Sunday, June 17, 2012

Changing Art, Changing Times: Part One: Getting at the Root

This post is long overdue.  There is a lot to share, so much so that it will take several blog posts to get it all out or else I'll overwhelm with an intimidatingly long blog post.  So bear with me as I try to be as clear as I can, with what is very difficult but important for me to express.

Sometime last summer I began to feel a shift in how I related to my artwork.  I think this shift started sometime earlier, but as often with deep, internal changes, the effects take longer to reach the surface.  When I realized that something was occurring, I tried to find some quiet time and solitude to read the messages coming to me, but this proved harder than I thought.  Not only was I experiencing a disconnect regarding the direction my art was going, but I also began experiencing strange physical and spiritual symptoms.  It was as though I was being rewired, but I didn't know into what or for what purpose.  Then, just as I was about to tackle this unsettling situation with more focus, my grandmother grew gravely ill.

Antony Galbraith DoAn Art copyright 2012
Root Chakra (detail)
Suddenly I found myself moving from Vermont back to New York state to live with my grandmother and care for her as she entered dying.  The next six months were devoted primarily to her care.  I spent a little time--when I had some free moments--contemplating the internal and external shift I was going through, but I was hardly enough to reach an insight. Despite the challenge of being a care giver, it was a rewarding experience and I am glad I made the move. After my grandmother's passing, I spent some time addressing the physical symptoms I had, but that was only one piece of the issue.  

I now had to get back to understanding the artistic and spiritual crisis that went along with all this. 

Prior to all this, I was  beginning to feel unsatisfied with the way I was creating my art.  I began to feel part of a production line, where work was being churned out one after the other.  The pressure to prove my validity as an artist by continually producing new work began to weigh heavily on me.  

One reason for this heaviness, was that, as an artist, I work slowly, which is unlike how I do most everything else.  Yet, this time, when I slowed down, I found it difficult to listen to that inner, guiding voice that I had grown used to.  I strained and sat and grew uncertain about the art I was making. With either approach, I was working in a way that was not conducive to producing my best work. 

The other reason had to do with my dissatisfaction with consumer culture and its relationship to art.  Without my realizing it, I had shifted my art making into a consumer business, where product was beginning to become more important that any other aspect.  This focus on making something began to strain quality, process, spiritual connection and expression.

I didn't want to just make things, yet, the pressures of being noticed as an artist, to make a living, were leading me down a road I didn't feel comfortable traversing. 

Juglans Nigra (detail)
With today's lack of attention span, I am required to keep producing, post my work and make sure my work stays visible and present in the minds of the public or else my work risks fading from consciousness and become lost in the turbulent and fickle online sea.  Maintaining this pace began to interfere with my ability to connect to my own artwork.  My work rises from a deep inner source and a connection to nature and spirit.  This communication is difficult to keep clear and constant in a society rife with distraction.  During my stay at OAC, I experienced how powerful this connection and communication can be when external distractions are reduced.  Such focus is draining. But when I was surrounded by stillness and didn't have the obligations of regular daily living, I could take time to recover.  Outside of the artist residency environment, maintaining this kind of focus, producing a constant flow of work and finding time to recover, without losing my audience, becomes nearly impossible.  I was forced to ask myself some big and rather difficult questions:
  • How do I sustain a living from art in a consumer market when the art I make is not easily made into a commodity?   (In fact, the very attempt to turn my art into a type of product that must be bought by more and more people, was straining my ability to create the art itself.)
  • How do I utilize my creative talents that honors the spiritual connection, without falling into a kind spiritual materialism, and still support an adequate living?  (In other words, is there a way to create art that serves a wider, more far-reaching good, that doesn't just serve the ego AND make a decent income? Or are these two notions mutually exclusive?)
  • Can I continue to make a living from my art without succumbing to the negative aspects associated with consumerism? 
  • Can I avoid the pitfalls of image piracy and a culture of entitlement that devalues and misunderstands the role art can and should play in a healthy society?
 I will explore these questions and others in the following posts...

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David A. Russell said...

Interesting to read this post. I have asked this question myself. It seems it can become easy to sell out when we need to make a living. Nothing wrong with making a living, but being true to ourselves and our art, that is the question. Looking forward to your continuation of these thoughts!

Antony Galbraith said...

Thanks David for your comment. I suspect that many artists (and non-artists, for that matter) have addressed these or similar questions at some point in their career. I don't believe there is one answer that applies to all people, but I hope in the process of sharing my own struggle, I can help others, at least explore options in their own lives.

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