Taking Myself Seriously As An Artist ©
Written by Angie Cook, October 22, 2000 (an updated message is at the end) 
Submitted to the Artist Exchange Forum hosted by Philip DeLoach

 A Discovery of Self Concepts 
A while back, the topic of taking oneself seriously as an artist came up. It stuck with me. I started looking at myself through a magnifying glass (scary proposition, LOL). What I discovered is that I have called myself an artist without inwardly taking that title serious. I planned to 'someday' become a 'studio artist' (my term for a full time artist), while thinking part-time was not valid somehow. I discovered that in reality I did not take myself serious because I could not put my whole self into the work. I'm one of those 'whole-selfers'. I also had the strange misconception that if I didn't specialize (center-in on one theme, medium, form, or technique) that I would not be taken seriously by others. Well, that may or may not be true, but I was the main one not taking me seriously. However, I have come to terms with a few long awaited truths. 

Eventful Awakening 
First, let me explain what happened to reveal these truths. I broke my right wrist (and I am right handed). It was a horrible break that crushed the bone into several pieces and required a fixater, which is a contraption with two sets of pins screwed into my bone, coming through the skin, and attached to a bar which held the broken pieces in a fixed position until it healed. I wore 
this unsightly and uncomfortable jewel of science for six weeks, then a cast for two. I am finally typing with both hands now... YES! During this healing process I took a good look at myself... where I am, and where I hope to go. More than anything else, I realized how fragile our dreams are, and how quickly our ability to reach them can be stripped away. 

From the Eyes of Others 
In the emergency room I told the doctor that I was an artist, and that this hand was the source of my art and my means of making a living. He was an extraordinary person, who took me seriously and therefore took great care to fix it right. All through the eight weeks that followed, he dealt with me and his task to make me whole again, as though he had a great responsibility laid at his charge. I took his seriousness of the matter into my heart as well. 
During the frustrating days of not being able to accomplish my normal routine, I read your messages and conversed with all of you 'working artists'... wishing to become more like you.... and to someday 'become' a studio artist myself. 

Finding a Revived Hope 
Then something changed within me. I became determined to NOT let this injury keep me from my work as an artist. There was a pastel painting on my easel that I had abandoned, unfinished. I had taken it for granted that I would finish it 'someday'... not thinking that I may be robbed of that privilege. I sat down at the task, and finished it with my left hand, occasionally using the confined fingers of the right. When that was finished, I started creating a few collages. Then, I painted an acrylic. Next, I did a self portrait mosaic. All total I did eight keepable pieces (there were eleven total, but three didn't work out) during my injury-confinement. By the way, these were all done in the part time remains after working a full time job. 

I had begun to LIVE my profession. Art had always been in me, coming from me, leading me, but I have finally given in to it. Because I have finally taken myself serious, as an artist. Partly because others believed in me as an artist... the doctor; my husband, children, and grandchildren; my students and teacher friends at work; those of you who kept my head up through times of self doubt... but the real awakening moment was at that point when I realized that I had always had the opportunity to BE an artist, yet chose to keep it on hold, UNTIL the risk of losing the option stared me right in the face. 

Found Truths: 
1- One does NOT have to work in their studio full time to be a working artist. It just takes more discipline, energy, and focus to be as productive when there are divisions of time... but it IS possible if the desire is true. Therefore, I do not have to 'wait' for someday... I am a working artist now. 
2- An investment of time, money (for supplies, framing, promotional materials...), and even business sense is essential to moving your work out of the studio and into the hands of others. After all, why do art, if others never see it? It is like talking to yourself... there is no feedback.... no purpose. 
3- If I have a work to do, I had better be about the task or risk the chance of losing the moment for its expression... which can be as fleeting as the physical ability when an accident robs, or the mind set when emotions sweep one into new waters. 

To Walk the Talk 
Taking these truths into my heart, I have begun to LIVE my profession, seriously. I still run around teaching and working multiple jobs (to make a living until my art will supply the financial means of doing so). I still take time to enjoy my family and friends. But I have started a sincere pursuit of both producing and promoting my art. I have been to the photographer to get slides, photos, and transparencies made. Now I can start my portfolio (after all these years), and I will have the materials for 
sending inquiries to the galleries and granting organizations. The 
transparencies will go to the printer for making prints of a few of my best works. When I picked up my art from the photographer, I delivered them at the framer's (swallowing hard when the prices were worked up) but never swayed from my commitment. Then I came home and put the finishes on two sculptures I had done over two years ago. I am finally trying to decide what sort of base 
to put them on. Before, it was enough to see that I could do the sculptures. Now, it is important to present them properly to others. I am no longer a teaching-artist. I am an artist who teaches. Understand that I have been an artist all these years, selling my works, doing commissions, and producing some quality pieces (a few along the way); but the sad truth is that I didn't take myself seriously as being capable of standing alone as an 
Artist. I hid behind teaching for my status of credibility, while unknowingly letting this grow into my excuse of why I shouldn't be an artist first. No more! 

Putting Fear Behind 
I've always believed everything happens for a reason. When I broke my wrist, it seemed like a senseless accident, but now the whole thing makes perfectly good sense. If any of you are caught up in a personal battle of physical, emotional, or even philosophical conflict.... just work through it, as I did and 
you will find the best route for you. For now I know that I've been playing 'at art' while hiding behind many excuses, because stepping out of my safe place and into the public arena scares me to death. It is time to be bold, get visible, and take myself seriously as an artist. Because I am. 

Angie Cook

Update of life and attitude since this was written:
 
I still have much conflict over finding the proper balance between the 'doing of my own art' and my love and passion for teaching (along with 'fighting for the cause' of arts in education), but I no longer doubt that I am an artist. It is so good to 'find' oneself and to KNOW who and what we are! I was recently in a room full of teaching artists in Atlanta at a training workshop provided by Georgia Council for the Arts and Young Audiences (GCA/YA). It was so nice to know I was not alone in the wondering of why I do what I do, and what it is called, and where I fit in with the whole education arena, and most of all: how to balance the time focusing-factor involved with being a working artist while teaching art. The biggest problem is keeping up with the marketing demands. It is like keeping the fire going in three different engines and the train won't go without all three! It leaves one wondering when one will get there, and where is 'there'?! I am still asking myself questions about this life's occupation I am living, but Eric Booth, the very wise intstructor of the workshop mentioned above, quoted a few lines from a poem by Robert Frost that touched  my core of inward questioning. I will leave you with these words from Mr. Frost:

"But yield who will to their separation, 
My object in living is to unite 
My avocation and my vocation 
As my two eyes make one in sight. 
Only where love and need are one, 
And the work is play for mortal stakes, 
Is the deed ever really done 
For Heaven and the future's sakes." 
- Robert Frost 

 

Just click on the gold jewels to see what was 'born' from adversary:

'Hugs'

The pastel finished after my injury, when determination set in and the 'will to do' became larger than my fear.

'Fragments of Self'

The self portrait mosaic (made with egg shells) that reflects the essence of my thoughts during my 'broken era' concerning how fragile our lives and dreams are. It also symbolizes that all the parts must go into place in order to become whole.

Collage as a serious art form (done while healing).

'Reflecting'

A painting of one of my grand daughters, as I also reflected on the child inside me, and pondering on things not seen.

'Ode to Motherhood'

This is the sculpture commission/gift that was a direct result of the events surrounding my injury. It took a year to complete, but is a permanent work that will be installed in the front garden of Fannin Regional Hospital in the spring of 2003. It is my first public sculpture, giving my works entry into another art arena. {One of the blessings of overcoming!} This sculpture was dedicated to the hospital as the birth place of five of my grandchildren (and the place of my restorative surgery); and to Dr. Douglas Neulle for his part in repairing my wrist with such precision that I am able to continue my work as an artist. He is pictured here with myself and hospital CEO Barry Mousa. This sculpture holds more meaning to me that I can possibly share verbally, but it is the voice of my honor for the blessed awe inspiring gift of motherhood, within the continuum of time, a circle than can never be severed.

Words

Sculpture Story