Yearend perspective

"Nuclear Family," exhibited at the Schweinfurth Art Center in the summer of 2016.

"Nuclear Family," exhibited at the Schweinfurth Art Center in the summer of 2016.

Forget the super moon. The big thing now looming large on the horizon is the end of 2016, a year that will, for a host of reasons, be remembered, analyzed, and discussed ad nauseam for years to come. 

From a more personal perspective, this year has been one of significant change: leaving a job I loved (not entirely by choice), working independently in a new field, and learning a bit more about the kind of work that I like doing.

Here are a few things I've learned with year:

  • At the very top of the list: Be careful what you wish for. I've long said that I'd love to try working as a full-time artist. This year I've had the great good fortune to have been given just that opportunity, but it's sort of like the universe called my bluff.
  • Working alone, even for an introvert, can get lonely. It's really important to build social and professional connections and to interact with people. I miss the daily collegial conversations that naturally come as part of a corporate job. I know that this is something that I need to attend to in the coming year. 
  • I miss the leading, teaching, and helping aspects of my former career. I expect that most any artist would say that there's a delicate balance between working studio time, quiet thinking time,  and other pursuits. I'm looking for ways to scratch the itch for teaching and leading, but still guard that precious studio time. 
  • I'm still trying to figure it out what it means to be a “working artist.” In western culture in particular, work equates to a JOB (i.e., nothing that could ever be misconstrued as a hobby), progressive responsibility, earned income, financial independence, etc. Very few artists produce artwork that fits this description. Fame and fortune are not the objectives, and if they come at all, it's only after years of hard work—or after you're dead. This year I've been fortunate to have had my income supplemented by severance pay from my last job. That being said, I also sold enough work to be in the black for the year, but you can hardly call my net earning a living wage. I have artist friends who make money by teaching, publishing books, and doing TV appearances. Although I'm interested in teaching, I don't see myself becoming a traveling teacher or doing super-sized craft shows all over the country. Now I've got to figure out where that leaves me. I also know that, lofty as it might sound, one of my top priorities has to be growing as an artist and producing the best work of which I'm capable. Again, I have the great good fortune that Dan and I have arranged our finances in a way that allows me to continue on this journey next year. 
  • Finally, although it should be obvious, I've had to remind myself more times than I can count that changing careers is starting over—going back to the bottom and working your way up again. You don't get to step out of a mid-career, peak earning job into a similar situation in a completely different field with a different pay structure and expect all things to remain the same. Again, obvious. Knew it before I started. Still need to remind myself not to compare apples and oranges. 

Now, I have to say that writing those five bullet points has put me in a bit of funk. What am I doing? Is this all a mistake? But I know that this just another aspect of being your own boss. I don't have a boss to give me a good yearend review, and no teammates to offer positive feedback. Depending on your personality, when you work alone, it can be easy to lose sight of your accomplishments when you're focused on big questions and the future. So, for the record, I am proud of what I've accomplished this year--more sales, more commissions, more inventory, and more artwork being exhibited out in the world. I aimed high and applied for some very selective art competitions and craft shows, but didn't get accepted to most. Hey, aim high, fall far, get up and try again. To be honest, not getting into a huge, 4-day, very expensive craft show is not the worst thing that could happen!

So, here's my closing thought: 2016 has been a real adventure, full of learning and growth, and I can't recall ever uttering the words, “I'm bored.” I'm looking forward to more of the same in 2017.  And to all of you who congratulated me on my “early retirement,” please know that I appreciate the good wishes, but I'll be continuing in my not-so-secret identity as the Owner and Principal Artist at russlittlefiberartist, LLC for the foreseeable future. I'll figure out the retirement thing when I get there.