Failed Artist: A Short Memoir

I didn’t do much today. I am preparing for a job trajectory shift, so I spent my time doing chores, psyching myself up, and getting pumped. Tomorrow I’ll do laundry, do some research, and pick out my clothes. I slept, I ate food, drank coffee, played with the cat, and doted on the boy wonder (boyfriend). Generally, a good day. Then, as I sat and talked art with some buddies, not so much.

I looked back on my extremely expansive portfolio of well over three hundred pieces of work, just wondering how, where, and why it all went so wrong.

I was never able to make enough to support myself with my art, for whatever reason, and a huge slap to my proverbial face with a hypothetical reality-weiner came momentarily.

I had been at an art show in New York a small time before some really heavy things messed up my life, years ago. I arrived, set up my pieces, dressed cute, and waited. Waited. Three or so tumblrinas, who I think I still have added on facebook, dropped in to see my work. I had fans. Some actual, real fans. I cried. I was emotional. They were emotional. It was wonderful. I had never felt so overwhelmingly happy.

It was a huge turning point for me that, yes, I wanted to be a full-time artist and painter. I also wanted to be an art teacher at the college level. I wanted it so badly, and I knew that with enough perseverance, time, patience, energy, and gusto I’d be well on my way to taking the art world by storm.

That is not what happened.

It’s funny to say to me, looking at my social media profiles and fanbase, something like “Man, you’re so popular! Look at all the likes!” They feel like hollow pats on the head for breathing air. When engaged with art, doing it daily as I used to, I’d just pump out the emotional viscera and it’d be easy. As easy as breathing. Currently, my breathing visuals are well received. But, it feels…different. I used to swath popular art blogs, the buzz was palatable, and I got tons of shows. Recently, not so much, but I also stepped back from artwork this year. To work on my career.

And what career was that?

I’m 28. I’m turning 29 this year. Did I forget what I told myself when I was in art college? That I wouldn’t be a ‘failed artist’ and I’d ‘make it’ someday? Writing this I felt so sick to my stomach–it could be low blood sugar potentially warping my emotions like plastic wrap on a boiling bowl–and I’m not sure what I felt even a few moments ago, when I started writing this.

Then I sat. I sat here, read over what I had written so far, and cocked my head to the side.

Teaching. I want to teach. Why did I pop into the graphic art/ui/social media/web/seo world? Ah, I started to remember. Images of tailored suits and fantastic slacks, paired with pizza socks underneath male loafers called to me. The aviators I wanted to wear once I was on top of the world at my own company, or an established marketing/art/ui/seo director were like little lights glistening in my mind’s eye. I also thought for a moment on all the writing I’ve been doing over the past year. And I thought about all the stories I wanted to make. Visual, cohesive stories, that my art style doesn’t lend itself to.

Art. I wanted to create. I wanted to paint with emotions. I wanted to teach.

I sat here, thinking, and in my mind I imagined being in a conference. I imagined giving a presentation, beaming with confidence, showing my creativity and arguing my points. I so love to flex my noodle, use big words, and tear apart people with rhetoric. But this time, I’d be more contained, less of a viper, in this future self that I’m currently idealizing.

I imagined sitting at a desk, or perhaps in a coffee shop, or perhaps in my home office, and writing articles for online news outlets or for our personal (whatever company I’ll eventually end up in) web presence. I imagined sipping coffee, I imagined doodling a painting while I worked.

And what career was that?

I imagined getting a steady income, or even a great income. I imagined leading marketing conferences with that awesome suit, I imagined team building exercises much like the ones I employed when I taught. I imagined guiding new employees on how to work with our brand identities, much like I would teach the kids at Cambridge Rindge & Latin how to use the Adobe Creative Suite. I imagined training new hires. I imagined hiring. I imagined leading.

I imagined teaching.

I also imagined all the words I wrote over this past year parsing into a novel. Or perhaps, getting enough capital and perhaps an investor due to my new position–this future position–to make a movie. Or at least a pilot for a television program. Something I had dreamed about for ages but lost in the annuls of this aspiration to be a full-time artist and art professor.

Art. I wanted to create. I wanted to convey emotions through film and music. I wanted to direct.

I thought about how I’ve been singing recently, honing my skills, editing film in my spare time for fun. I thought about how I’ve been working on UI for mobile app development (my art would be everywhere) and brand-feel for writing (SEO). I thought about how I might use my voice to narrate, how I might make a concept album for fun, or for pleasure, or for profit. I thought about how my work went from visual and feeling with paint to visual and feeling with graphics. And how it coerced itself into visual and feeling with sound, color, dialog, and representative humans.


Funny, that. Am I really so off-point?

Art. I wanted to create, and I am. I am still painting. But this time, I am making concept art for the stories I write. Teaching, I wanted to teach. But this time I want to help govern a business and have those meetings with my pizza socks. I wanted to convey emotions, and I am, but through my voice and my words and through the apps and brands I help build and create.

Maybe this isn’t so different.

And sitting here, thinking about all this, I keep going back to that smart suit and those dapper slacks. I keep sifting back to imagining working on a huge creative production, such as pushing forward a company’s new idea with a huge team of people. Or, at some point, as the dream still beats dearly in my chest and has since I was old enough to know what a movie was, work on some other big creative production helping foster a story. A story. Well. Art is a story.

And what career was that?

I thought back to those tumblrinas and closed my eyes for a moment, savoring that joy they felt. Was that joy any different than a joy a colleague or a business partner might feel when we did something fantastic and helped make something wonderful? Was it any different than being an office rockstar?

In art, you are generally alone.

In marketing or tech, you are not always alone, and often when in a good career trajectory, rarely alone. In film or video, you are rarely alone. In writing, ah, I’ve never been alone there -waves to friends-

So maybe this is not so bad. Maybe I’m not a failed artist.

Maybe I’ve just evolved.

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