A: If I had to select one factor, I would say, profound unhappiness with my professional life. In 1986 I was a 33-year-old Navy Lieutenant working as a computer analyst at the Pentagon. I hated my job, was utterly miserable, and moreover, I was trapped because unlike many jobs, it’s not possible to resign a Naval commission with two weeks notice.
My bachelor’s degree had been in psychology. When I was in my 20s and before I joined the Navy, I had spent two years and my own money training to become a licensed commercial pilot and Boeing-727 Flight Engineer. I had planned to become an airline pilot, but due to bad timing (airlines were not hiring pilots when I was looking for a job), that did not come to pass.
So there I was with absolutely no interest, nor any training in computers, working for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and completely bored. I knew I must have taken a wrong turn somewhere and resolved to make a significant change. Searching around, I discovered a local art school, the Art League School in Alexandria, VA, and began taking drawing classes.
One drawing class lead to more. Within a couple of years, due to being highly motivated to change my life, my technical skills rapidly improved. Even then, I believe, it was obvious to anyone who knew me that I had found my calling. I resigned my active duty Naval commission and have been a fulltime professional artist since October 1989. (Note: For fourteen more years I remained in the Naval Reserve working, mostly at the Pentagon, one weekend a month and two weeks each year, and retired as a Navy Commander in 2003).
Life as a self-employed professional artist is endlessly varied, fulfilling, and interesting. I have never once regretted my decision to pursue art fulltime!
Comments are welcome!
* an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.
What is the point of all the discipline, hard work, and training? What does the training and preparation have to do with rehearsing a play and with performance? The training and the discipline and the sweating and the study and the memorizing are not the end point, but rather the entry. The preparation is what gives one the permission to take up space and make wild, surprising, and untamed choices. In the quest for artistic freedom and agency it is impossible to walk into a rehearsal room uninhibited, unburdened. We are generally chained down by habits and assumptions and by fear of the new. Permission is what we earn by the sweat, training, preparatory work and dedication.
Anne Bogart in What’s the Story: Essays in art, theater, and storytelling
Comments are welcome!
Q: Would you speak about the practical realities – time and expenses – involved in making your pastel-on-sandpaper paintings? What might people be surprised to learn about this aspect of art-making?
A: I have often said that this work is labor-intensive. In a good year I can complete five or six large (38″ x 58″) pastel paintings. In 2013 I am on track to make four, or, on average, one completed painting every three months. I try to spend between thirty-five and forty hours a week in the studio. Of course, I don’t work continuously all day long. I work for awhile, step back, look, make changes and additions, think, make more changes, step back, etc. Still, hundreds of hours go into making each piece in the “Black Paintings” series, if we count only the actual execution. There is also much thinking and preparation – there is no way to measure this – that happen before I ever get to stand before an empty piece of sandpaper and begin.
As far as current expenses, they are upwards of $12,000 per painting. Here is a partial breakdown:
$4500 New York studio, rent and utilities ($1350/month) for three months
$2500 Supplies, including frames (between $1500 – $1700), photographs, pastels (pro-rated), paper
$2000 Foreign travel to find the cultural objects, masks, etc. depicted in my work (approximate, pro-rated)
$3000 Business expenses, such as computer-related expenses, website, marketing, advertising, etc.
This list leaves out many items, most notably compensation for my time, shipping and exhibition expenses, costs of training (i.e. ongoing photography classes), photography equipment, etc. Given my overhead, the paintings are always priced at the bare minimum that will allow me to continue making art.
I wonder: ARE people surprised by these numbers? Anyone who has ever tried it knows that art is a tough road. Long ago I stopped thinking about the cost and began doing whatever is necessary to make the best paintings. The quality of the work and my evolution as an artist are paramount now. This is my life’s work, after all.
Comments are welcome!