TURNING 69: AN ARTIST REFLECTS

Today I turned 69, old to some, young to others. It is, nevertheless, a turning point as the 7th decade comes slowly into focus.

I’ve been making art since 1969. That’s almost fifty years, although I wasn’t fully engaged when I was young, and have had to work most of my life at 9-to-5 jobs. I have tried to live, as best I could, a life that found time for a loving, vibrant relationship, travel and intellectual growth. 

For the first thirty-five years or so, I didn’t call myself “an artist.” I was "a teacher of the blind;” “finance coordinator for a union;” “ a health policy analyst;” “a communications director;” etc. Art was what I did after work, at every opportunity I could get. Weekday nights I might draw, if I wasn’t too tired, a couple of hours after dinner. Weekends gave me more time but they were especially problematical because I needed at least one day to rest. That left only one day to find the energy to resume the special mental concentration that makes creative visual work possible. Sometimes it happened, and sometimes it didn’t. The most frustrating scenario was when, after a few hours of frustrating effort, I finally got into the flow but had to quit working shortly afterwards. The next weekend I would begin the process from scratch.

It took me that many years to discover that being an artist is a slow evolution, the instilling of the  process of making art in one’s being, day and night, week, month, year after year. It is an essence, like breathing, not something you do out of choice. You do it because it is your purpose, and nothing else can take its place. It isn’t easy, but that is what makes it worth while. Today, not making art is inconceivable. 

I have a few close friends who respect what I have achieved. They see value in my work, and admire my talent and tenacity. But, for the most part, my career is judged “unsuccessful.” I don’t have gallery that shows my work. I sell infrequently. I am never dined, given awards, reviewed, or offered accolades. Most people aren’t even interested in visiting my studio to see what I am doing. I haven’t been told directly but I think some people believe I have spent my life pursuing a quixotic delusion. Don Quixote is my favorite book!
 
If my work sold, that would change things for some people. Money, what something is worth on the market, is the way everything, including art, is judged. 

But at my age, selling is not my priority. Neither is showing in a gallery. What I have learned is that the joy of being an artist is having the ability to express oneself. Period. Exclamation point! That is true fulfillment, and even if my art winds-up in a landfill (ironically, the ENY housing projects where I grew-up were built on landfill), it has filled my life with such sublime happiness that I must, looking back, thank everyone who encouraged me, and give a shout out to this nation’s Bill of Rights for assuring me the right to say what is on my mind.