I recently had a conversation with a dear one in my life about being an artist and how excited I am to be able to travel.
“I feel so lucky!” I exclaimed excitedly after reporting back on a new opportunity.
“Lucky you,” he said [and probably repeated, “Lucky you,” as he often does in a more pensive voice second and third times.]
Standing where I am right now, it may appear that sheer luck has gotten me here. I’m 37 and I live in a rural area where there are very few opportunities to genuinely and publicly practice my work. It may appear that my younger self was much harder working than this self but, gratefully, I now reap the benefits of the younger, more success-driven Rachel. I’m not saying I don’t work: I practice more than I have in years and I am much more intelligent about how I strategise and spend time and money.
We who have stuck with the vision of being an artist for whatever reason - opportunity, stubbornness, debt, desire, joy - are not here due to chance. I had a conversation with another friend recently who proudly told me that if you’re still an artist at 30, you’re an artist for life.* Like any dream, it takes commitment, sacrifice, and delusion.
But something that we are not often told in the narrative of “What It Takes to Be an Artist” at a young age is something I wish I had known a long time ago. I read about it once in a collection of essays called “Women, Creativity, and the Arts.” Hand in hand with commitment is security. Lost in the post-renaissance-romantic-era shuffle, security for the artist has been seen to belong to the realm of a privileged class of institution-supported beings. Here in the US, if you step out as a full-timer, you do so as one of those romantic types. However, in parts of Europe, where I lived for well over a decade, it’s easier to find support that can give you the mental energy to be the secure type.
Why is security so imperative for an artist? I can only speak from my personal experience at this point. I have spent a great deal of my creative energy worrying about my car, buying equipment, getting public liability insurance, whether I can join my friends for dinner, having enough money to apply for residencies, etc etc - the list goes on and on. I also spent a lot of time wondering if the people with whom I spent my time had my best interests at heart personally and emotionally. Instead of investing that energy into love, I invested it into fear. And it’s a basic principle in life that whatever you sow you will reap.
In the last 6 months, I have decided to sow my energy into love and, delightfully, I have found myself creating more than I have in years and seeing very clearly what it is that fills me with unfettered joy. I am unashamed of my love; I am still young at this, so at times I must discern between love and obligation; between obligation and fear. But love is easy to find: you just follow your joy, like Bambi did in his first few steps. You follow your joy and as it grows and grows to exploding point, people can only stop and notice. It’s so beautiful.
I’m excited about the opportunities that are ahead of me this year. I love making enough money so I can undergird my practice; I love that my life is so flexible that I can take up those opportunities and, although I’m not living in a place that has a Great Cloud of [Avant Garde / Improvising] Witnesses in body, I am deeply blessed with long-term collaborators and mentors who hear my voice when I need reflection.
Maybe you’re older than me and feel you’ve missed the mark. Maybe you’re younger and are bent on stardom. Or maybe, like me, you’re mid-career and aren’t sure how to move ahead. In whatever case it is, tune into love. You’ll know what it is. When you find your love, you’ll find it difficult to catch your breath; your heart rate will speed up and, as you give it time and space, you’ll have no choice but to follow it.
But whatever you do, follow it. It will come back to you.
*I later realised the haughty note in his voice appeared because he’s 30 and had assumed I was in my mid-20s.