Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Riding the Rant Wave

As I was doing my daily blog browse, I read Wendy's post from last night, which ran along a similar theme to Cari's post from the 27th. The sentiments resonated so strongly with me, I had an almost physical reaction. It's discouraging when people don't get what you do. It's worse when people trivialize your work, particularly when it's an artistic pursuit and it's such an integral part of you.

I left a Ph.D. program in an applied science after 3 years. I'd already completed a Masters degree in a similar discipline prior to starting the PhD. The research was going well, my grades were excellent, and my adviser was a good person. And I was having panic attacks. One day I realized that the depression and anxiety was because I did not want to be doing this any more; in fact, I hated it! I hated the thought of doing that for the rest of my life. I was planning my retirement before I was done with school. I would make art after I had put in my time in academia or in agricultural industry. After all, I hadn't had an art class since 7th grade. What the hell business did I have leaving something semi-secure to pursue art? But I couldn't not pursue art anymore. I can't believe I made it as long as I did without a major part of me withering and dying. It sounds like I'm being dramatic, but I can't think of another way of describing what it's like for an artist not to make art.

So, after having surrounded myself with a bunch of extremely talented scientists for friends, I left the field they loved so much. I fucking ran from that program and I have never regretted for a moment. It was the best thing I've ever done in my life. The only way it would have been better is if I could have left the way the Weasley twins left Hogwarts. [Maybe I should have painted the lab to look like a swamp and rode off on a... tractor?] And then I expected them to get what I was doing. While I think they're all glad that I'm happier (funny, Susan doesn't cry or freak out as much as she used to), sometimes I think they sort of pat me on the head. I seriously doubt any of them think I'll make a career of art. Every single one of them said, "You know, it's really hard to make a living as an artist." As if any of them have any idea beyond the popular stereotype of the starving artist. But they pay lip service to my passions, and sometimes even tell me I'm good.

There's nothing cute, fun or neat about your creative work. Sure, maybe the final product *may* be able to be described with some of those words- unimaginative though they may be- but the process is so much more vital than that to the creator. When I paint, it's like the world stands still. I disappear into what I'm doing. I don't know that I'm ever that fully engaged in anything else I do in my life. Even rejection is ok when the product has been taken seriously. It's part of working in a subjective field. But when it's simply dismissed, it's heartbreaking and enraging.

I don't want to alienate non-artists. I know what it's like to be in amongst a group of people (in my case, scientists) who are passionate about what they do and not be able to understand what they're feeling. And not know what to say when they express uncertainty. I don't want to heap any of the platitudes on them that I find well-intentioned but ineffective. What would I want to hear when I'm feeling insecure about my work? Perhaps it's best just to listen. Perhaps an expression of faith in my talent would be good. Or even better, and expression of faith in my love for my work would be best, because that's what gets me, and every other artist I know, past crises of confidence. It's also a tacit confirmation of the worth of what I do.

Oddly enough, my knitting hasn't been trivialized; if anything, it's perceived as me taking those crazy delusions of being a working artist and doing something practical instead. Knitted things can be used, worn, given as gifts, and someone might actually buy them, as long as I don't charge much more than the cost of materials. But that should probably be another rant all together.

Of course, I'm writing this between proof reading sections of an application for ANOTHER science job. It's probably a good thing, because my pulse keeps racing each time I get really into what I'm writing here. My husband and I want to move back to the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, and there's a job that I'm qualified for, which may speed the process along. It sucks to spend 40 hours a week doing something I'm trying to leave, especially when I have SO many more engaging things I'd like to do.

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