I Cried Today

Wausau Art Festival, 2012

I cried today. Twice.

Let me explain.

When I woke up this morning I saw my partner had posted a long forgotten interview he found stuffed in a virtual folder somewhere is cyberspace. He posted the article and picture of me on my business’ Facebook and Google Plus pages – straight hair and all.

I found myself reflecting on how overwhelmingly significant the moment was for me as a woman, as a mother and as a painter. The tears startled me as they burst out.

That was the first set of tears.

It had nothing to do with the straight hair.

I cried as I though of how significant this moment was for me as a creative child making my way through an often indifferent Universe. That moment in time, captured on such a temporary medium, was a reminder of what the Universe expected – demanded – of me: Be a woman. Be a mother. Be a painter.

They were tears of gratitude at the moment.

In truth, the Universe doesn’t care about much. It only cares about the path it wants for itself and for us. We either conform or it beats us about like a tiny pea pod in a summer storm. All the while it is pelting us with regrets, lost moments and overlooked opportunities.

“Learn the lesson! Learn the lesson! Learn the lesson! Oh, and don’t make that mistake again,” being the Universal mantra. The ability for life’s bountiful harvest to come to fruition depends on our own ability to learn and live forward and not backwards.

The photo was taken in 2007 at the ArtStreet event by Green Bay Press-Gazette writer and photographer Warren Gerds and was attached to a wonderful article. The picture shows Tina Quigley, the Executive Director of Arts Events Inc, presenting the “Best of Show” award to me.

My wonderfully supportive, and beautiful niece, Betsy Bemmer enthusiastically jumps alongside and shares in my surprise and joy.

That summer had been difficult.

I had two very young twin boys at home, it was my second year on the show circuit and the weather had been wet all season. Two weeks prior to ArtStreet I was working the Festival of Arts in Oconomowoc, WI and they allowed the artists to evacuate early due to heavy rains and flooding.

As any art carnie will tell you – that never happens. Needless to say I didn’t make any sales at that show.

Me at the Bike Art Gallery.

At home there was no sincere support for me as an artist and except for a few diehard cheerleaders I was very much emotionally and spiritually alone.I was feeling knocked down and defeated. Really, I had gone to this show just wanting to get it over with and just go home.

I was finished.

When it happened, I was as surprised as anyone.

Tina showed up in my booth with an award. A Best of Show award!

Yes, the look on my face in that picture is surprise, joy and relief.  It was the validation that I so desperately needed at that time.  That award meant more to me than the $500 prize that came with it.  It was encouragement and validation for what I had put all my passion into. Someone else recognized that my work stood out and had value. I wasn’t a hobbyist or a failure or living a pipe dream.

Germany, 1990.

The Universe knew what I needed and gave it to me. I’m grateful. Thinking of it makes me tear up again.

It was a reminder of where I have been and where I am going to.  A reminder of how blessed my life has been because I am willing to make sacrifices to do what I love and to follow my Vision.

It was a reminder of how important it is to have a partner in your life that believes in you and supports you. As I was telling my partner all this, I cried again. He patiently, quietly waited for me to explain through haltingly happy breaths.

Now that hair made me cry.

So the day ended the same way it started – with tears.

Tears of joy, happiness and strength that the Universe has allowed – encouraged, forced – me to embrace my Vision and gave me a partner to remind me that what I need and wants matters.

Like the article, my partner helped me find the truth again. Be a woman. Be a mother. Be a painter.

I had forgotten that too.

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Thank you but I have a job

Let’s clear up a few details so there is no confusion: I have a job.

More specifically I have a business. Technically, I’ve had a business for nearly a decade. Of course, because my business involves creating art people assume it is simply a hobby.

Watch me.

Which brings me here.

I’m angry about being judged and am tired of defending my life to well-meaning loving people, well-meaning ignorant people and a few not so well-meaning haters.

In talking to people about this I’ve discovered something interesting – people have no idea what I – or most successful artists – actually do. So in as few words as possible, let me tell you about my business.

I am an award-winning, fine artist creating original oil paintings, custom murals, private commissions and fine art prints with Americana and vintage themes. I travel across the country profitably selling my art at juried art shows where it has been recognized and rewarded by knowledgable experts.

I hang my artwork at well established professional galleries. I teach painting classes, art camps and mentor other painters.

I have an audience that will buy my art because it is original, authentic and well-done. I am talented.

And for the first time in my life I am fully committed to my Vision.

I’ve decided to write about this because my partner and friend pointed out that I sound like I’m apologizing when I talk about my business. That when confronted with the “When are you going to get a job?” comment there is a hint of embarrassment and shame in my response.

And he is right. I’ve been trained.

In talking to other friends that have a business that revolves around creating something called “art” and reading blogs and essays I’ve discovered I’m not alone.

Here is the irony.

If I spend my day selling cars at a dealership most people would say, “Chrissy? She has a job selling cars.” If I spend my day cleaning houses they might say, “She is a housecleaner.”  If I left my studio, drove to a customer’s house and painted the siding I would have a job as a housepainter. If I spent my day at home coding medical records people would consider that a job.

Apparently, if I was employed at Menard’s making minimum wage that is a job too.

But because I work fifty to sixty hours per week on my business creating something at home called “art” it isn’t considered a job.

The truth is there is an established, recognized market for my paintings. It is simply a question of finding the right mix and taking the actions to support my business. I manage my accounting, pay taxes, market and promote my artwork, network with other art professionals, enter into juried art shows, enter into competitions, work with professional well established art galleries and give art lessons.

2012 Stevens Point Festival of Arts where I was given an "Award of Excellence" for my body of work.

I find the double standard confusing at times.

How this plays out for people is different for different people.

Let me give you a couple examples of how this actually plays out in my life.

Among other failings, my ex-dear husband is a failure as a business owner. For nearly, three years he has forced me and my children into difficult financial situations, ran up my credit cards, ruined my excellent credit rating and avoided any real work.

Oh, and he is also a painter except his “canvas” is the inside and outside of houses. He is a housepainter.

Last week, during court, the judge suggested I get a “real job.” Apparently, the judge did not consider being a mother and raising our children a real job. I painted when time allowed, ran art camps and traveled 8 to 9 weekends per year for my business.

However, the judge never confronted my ex about his unwillingness and inability to support his family with his job. He never suggested, “Sir, perhaps you need to get a real job because it is obvious what you are doing is not working.” The judge never called him out even though as the family’s breadwinner he wasn’t winning or bringing home the bread.

My ex’s lawyer mocked my profession.

As I sat in the witness stand she said, “being an artist was nothing but a pipe dream,” and that I “would never be successful”.  She then compared what I do to selling “pink fuzzy bunnies“.

Of course, it was pointed out to me by my partner that there are some incredibly successful companies that made a business out of selling fuzzy animals including Amazon, Webkinz and Vermont Bear Company.

I have nearly 320 hours in this painting and worked on it over a year.

However, more to the point, this isn’t the first slap in the face I received as business owner and painter.

Really the insults began while my boys were just starting school. I can’t count how many times I have been asked to come and volunteer my time or my donate my art to a fundraiser.

Just because I work from home in my studio. Would they ask another parent to come in as often if they worked under someone else’s roof? Would they ask a dealership to simply donate a car?

My business is no different than pedaling cars, insurance, bicycles or dish washers. The only real difference is that I am making it myself instead of in some plant in China or bank on Wall St.

Some people collect cars, tools, electronics, music, stuffed pink bunnies or Star Wars action figures.

Other people collect art.

What I’ve discovered is that people want and do collect my art.

To all the well-meaning people that love me, if you really want to be helpful, think about how you can make my business more successful through referrals to art collectors, interior decorators and gallery owners. When a friend is talking about painting a room, doing a mural or having a portrait completed give them my name and email me an introduction.

For the well-meaning but ignorant people stop by my studio or visit me at an art show and learn more about what I do. I love talking about my business and my Vision.

For the haters? Well, haters are gonna hate. I’ll ignore them and just focus on living well.

An artist’s vision (or why I’m not crazy)

In the past year my life has been turned upside down.

There have been many changes such as the loss of my mother and of my marriage.  Through all the pain, painting and creating art helps keep me grounded and focused on what is important in life.

It wasn’t until this year a very dear friend of mine said to me “you have a Vision for your art.”  I thought at the time it was a nice compliment.  Then we started talking about my vision and he asked me “Do you know what your Vision is or how to describe it?”  Then I realized that I wasn’t exactly sure what he meant. I wondered if he was asking if I had hallucinations or if maybe he thought I was talking to aliens while wearing my tin foil hat.

What does he mean?!,” I found myself asking.

This conversation made me realize that the general public may not understand what an artist’s vision “looks like”.  We talked more about my Vision and after gaining some understanding I was able to see and describe Him better. It turns out my Vision has always been with me, I just didn’t know it had a name…and apparently my Vision is male.

Here is a good description of an artistic vision:

Vision is the art of seeing the invisible. It is the ability to see something that only you can see, something that others do not see because this something does not have a physical reality. It is something you see in your minds eye, something that exists in your imagination, something that is within yourself.

When I create an original oil painting or mural my vision is made real.