right now.  A year ago, I felt like I was moving in the right direction, but this year has presented so many other opportunities, from working on my businesses, CopperTide and CopperDog Studio, teaching in workshop settings (teaching was really the main thing that inspired me to go back to school in the first place), both with NC Black and on my own, plus all my work with NC Black Co. outside of teaching.  I feel like now I'm really moving in the right direction, and it's almost as if breaking from all these pursuits to go back school right now would be counter-productive. 

But I was still torn.

I had a conversation with my friend and teaching partner, Chuck Kennington, about all my feelings on the subject, and he said something that really struck me, "Don't let your ego make the decision for you." 

Yes, I felt defeated when I didn't get into grad school last spring, and there is a part of me that wants to prove that I can.  I want the prestige, and I want the respect of my contemporaries.  I sometimes get the feeling I am looked down upon because I don't yet have my MFA.  But really, what does that matter?  It's just a piece of paper, after all.  The other NC Black teaching team, Andrea Kennington and Les Bryant, are proof that it may not matter all that much.  Andrea has her MFA in Metals from ECU (where I got my BFA) and Les is completely self-taught.  He has taken workshops from masters, but has no degree.  And yet they're doing the same job.  Andrea even told me flat out that having her MFA hasn't opened any doors for her.  You go out there and you open those doors yourself.


So after talking with Chuck and Andrea and Mark of course, and lots of thinking and weighing of options, I've made the decision to put grad school on hold indefinitely.  I'm not totally ruling it out as a future possibility, but it basically comes down to the fact that I just don't need an MFA to do what I'm already doing.  So there's that.

So even though I'm happy with my decision and the way things are progressing in my career, it doesn't mean I don't still feel a twinge of jealousy when I hear that this colleague got into a show that I wasn't accepted to, that one got her own solo exhibition, and this one got published in a major industry magazine.  I'm happy for them, and I respect their work and know that they deserve these things.  But dammit, I want it, too!  So I will just have to turn this little streak of green into inspiration to make time, work harder, and get my work out there, recognized, and respected!

Ready??  Go!!!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Alchemist

I recently read The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho for the first time.  I have no idea why I never read it before, but it's something every artist and every person who is trying to persue their personal legend should read.  Both Mark and my dear friend Lindsey recommended it to me, and I'm sooo glad!

Lindsey and I were talking one day about our job and life situations.  She is a friend from art school, a college roommate actually, and a very creative person.  She recently quit her job to go back to school to pursue a dream that she had always had.  I, however, did not quit my job, but was laid off two years ago.  But rather than rush out and take the first crappy McJob I could find (to be fair, even crappy McJobs have been hard to come by the past two years), I began working for my friends (NC Black Co.) in my field, and began pursuing my dream of being a full-time artist and living an artful life.  Sometimes things happen for a reason.  As the book says, "we must be prepared to have patience in difficult times, and to know that the Universe is conspiring in our favor, even though we might not understand how." 
Coelho says that in order to pursue our dreams we must first overcome four obstacles.  First, we are often told from the time we are children that everything we want to do is impossible.  Our dreams become buried in layers of prejudice, fear, and guilt, and can become nearly invisible, but they're still there.  If we can hang on to the dreams and overcome this obstacle, then comes a second: love.  We're afraid we're hurting those around us by abandoning everything in order to pursue our dreams.  But we have to realize that those who love us genuinely wish us well, want us to be happy, and are prepared to accompany us on this journey.  Once we've accepted that love is a stimulus rather than a reason to not move forward, we're up against the third obstacle: the fear of defeat.  This is particularly terrifying because those of us who fight for our dreams suffer much more when it doesn't work out because we can't use the excuse that we must not have wanted it that badly anyway.  But defeats will happen.  It's just part of the game.  As Coelho says, "The secret of life, though, is to fall seven times, and to get up eight times."  After overcoming all of these obstacles, there comes the fourth: the fear of actually realizing the dreams we fought for our entire lives.  We actually feel guilty for getting what we want because we see all those around us who have failed to do so, that we feel we don't deserve to get what we want either.  We forget about all the obstacles we overcame, and all the suffering along the way, all the things we had to give up.  This is the most dangerous of all because it has a "saintly aura about it, renouncing joy and conquest."  But we must believe that we are worthy of the things we fought so hard for, and that this is the reason that we are here in this world.

And all of this from the introduction?!?  Love. 

The book itself is actually a novel about a shepard boy who meets an old king who tells him about following his personal legend.  The boy sells his flock and buys a ticket to Africa to begin his pursuit, and soon loses all he has.  He has to stop a few times along the journey for various reasons, and he finally meets the Alchemist, who helps him to see things more clearly.  The boy never gives up, though he is sometimes distracted by all the obstacles of life, but he is always, in some way, in pursuit of his personal legend. 

I love this book.  It is so inspiring to me at this point in my life as I try to figure out the best way to pursue my dreams and be the best person I can be.  When I feel myself getting discouraged or frustrated, I think about the message of this book, and it puts me back on the right track - or at least back in the right frame of mind. 

Seriously, go read it.  Now.