A strange thing happened this year when it came time to start signing up for the usual round of art/craft shows. After six years of enthusiastically participating in a whole bunch of different shows, I found myself completely devoid of any desire to apply for any at all this year. It’s not like I had a devastatingly bad season last year- sales were mostly fine. (Except for one where I paid an $80 booth fee and made a mere $140. Considering that I spent probably about 10 hours total loading up my car, getting to the show, setting up, sitting there all day, and then breaking down, a $60 return is profoundly underwhelming. That’s $6 an hour, not even counting money spent on supplies and other expenses. Less than minimum wage. I guess it was some kind of fluke, since I had participated in the same show in September and also the prior April, May, and June, and did pretty well. Fluke or no, I still went home and collapsed on the sofa in a state of exhaustion, only to eventually rouse myself to google “craft show failure” which led me to a compromised blog that infected my computer with a virus. Joy.)
These things happen of course. Everyone has bad shows- it’s part of the game. I’ve been at shows where I have done tremendously well and the person next to me sold literally nothing, and it’s important not to take either successes or failures too seriously. There’s no accounting for any number of variables- the weather, the people who turn up, what those people will feel like buying that particular day, your location. I used to rationalize bad shows by telling myself that at least a lot of people picked up business cards, or even if I don’t sell well there’s no harm in sitting outside on a nice day and listening to people tell me they like my work. And then there’s the ever-present feeling that I have to “get my name out there” somehow. But this year all those rationales just didn’t cut it. In the past year things have been more stressful at my full-time design job, I’ve picked up more freelance design work, there’s only so many hours in a day, and my new year’s resolution this year was to think more carefully about how I’m spending my time and if it truly benefits me, and to trust my instincts about things.
I think I used to feel more in need of validation as an artist via people buying my work, but for some reason I don’t feel that so much this year. I noticed on a recent vacation that when I talked to people who asked what I did I had no hesitation whatsoever in saying I’m an artist and graphic designer, and it felt really good. It took me a long time to shake off the identity crisis I developed while working in publishing full time, doing nothing related to art whatsoever at my job and working on a lot of art on my own but really just keeping it to myself. I think doing all these shows was a really important part of that process- knowing that I make things that people do actually want to buy is very validating. Something feels different now though. Even after my more successful shows last year I didn’t feel that happy. Maybe it was just the novelty wearing off, but I think part of it is that the more I focus on making quantities of stuff to sell, the less I am able to really feel connected to the things I am making. The less I am able to play and experiment and have fun making things, and I think it shows. I get into a process of just churning things out in quantity and the quality and my enthusiasm suffers.
So I’m taking a break, and it feels good. It’s nice to, you know, have a weekend, to have time to relax and work on new things when I feel like it not because I have a show coming up. I keep coming back to this image of a fallow field- it’s necessary sometimes to take a rest and let things regenerate a bit. Things look dull and quiet on the surface, but deep down things are happening, getting stronger for the next round of growth. I realized today that it’s already May and I haven’t posted a single new finished piece of art on my site for this year. And I felt guilty about that at first, because the knee-jerk reaction is to think that I’m failing. I’m not making anything, I’m not progressing. How can I say with confidence to strangers that I’m an artist when I haven’t actually completed anything in nearly half a year? It’s easy to be fearful and think you’re in a rut and you’ve lost it and it’ll never come back. But the thing is I’m finally realizing it’s not about just completing stuff, and whatever “it” is that I’m afraid is lost always comes back. It’s too much a part of who I am to be otherwise. People talk about artist’s block or writer’s block, but I’ve never really experienced that, even now when it might look like some sort of block. But that’s not what this place I’m in feels like. It isn’t frustrating, it’s not like I want to create and just can’t. I am creating, almost every day, and I feel that I’m creating in a more aware and conscious manner than I was before. Even if it’s just a tiny doodle, or arranging objects in the type trays that I hope to use for assemblages some day, or even just looking at books and images that I find interesting and inspiring, or adding one element to a big collage. It’s all part of the process…