I find myself envying a lot of young artists today. With what the internet has become, we are all far more exposed to the kinds of art out there ... the kinds of imagery ... the vastness of ideas. It's easier to sense and believe at a very young age that your strangest concepts and ideas have a place in this world and an audience who will be eager to embrace it. No ... I may not be four hundred years old, but at 31 I'm definitely aware of the fact that I could be farther along with my own artistic evolution if I had not been so afraid of my own instincts early on.
When I attended art school the digital age was only beginning to emerge. So, I avoided the graphic design classes and pridefully insisted that all my work would be done with my own two hands. And though I still hold a fondness for things hand rendered, I now recognize my own arrogance. Couple that with the fact that internet was still dial-up and there wasn't google or the wealth of sites and blogs full of imagery and art that exist now ... and you'll understand why my view of the art world was painfully small.
I felt very isolated in my classes where my professors insisted that I was far too much of an "illustrator" and not enough of a real "artist." I began to believe I was less and that my work did not belong in a real gallery. My need and love for stories was a compulsion, and even though I felt shame every time a professor critiqued my work for being so illustration based I balked at doing what seemed to garner their praise. I'm not an abstract painter. I'm not interested in creating pretentious pretenses for minimal line work. I felt very "pedestrian" and unworthy of the art world.
One professor mercifully gave me the advice "To stop listening to the negative." She was a masterful painter (with work in the Smithsonian) who--despite preferring medium and subject matter in sharp contrast to my own--valued the unique and wanted her students to hone in on their own personal style instead of emulating anyone else. I was grateful for her kind words and encouragement, but I still felt completely aimless. I never finished art school.
I remember the first time I became aware of the Pop Surrealist movement. I chanced upon the work of Mark Ryden & Audrey Kawasaki and almost fell over. These were ILLUSTRATORS but they were also fine artists. Their work told stories and conveyed feelings. I reacted to the personal discovery like a starving child. This led to internet searches (which had vastly improved in the years since leaving school) and the scouring of art magazines. In time, I became aware of a whole world I had never known existed. There were artists like me who loved the graphic image, comic book art, advertising art, book illustration ... anything that illustrated an idea, a point or a story. I felt so relieved to know my work might actually have a place somewhere.
I have the confidence now, but what I'm really confessing here is jealousy. If 21 year old me existed in 2010, she'd go to art school confidently painting her dark and tragic stories. She'd maintain her sketch diary and realize it's value. She'd display her work boldly because she'd know there was an audience for it. She'd commune with other artists who inspired her through the online community and subsequently more in real life. By 30 her own work would have evolved and grown so greatly. Instead, I was a repressed Southern Baptist struggling with pure guilt over being artistic (long story) and desiring an artistic life who also felt apologetic for the kinds of dark matter she wanted to paint. I was lacking confidence and in total denial of my own instincts ... I hadn't even BEGUN to have my identity crisis yet to even know what my choices were. The truth is that I wish I might have realized the world that existed beyond my own front yard and maybe had more of an inkling of what I both could and desired to become.
Nomi Chi is an example of what I envy (http://www.nomi-chi.com/). She's around 21 and brilliant. I first saw her work in a group exhibition here in Los Angeles. Her work is so distinct and unique ... a style all her own. I love the way her work seems drawn by compulsion. There is a fever to the way her pictures tell their stories. She went into art school this year with such a strong existing artistic identity that I can't begin to imagine what her work will be like when she graduates. I'm filled with envy, and yet extremely glad for her. She's going to do big things.
This might sound more negative than I intend it to--it's more a reflection on what was and what is. I'm actually realizing how motivated I'm becoming and recognizing that time is not to be wasted. Now is all that truly exists at this moment anyway. Guess technology is good for the artistic identity.