1. Artist Statement Essay
My claim to being an artist is that I have always been creative with everything that I do, whether it is cooking, decorating my living space, gardening, singing or playing flute, or as it would later come being a graphic designer. I am now a commercial artist, in the Web Design and Interactive Media AS program, but there was a long lead up to this point in my life. My Artist Statement can best be understood in the telling of some of my life journey ~
From my growing up years, my parents instilled into me the value of being able to make a living from whatever it is that I do creatively. So for example, for years I wanted to pursue a career as a professional flutist because I loved it so much. It was my parents who were able to communicate to me the sense of realism that for every professional orchestra there are usually only two flutists, and they tend to hold their positions for an entire life time. This means that making a living as a flutist usually means piecing it together by giving flute lessons, and other small jobs, but the chances of making it into a big orchestra was virtually nil. Also there was the important information that I was at the time an excellent flutist, I was terrible at performing as a single flutist in front of any audience, no matter what size.
Although I loved the two art classes that I had in high school, at 18 I made the decision to go to college as a German Major and Education Minor – be practical and teach and earn a living. This was not a stretch of something I loved, since German was my first language, and my entire mother’s German family lives in Germany. For about 8 years after college graduation, I did not mind having my identity as a Creative Person be in all other parts of my life, just not my job. Student teaching proved disastrous, doing something professionally satisfying with a Women’s Studies Minor was not an option, working in the social work field was much to draining emotionally. But I met a friend in my late 20’s who saw that I was bored and challenged me about this. She created the turning point in my life and gave me two books about finding your ideal profession ~ one was What Color is Your Parachute? And the other was Work With Passion, with the specific purpose of helping me find my professional passion. I only read the latter book and it asked two basic questions: 1) What do you love to do so much that you would get up at 4am to do it? 2) What element of your jobs do you love to do, but may in fact have nothing to do with the job. The answer to #1 was immediately clear to me: I am creative all the time and when I am being creative, I am most content. I am creative at home, when I am not at my boring non creative jobs. The answer to the second question was that during all my social work jobs and one year as a legal secretary, the only thing I loved about those jobs was working at the computer, in the stillness and productivity of the computer. This pointed me towards the profession of Graphic Design, it rang true immediately, it was that simple.
(Ironic was that my high school art teacher from had encouraged me to not be a German major, but to over the summer be my guide to quickly applying to some good art schools. I declined his idea with the question: “What would I do professionally? Either teach art – which was not appealing – or sit in front of a computer all day as a graphic designer? – which was just as unappealing”. )
I knew I had found my career. I knew that being creative on the job was for me being “enough” of an artist, also because I knew you could make a decent living from this. My friend encouraged me to look into getting more education. I could not get a Master’s in Graphic Design without a BA in Art, and when I looked into getting another BA in Art at age 28, the financial aid advisors encouraged me to find another way, simply because I was almost done paying off financial aid loans from B.A. #1. My friend encouraged me to take 4 classes at the Mac Learning Center on Times Square in Manhattan, which included Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, Quark and PowerPoint. The focus was to learn the technical / production side of these software programs, not the “design” side of what they could do. We “graduated” from the 4 classes and with the world’s worst Portfolio ever, the Center connected to us to 10 of the highest end Design Agencies in Manhattan, in 10 of the most humiliating interviews I have ever been on.
I distilled all this information into learning that I could be a low end graphic technical designer for Banks, creating good looking PowerPoint presentations and still earn a nice hourly rate. That was my jumping point into this profession and I never looked back. I applied to all the Design Temp Agencies I could find in Manhattan, and started working as a temp almost constantly full time. As a temp at PricewaterhouseCoopers, my first artistic lucky break was working for the Art Director who saw that I was eager to do something more creative than just color in pie charts. He took his lead designer off a project and let me at it: I remember feeling the pressure to prove myself, but I did prove myself. Not only was the Art Director very pleased, but the client pleased too. I remember feeling exhilarated and unaware of the long hours.
This is how I went through Manhattan the next seven years. PwC then hired me as full time staff. When this started being too boring, I looked for a new challenge and found it as a Art Director for a small marketing company where I was the sole designer for very high end branding and financial design work. My bosses had done national head hunting and were thrilled to find me and my portfolio pieces. Some of those meetings were at the top of the World Trade Centers just before 9/11, or at the top of the FAO Swartz building. I am proud to say that I held my own public-speaking-wise in all these meeting with clients ~ when it comes to design work, I know how to get the client what they need and intuitively know how to talk about design projects. It also helped that I went on tens of interviews in Manhattan either to sign up with Agencies, or for job interviews.
Another professional leg and significant piece of my artist identity, was working for over a decade for a nationwide hardware company in Lancaster PA, in an attempt to live close to biological family. At this job, I continued to work with their print design needs, but also for the first time threw myself into web design. I became their one-woman-marketing-show. I loved being in charge of my world, the new challenge of building a huge website with no formal education, I loved the leadership position, I loved that I was being creative but also getting paid.
At the end of more than a decade being the One-Woman-Marketing-Show at this one company, created another turning point in my life. Soon to turn 45, the job and deteriorated into being a series of small and overpaid nothings, no longer a challenge, and all start-up and/or growing business ideas of the owner were flops. I knew I loved the Bay Area, after having lived here —doing social work & legal secretary jobs over 20 years ago — I knew that in order to rescue my career I had to do another 180 degree turn in my life. Education is never a bad investment, and since I had succeeded in creating a 15 year somewhat lucrative career for myself without a degree, I decided in favor of this commercially-oriented Web Design & Interactive Media 2 year Associates Degree as enough of an educational infusion into my career. I worked the online program for one year before intentionally picking the San Francisco campus to pop up in as a full time student. The SF Bay Area offers a value system that is more in keeping with who I am as an Artist, but also is an economically vibrant city with jobs.
The most important part of my Artist Statement, is the fact that you constantly have to reevaluate your life in order to NOT become stagnant as an artist. It is only now as I write this for the first time in my life making sense to me, that all of me is an artist and being stagnant in any part of it means life not worth living.
Also a huge part of my Artist Statement, I realize in looking back on my life, that this need to express myself creatively in most areas of my life has meant that I have never settled down to any usual conforming ways. For example, I realized that more important than my comfortable, beautiful newly renovated house and gardens (which I renovated), and a job that paid me great money, a work schedule that included 3 hours Friday mornings, was not enough to lure my Artist Soul into complacency. Of course it happened that the job managerial atmosphere became more abusive, and that was the original trigger for me. It’s probably why my biological family completely cannot understand what I am doing with my life, because I had such an amazing house & gardens, more than enough money and great free time. Maybe a person who is not an artist would have never left this setting.
But to me there are too many things about the Bay Area that I value, including potential job opportunities, about finding my Tribe of people who value what I value, including being around and among other Artists, about my whole life as an Artist to not make this 180 degree turn in my life.
Come what may, but at least I will be inwardly alive.