I've been out of graduate school for almost five years now, and have thought a lot about what "success" should look like for me. I'm pretty sure I'm not going to be pounding the pavement looking for gallery representation in New York or LA, although I intend to pursue some options locally. I'm guessing I won't be on the "short list" for the handlers of the rich and famous, although I hope to develop some loyal and interested customers over time who appreciate the richness and quirkiness of my work. I'm relatively confident that I will not be appearing on Oprah as The Next Big Thing, but I would enjoy doing the local public radio art broadcast, and maybe following that up with my own BlogTalkRadio episodes. But I also know that none of this is set in stone.
So, basically, I've been thinking mostly in line with being a medium-sized fish in the pond, kind of to myself over here under my lillypad of choice, swimming quietly in the cool water and popping up to the surface every now and again, just to see what's going on, and keeping an open mind for anything else that might appear. Making and showing art is the baseline for me, the non-negotiable point. What happens after that is pretty much gravy.
I recently did a visualization exercise where I was asked to Dream Big. "Think of your life in 10 years," said the leader. "Go beyond the most ideal thing you've ever dreamed about. What does this life look like? Where are you? What are you doing?"
That's when I saw it. Or rather, me. Standing in the sunshine at an easel, with a paintbrush in my hand, on a broad tiled patio in front of a huge beautiful Italian- or Mexican-style home. I was looking out at the sea, and smiling at the sunlight dancing on the water. The brush moved across the work on the easel in short sharp strokes, flecking rich blue sweeps of wax with pricks of white-gold oil, approximating the effect of the sun on the sea. The wax was slightly soft from the heat of the sun, and I used the handle of my brush to dimple it in places, then highlighted the dimples with color.
I knew that this was my home. But more than that, that it was a special place for artists to come and work and study and be mentored. The word "atellier" whispered through my head.
I have often talked about the need for artist residency programs that don't suck money out of artist's pockets, programs that are not designed for well-to-do dilletantes but instead for creative, serious people who are beyond their student days but not yet successful or known or celebrated. I've also thought a lot about how artists continue to need mentoring and feedback throughout their careers, and how difficult it is to re-create the supportive community feeling of graduate school once one is out in the world and trying to get by, possibly in a field of endeavor that is not art but that pays. This is the place they can come to and immerse themselves in art for a week or two weeks or even a month; to study and learn and work and discuss. And it's not $3000 or $5000 or $7000; it's the same cost as a decent vacation, and scholarships are readily available. It's something someone who works in an office and teaches yoga on the side can afford.
The other part of the visualization is what I knew--that my work was popular and well-received and sought-after, that I made enough money from the art to pay for the beautiful big house overlooking the sea and that my connections and friends and supporters keep the atellier reasonable in price and the scholarships available.
So that's the big dream. It's hard to write down and is going to be even harder to publish. I'm not sure why; maybe I'm afraid to want it to turn out that way, maybe I'm assuming disappointment before it occurs. (That's a long-standing problem of mine that I'm trying to work my way out of.) But here it is, my big dream. And sharing it with you all somehow makes it that much more real.