A: In my younger days boredom was a strong motivator. I left the active duty Navy out of boredom. I couldn’t bear not being intellectually challenged (most of my jobs consisted of paper-pushing), not using my flying skills, and not developing my artistic talent. In what must be a first, by spending a lot of time and money training me for jobs I hated, the Navy turned me into a hard-working, devoted, and disciplined artist! Once I left the Navy there was no plan B. It was “full speed ahead” to become an accomplished artist.
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A: That is for each person to decide, but as someone who devotes every waking moment to my work and to becoming a better artist, I cannot imagine my life without art.
I will tell you a little about what art has done for me. In my younger days boredom was a strong motivator. I left the active duty Navy out of boredom. I couldn’t bear not being intellectually challenged (most of my jobs consisted of paper-pushing), not using my flying skills (at 27 I was a licensed commercial pilot and Boeing-727 flight engineer), and not developing my artistic talents. In what surely must be a first, the Navy turned me into a hard-working and disciplined artist. And once I left the Navy there was no plan B. There was no time to waste. It was “full speed ahead.”
Art is a calling. You do not need to be told this if you are among those who are called. It’s all about “the work,” that all-consuming focus of an artist’s life. If a particular activity doesn’t seem likely to make me a better artist, I tend to avoid it. I work hard to nourish and protect my gifts. As artists we invent our own tasks, learn whatever we need in order to progress, and complete projects in our own time. It is life lived at its freest.
My art-making has led me to fascinating places: Mexico, Guatemala, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, France, England, Italy, Bali, Java, Sri Lanka, and more; and to in-depth studies of intriguing subjects: drawing, color, composition, art and art history, the art business, film and film history, photography, mythology, literature, music, jazz and jazz history, and archaeology, particularly that of ancient Mesoamerica (Olmec, Zapotec, Mixtec, Aztec, Maya, etc.). And this rich mixture continually grows! For anyone wanting to spend their time on earth learning and meeting new challenges, there is no better life!
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Q: I just got home from my first painting experience… three hours and I am exhausted! Yet you, Barbara, build up as many as 30 layers of pastel, concentrate on such intricate detail, and work on a single painting for months. How do you do it?
A: The short answer is that I absolutely love making art in my studio and on the best days I barely even notice time going by!
Admittedly, it’s a hard road. Pursuing life as an artist takes a very special and rare sort of person. Talent and having innate gifts are a given, merely the starting point. We must possess a whole cluster of characteristics and be unwavering in displaying them. We are passionate, hard-working, smart, devoted, sensitive, self-starting, creative, hard-headed, resilient, curious, persistent, disciplined, stubborn, inner-directed, tireless, strong, and on and on. Into the mix add these facts. We need to be good business people. Even if we are, we are unlikely to make much money. We are not respected as a profession. People often misunderstand us: at best they ignore us, at worst they insult our work and us, saying we are lazy, crazy, and more.
The odds are stacked against any one individual having the necessary skills and stamina to withstand it all. So many artists give up, deciding it’s too tough and just not worth it, and who can blame them? This is why I believe artists who persevere over a lifetime are true heroes. It’s why I do all I can to help my peers. Ours is an extremely difficult life – it’s impossible to overstate this – and each of us finds our own intrinsic rewards in the work itself. Otherwise there is no reason to stick with it. Art is a calling and for those of us who are called, the work is paramount. We build our lives around the work until all else becomes secondary and falls away. We are in this for the duration.
In my younger days everything I tried in the way of a career eventually became boring. Now with nearly thirty years behind me as a working artist, I can still say, “I am never bored in the studio!” It’s difficult to put into words why this is true, but I know that I would not want to spend my time on this earth doing anything else. How very fortunate that I do not have to do so!
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