I went to Art School in the late 80’s so that I could fine tune my inherent talent and become a successful artist, (insert audience-recorded laughter.) My intention was to graduate, maybe get my MFA if I felt I needed it, move to New York City and rake in the millions selling my work to rich collectors. I would marry a rock star (or at least someone in a band, whether famous or not) and have a studio much like Jean-Michel Basquiat had in the 1996 movie about said artist. That was my intention.
I was 18 when I began my career in the Art Program at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Va., and I had a strong artistic ability. My art teacher in high school had groomed me and I felt confident for the future. I stood out to some of my teachers. I remember when we would have slide lectures my favorite teacher Jim Bumgardner would pick me out of the class and ask if I’d seen a certain artist’s work in person. I felt special to relate to a teacher and artist I admired (who had studied with Hans Hoffman!) His humor was so dry and he knew he was special…he’d instruct one of us young hopefuls: “Go put some change in the parking meter for my Mercedes.” We’d all laugh…and then run out to the meter like little sheep. He kicked ass.
I would spend all my time in the studio….sometimes spending the night there. When all my classes would be over for the day, I would come back to the building at night and knock on the door for the custodian to let me in. I remember having a handwritten note from Javier Tapia, a phenomenal teacher at VCU, giving me permission to paint there at night. I would bring my boombox with mix tapes of 4ad music, a cooler of either TaB, Milwaukee’s Best, or both…and smoke openly while I painted and drank into the wee hours. (Those were the days when you could smoke indoors….so obviously a long time ago.) I remember several times falling asleep on the modeling stands, and being awakened by students coming in to the next morning’s class. I would then pack up and go home to my apartment.
I do not remember ever being this dedicated and passionate about anything else in my entire life. Family members would inquire what I was going to do after college, and I would snooty reply “I didn’t go to Art School to get a specific job….I went to Art School to become a great artist,” a proclamation which followed me into unemployment and dead-end jobs. During college, I worked retail, waited tables, and learned how to sell things. The summer of my 19th year I actually sold encyclopedias door to door. I believe I sold one set to a military family and remember the husband saying “You knocked on the right door; my wife will buy anything.” They cancelled their order a week later.
After I graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts majoring in Painting & Printmaking in 1992, I moved to Atlanta, Ga. and sold framed Art prints (out of the back of my car) to businesses door to door. After that
month stint was over, I went back to waitressing, then worked at Wentworth Gallery, then became an insurance agent in a call center, then worked at a string of jobs I despised and quit over the next 20 years.
I did go back to school and get my Masters in Art just to prove that repeating history is in fact a sign of insanity and which proved I was an exceptional student in Life. I made a lot of very cool local artist-friends that way.
My husband had our unfinished attic turned into a beautiful art studio for me which I rarely use.
My very expensive etching press (which an ex-fiance had made specifically for me and shipped from Canada,) has been untouched for the last 10+ years and is currently for sale on Craigslist. (Anyone need a printing press?)
My retired-English teacher mother continues to ask me “Why don’t you go back to school for a degree in Education so you can get a “real job?” I tell her I don’t want to teach. She has dementia so she asks me that same question every week: “Why don’t you go back to school?” or “Why did I ever let you go to Art School…for Pete’s sake?” One good thing: I have learned how to sell over the years…from encyclopedias to Coca-Cola and car insurance. Every Artist should know how to sell (their work)…or at least minor in Business for sure.
I never made it to NYC, but that’s ok. I live in Fredericksburg, Va. and I love it here. I’m not the successful painter I dreamed of being as a kid, but I’ve been involved in the Art scene here for many years, even serving twice as President of the Fredericksburg Center for the Creative Arts. I may pick up my brushes again someday, but I certainly don’t live in the studio like I did when I was 20. Now, I may stay up all night chalk painting a china cabinet, or writing this here blog of mine. The thing is, I don’t feel like a failure as an artist because I still create, and that’s what is important. ABC: stands for two things in my life; professionally: Always Be Closing (sales) and Always Be Creating (art.)
“If you set your goals ridiculously high and its a failure, you will fail above everyone elses success.”
― James Cameron