In my blog manifesto, I mentioned being a writer and artist in ‘recovery’, ostensibly from my time spent as craft entrepreneur. It was one of the most painful episodes in my life, culminating in depression and crippling anxiety. Like Matt Haig said in his essay on depression and Christmas– “Depression often occurs when it looks like we have reasons to be happy”. It appeared I was doing ‘well’ at something I’d always wanted to do. Except as it turns out, it wasn’t what I wanted. And I was dying inside.
So much about being an artist is painful. You have to be competitive, and have thick skin, you need to know what you’re all about, and have good boundaries. Like the books say you gotta be brave, you gotta be enterprising and perhaps most of all, you’ve got to have confidence. I always knew Art was a con, and they don’t get called con-artists for nothing. ‘Con’ stands for confidence after all.
But what I felt was vulnerable, and exposed. I lacked the courage and conviction that comes with a true sense of purpose. So why freelance designer/maker?
I had reasons:
– a redundancy and few job opportunities made self-employment seem plausible,
– the sense that I’d never know if I never tried,
– an ‘opportunity’ with the rise of the craft trend,
– having something to prove by ‘representing’ my family art heritage.
I felt an enormous pressure to make it work, despite constantly winging it. I have an arts education, but I never trained in design or textile art.
Even in the face of success; arts council funding awards, participating in exhibitions, making art for famous folk, having projects in national magazines, being a professional artist confirmed all of my worst fears about art. That it wasn’t valued. It was exceptionally hard to get paid. Paid in a real way that covers your time and your skills and allows you to eat and pay rent. I felt taken advantage of every time I took on a poorly paid job opportunity for ‘exposure’ or future goodwill down the line. There weren’t enough hours in the day to make the work. I was on less than minimum wage and I was selling myself short.
The more I began to question my unhappiness, the more I began to realise this wasn’t what I actually wanted. The work I attracted was taking me in a direction I didn’t want to go. I was hesitant. I didn’t love what I was doing, and it didn’t love me back. In the end the realisation was liberating. We are ALL allowed to change our minds. Remember just because you can doesn’t mean you should. There was relief in admitting this gig wasn’t for me.
Despite the agonising self-doubt, frustration, resentment, and angst, I am grateful for the experience being a freelance artist gave me. I wish I’d done it when I was younger, braver, less afraid to fail. It’s true, you don’t know if you don’t try, and that was perhaps my best reason to do it after all. To my surprise, I haven’t given up on ‘being an artist’ – I just need to rethink what my version of Art really is.
This stuff is difficult to talk about but I want to share my experiences as a ‘failed artist’. And what I am continuing to learn from the experience. Stuff about depression, identity, re-framing failure, and evaluating my arts education. And perhaps through sharing, gain some insights on myself and what I want to achieve. I hope you’ll come along for the ride, and as ever I look forwards to hearing from you in the comments….