I sold a painting yesterday. It wasn’t my first sale of the year, but somehow has more significance than the other work I’ve sold in quite some time. It was the first painting I’ve sold as a full time artist. I left Minnesota on the last day of February to little fanfare, and without really saying goodbye to anybody but my closest friends and family. Unlike my many trips last year, this time I don’t have a return date in mind. I don’t have a home anywhere at the moment, and I don’t have any concrete plans beyond the next few weeks.
For years I’ve been somewhat amused by my own frustration every time someone asks if I’m a ‘full time’ artist, if painting is my ‘job’, or what else I do for money. For those who don’t know, I spent nine years working as a courier for Comcast, an even longer time selling art supplies and framing art, and even a few years working at night as a Jimmy John’s delivery driver to pay rent because I wasn’t selling any art.
The overwhelming message I received during my travels last year was to have faith in my own abilities and to maintain my conviction that good things happen as long as I never stop painting. This year I decided to stop being governed by cynicism and self-doubt and instead follow the advice of others.
I’ve made a few observations in the last month, during which I’ve painted in Montana, Idaho, and Utah.
First, having almost no income makes traveling much less fun. I can’t enjoy spending money when I’m not making it, and that creates a curious dichotomy: I feel wealthy in all possible ways while camped in the wild, living cheaply, and painting every day. City life, on the other hand, reminds me that I live in poverty. I see all the comforts that others enjoy that I’m no longer entitled to: Brunch, beer, even minutiae such as paying for parking have a newfound sting.
Second, artistic rejection doesn’t get any easier. In fact, it hurts more having just distanced myself from a home, a stable income, friends, and family. I had hoped that - following a real breakout year as a painter - I would find the opportunity to participate in some of the more well known events throughout the country. But, painting is sometimes a cruel mistress, and I have yet to be accepted to any juried events in 2018. It seems like every time I find a source of encouragement, something else fills me with doubt.
Rejection from so many juried or invitational events left me pondering why it still hurts so much, despite 12 years of solid experience in the realm of artistic disappointment. I don’t seek fame or fortune through art, just the freedom to live a very modest life while doing what I do best. I think that particular flavor of rejection is exceptionally painful because it throws salt in a wound that has lingered for years - a feeling of artistic loneliness or isolation.
When I began to paint outdoors, I tried to connect with others in the Minnesota community but despite having the chance to paint with a group on a few occasions, I never felt wanted amongst those who I thought could be artistic peers. Tenuously welcome, perhaps, but not particularily desired company. Today, as a much more proficient painter than I was a few years ago, I’m driven to connect with a community of artists who are far more skilled than I - but at times I still feel unwanted and often ignored. Although my improvement as a painter has been noticed by so many people in this world, I often feel muted within the very community I crave to be part of - by both learning from and giving back to. Outdoor painting has given me both purpose and endless adventure, but there’s one thing it hasn’t provided: friendship and camaradarie with fellow artists.
If painting is a voice, I still feel as though I don’t speak loudly or clearly enough. I crave the opportunity to work and show alongside others whom I respect and wish to learn from. Although I wish this year could be more collaborative, fate has shown me that I have not yet earned that. The path to get there is anything but straightforward. Some of the most heartbreaking advice I ever received came from an artist I painted with during my first plein air festival in Minnesota. He told me that if I wanted to have a career painting the outdoors, the best advice he could give me - after 30+ years of experience painting in the Midwest - was to leave.
Regardless of how I get there, I know one thing with certainty: As a painter, I'm not good enough - yet.
I’m reminded of one of the greatest recurring themes in my life, which exists allegorically in the development of every single one of my paintings and extends to govern the ebb and flow of all physical, creative, and romantic energy in my life: things often need to get much worse before they begin to get better.