So, the theme of Day 2 of the Daily Dragons of June is “Fruit.” I didn’t have a particular idea in mind when I chose the theme, but as I was falling asleep last night, I was reminded of this uncanny coincidence that happened in my life last year.
When I was living in Italy, I was painting this:
I wasn’t influenced by anything, it was just an image that kind of came to me. When I got back home, my mother and I were having a conversation, and she was telling me how a few months prior, she was thinking about a friend who was getting married and kept getting deeper and deeper into debt adding on things to her wedding that weren’t really necessary. As my mother was falling asleep, these words came to her mind: “The Serpent wraps around her neck and whispers in her ear, “You deserve more.'”
Now, I didn’t tell her about the painting I was doing. I didn’t send her any pictures (because at the time it was very unfinished), and it wasn’t even on any social media. She didn’t even mention that anecdote to me until months later when I got back home. It was almost disturbing how we were on different sides of the world and essentially thinking the exact same thing at the same time.
I took this to mean that this is something very important. Kind of like how Eve couldn’t be content with the good things she had, she became convinced that she deserved more even if it meant death. At the same time, we seem to lack the ability to be content with what we have in love, we keep driving ourselves to misery just seeking more and more.
That’s what was on my mind morning. Oftentimes, it’s much more than “it would be nice if things were different,” but this idea that we deserve more than what we have now.
Also joining me in this challenge is the artist @art.foliage with this fun picture of a dragon squashing tomatoes! Please click the link to see more of art.foliage’s art on Instagram!
If you’re an artist and would like to do this challenge, here are the prompts below, be sure to put #DailyDragon so that I can find you and maybe feature you on here!
Happy Saturday! It’s been a beautiful morning here, and I hope your weekend is off to a great start as well!
Welcome to a challenge I’m going to call: Daily Dragon! (Just for this month though).
I had so much fun with MerMay, that for the month of June, I’m going to continue with the fantasy art theme: drrrrragons! I used to love drawing them all the time as a teenager. Lately, I’ve been thinking about what they meant on a spiritual level too: a huge monster so much bigger than you, but if you’re brave enough to stand up to it- and defeat it, you get lots of great treasure, but you have to be brave enough to stand up to it first… It’s been very appealing to me lately. .
I’m sure you’ve had a terrible day, or a string of days at work. It wasn’t a single event that caused your stress and grief, not necessarily, but things going wrong just little by little. All the while, you’re getting more and more distressed without even having realized it.
It doesn’t really matter what it was, the report you put on your boss’ desk wasn’t exactly perfect even though you double and triple checked everything… again… maybe you said something stupid to a coworker that you’re sitting there dreading what they think of you, maybe for some reason, instead of having a difficult customer once every day, like you’re used it, it seems to be once per hour. Maybe you’re not sure if the customers are just terrible, but your own stress is more visible to the customers than you like which is putting them at a sense of unease, so they don’t have confidence in you.
Just like how you’ve lost confidence in yourself.
Finally, the moment comes that you’ve been waiting for. You clock out of work to go enjoy your weekend (or whenever your day off happens to be), you’ve finally escaped work. You can just relax an enjoy yourself, maybe even get stuff done that YOU want instead of whoever you’re working for!
Guess again, pal.
Your day off comes along, and maybe you’re just so burnt out that all you can do is sit in front of the computer watching Netflix or playing video games. Then, your day is gone before you know it, and you’re back at work again.
You don’t feel rested, your muscles ache with the weight of the events of the previous week. That day off-or even that entire weekend- might as well have been a hour lunch.
Or maybe you’re one of those crazy people that actually continue to wake up early on the weekends, you have a dream you’re working towards, and you’ve made progress. Your way of relaxing is drawing or painting a picture, you might have done some blogging, some research on how to make passive income, maybe did some chores around the house.
Only, you don’t feel accomplished. You are still carrying that weight from that awful week at work. All those little things you accomplished over the weekend didn’t restore your confidence in yourself as much as you were sure it would.
You might have had nightmares about work.
You found yourself in quiet moments-without realizing it-going through situations that went wrong at work and figure out what you would have done differently to make them better, then you would feel your heart race and get upset.
Then you would get angry. This is my time off! Why has my job treated me so badly that I’m spending my own time worrying about that?
I know it might sound like PTSD, but I wouldn’t go so far as to call it that.
I’m not here to tell you that’s not all that bad, you’ve heard that already. I’m not even here to tell you how to make the most of your weekend. If you need to veg out and essentially reboot yourself after an awful week, that’s great! You deserve it!
I’m here to share with you something that helps me when I’m supposed to be enjoying my time, but the stress from work is getting to be too much.
Now, I don’t just do this, I also keep a daily journal, read philosophy, and exercise, which I’m sure helps significantly.
When you start to feel panicky and remember your terrible time at work, stop. Stop everything you’re doing and look up. You need to remember that you can’t change the past, you can’t look to the future. You are currently living in the present moment. Look up. Look at the environment around you while taking three, slow deep breaths.
Where are you? You’re not at work. Look at a few objects in the place you’re in. If you’re at the desk, look any pictures on the wall, look at the coffee mug in front of you. Look at your sketchbook. Remember. This is not work. This is your space. You can do just about anything you want in this space. No grouchy customers (unless they’re your own if you’re that aforementioned small side business-owner), no boss breathing down your neck, no reports you have to check. Just your space.
If you’re outside, look at the plant life, look at the big sky above you, maybe there’s a dog, or a squirrel near by. Again. This is not work. This is the space you’re in right now. You can’t always control what happens at work. You definitely can’t control and fix all the things that went wrong this week. If you keep worrying about what’s going to happen at work, then you’re just going to be miserable and miss out on the great time you could be having right now.
If your stress is particularly brutal, I recommend doing some journaling. Write down five to seven things that you’re grateful for. I know it sounds dumb, but it’s much easier to focus and fret over what’s going wrong than on the things that are going right in you life. They don’t even have to be big things. Is it sunny out? Be thankful for that! Is no one dying right now? That’s a plus. You’re not starving? There you go.
Did someone just smile back at you as you were you thinking of your list because they thought you were starting to smile at them? Well, that’s a combination of nice with a bit of sweet humor (this actually happened to me, it was really the highlight of my day!).
It is helpful to think of a different list every day, otherwise these things will lose their magic.
Right now, you need a boost. Any boost.
Also, please, do not be alone during this time. Human beings are social animals, and now would be a good time to reconnect with a friend. If you live with your family, or partner, this would also be a good time to do something nice for them (make them a card, offer to do one of their chores, tell them they look great). Showing an act of kindness to someone instantly makes you feel good.
It’s important to remember that even though your job might make you feel like a worthless husk- a cog in a machine- instead of a human being, you matter to someone else.
It doesn’t feel like that right now.
But you do.
Also, if your job is particularly toxic, to the point where you feel this terrible most of the time, look for other jobs. Oh, “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t”? don’t be so sure. Have been looking for other jobs, but no luck? Keep looking!
You also may want to consider volunteering once a week, that will make you feel like you’re making a difference, you’ll be picking up new job skills, and your future employer will really like the fact that you’re volunteering. That’s not always fun either, but the benefits of volunteering outweigh the negatives.
These things don’t necessarily need to be practiced purely on the weekends either, you can also do these exercises when you get home from work, or even on your lunch break (actually, ESPECIALLY on your lunch break, where there’s a pretty good chance that besides eating, all you can think about is going back to work).
Also, I want it to be clear that I’m not saying you should ignore your problems. If you have difficulties at work that you can need to improve on and overcome, you should do everything you can to do so. At work. On the weekends, or time you’re not being paid to deal with work (unless you’re a teacher or some other profession that requires you to do work related things on your time off), that time and place belongs to you.
Stop. Observe Your Surroundings, Remember You’re Not at Work
Take Three Deep Breaths
List 5-7 Small Things You’re Grateful for
Do Something Nice for Someone Else
Change What’s Wrong With Your Situation if You Can (get a different job, learn additional skills, volunteer).
In my research on how to make my own art blog better, I’ve been researching other art blogs. I found the ones that are the easiest to find seem to be groups and collaboratives of artists as opposed to independent individual artists, which is fine.
I did find that many of these groups are involved with social justice activism such as feminism, environmentalism, inclusivity and other social justice values, just as much, if not more so, than their art.
That got me thinking to something I heard from Elizabeth A. Sackler when I lived in Italy. She said “All art is political. Even if it’s not political. It’s still political.”
At the time, this bothered me. Whenever I hear “Political Art,” I hear “Propaganda” somebody using something as wonderful, meaningful, and powerful as art only to be nothing more than to to try to tell people what to think. Not only that, but whenever I heard the word “Political” my mind easily jumps to evil, corrupt, greedy politicians who think they have the right to tell the rest of us what to do. Any art of this nature would be glorifying these scumbags like gods, which they are far from, as much as they like to think they are.
It wasn’t until later that year, when I decided to focus more on what I love about art instead of what frustrated me about how it’s taught in university, that I realized why it bothered me so much. Politics is a lens. It’s only one lens, and a very narrow one usually utilized by bored, rich, power hungry people, I found in my experience.
Art isn’t just looked at through a political lens… there’s philosophical viewpoints, psychoanalytic, scientific, historical (my favorite), and… religious.
Then it hit me.
When you look back at history at any culture, what was the thing that got commissioned, kept, and preserved the most? That’s right. Religious art. The Ancient Egyptian Pyramids of Gaza with their anthropomorphic animal gods, the Parthenon of Greece, the giant Reclining Golden Buddha of Thailand, all of these had significant religious significance.
Yes, we have statues of the great political leaders of the time too, but I don’t believe they inspire as much awe as the religious monuments. Historians spend countless decades and lifetimes analyzing every aspect of meaning, the myths, the legends, the significance these monuments had to the community, whereas we see a statue or painting of a king and say, “Yup, he lived in that time. Definitely had a big ego too.”
Although, you could make a religious argument for the statues of great rulers. Some cultures believed that the king was either a god or representative of God on Earth.
The Nature of Art Itself
Don’t hate me, but art is an inherently useless thing. It doesn’t serve any of our physical needs.
Art alone doesn’t give you warmth, nourishment, or any other physical thing you need to live. Even with cake, as an example, you can make a very artistic looking cake, but the “art” part of it really has no use beyond just looking pretty.
Some cakes are so well decorated, you actually don’t WANT to eat them.
A beautiful, well decorated house with stunning architecture gives you shelter and warmth, but the art part of it doesn’t serve that function, not really. You could live just fine in a plain, mass-produced house.
The sun gives us life, a beautiful sunset doesn’t. Yet we take the former for granted, and the latter we enjoy and appreciate much more. It inspires something in us.
Something that reminds us of how alive we are.
Something that, even just for a moment, fills us with a sense of completeness.
Something akin to a “religious experience.”
Religious art in the Gothic and Renaissance Western world was made with the purpose of evoking a religious experience such as this in the viewer. I very much felt this in every church I stepped into in Italy.
I was literally surrounded with so much beauty- the color, the shapes, the music- it made me appreciate what human beings were capable of- and if we- flawed, greedy, and self-obsessed as we are- were able to create something like THAT… then what were the angels capable of?
Of course, if you got your degree in Art History, like I did, you were constantly told that these were only made for rich people to show off their power.
Who in the nine depths of the Underworld gives a scarlet damn?
“Politics” is Just Code for “Religion”
The reason why you’re not supposed to talk politics and religion is because, to many people, they’re one and the same. They’re both vehicles of meaning and are an important part of peoples’ identity.
When you become a religious devotee, it can be very difficult to not look at the world through a religious perspective. Had a bad day at work, and towards the end, one of your coworkers hands everyone including you chocolate? God must have sent that coworker to give you the chocolate to cheer up and reward you for enduring such a trial-heavy day. It gives your life meaning. A sense of purpose. You may have taken advantage of opportunities that you wouldn’t have otherwise because you believe everything happens for a reason, and God loves you deeply and personally.
So, now I understand why important gallery owners like Elizabeth Sackler, university professors, and other art authorities say something as ridiculous as “All art is political.” They live in a very political world, are most involved with activism and pursuing a better world through their eyes.
Many have gone into great detail of the similarities between social justice and religion. Every time I go to a Call for Artists on a publicly funded arts and culture council, most of what they want art specifically having to do with social justice values such as promoting environmentalism and feminism.
I used to be disgusted by this because everything about it just screamed “Propaganda for the Democrat Party,” but, maybe this is just the current dominant religion which promotes, values, and keeps this type of art.
I believe human beings are religious by nature. We NEED a religion of some kind to give us purpose and meaning, otherwise we’re just lost.
I’ve come to believe that art whether they’re sculptures, paintings, music, or even a momentary act of performance art, is an instrument (sometimes literally, looking at you, you fantastic musicians!) to evoke a sense of meaning in someone, whether it’s a gut reaction, or something that’s meant to leave you in a stupefying state of awe for hours while you’re trying to figure out what it all means. Of course, as long as it’s art I agree with, that is 100% beautiful.
In short: Sure, I think art can be political, but, more deeply, all art is religious by nature.
Thank you everyone for taking the time to read this incredibly long post. If you would like to know what you can do to start becoming an artist today, here’s my post on baby steps through cartooning, and to my fancier friends out there who yearn to be oil painters!
I’m writing this more for myself. It seems like the more I pursue my art career, the more opportunities open up, and the more daunting it becomes. As I’ve said in the past, I’m personally struggling with a very odd Fear of Success (versus the fear of failure. Only instead of not trying because you’re afraid of failing, you don’t want to try because you’re afraid you’ll succeed and can’t handle it). but if you guys think this list is helpful to you too, then that makes me happy! Let’s all go through this journey together!
1. The Internet
Today is probably the best time ever in the history of art to become an artist and make money and recognition in your lifetime! Back in the olden days, you had to be lucky and make friends with a rich person who really really REALLY believed in your work enough to pay you a full salary to sponsor your work. Otherwise, in the less recent time, you had to push to get your art exhibited in galleries (I highly recommend you still go this route for reasons I will explain in a future blog post, but for now, let’s be excited about the internet) where you have to pay a fee for them to show your work and if you are lucky enough to sell any, most of that money will just go back to the gallery. Putting your art in galleries may actually LOSE you more money than you gain.
Now, you can post your art for free, and if you keep at fostering your social media presence, you will eventually gain a following which will put you in contact with people who want to buy your art. Yes, you do have to compete with other artists, but you may forget that this is not a zero-sum gain. Just because one artist gets a commission doesn’t mean you don’t get that commission. You can also make passive income by selling digital prints, eBooks, Patreon, and numerous other places. With the internet, it’s difficult to put all your eggs in one basket, and that’s a good thing!
2. Whatever You Love Doing: There’s a Niche for It
Art is one of the most frustrating things to go into as a profession because what’s “In” in the art world changes so drastically. When I brought my sketchbook to a Portland gallery, the gallery owner noted I did a lot of figure drawings, and those just weren’t “in” right now.
Read my previous point. If you build a following on the internet, it doesn’t matter. Someone will like what you’re doing.
Not only that, but there are infinite numbers of communities for what you’re doing. Even if what you’re doing is purely original, which is unlikely because humans are bad at being original, you will find a niche.
If you like painting waterscapes and fish, fishermen will probably want your art, if your faith is important to you, you automatically have an audience of people in your faith who are probably DYING for the kind of things you create, if you love painting cats and dogs, you have a lot of people out there who love their pets and would be delighted to have you paint a portrait of their beloved Sir Colonel Fluffikins III.
And yes, I know I sound like a broken record when I say “Do What You Love” but I mean it. If you’re working on something because you think that’s what’s “in” right now, you’re not going to care that much about it. When you try to sell it, you’re not going to have that same enthusiasm and conviction that makes people want to buy it (if you don’t care, why should I?), and you’re just going to be frustrated.
So, do what you love. It’s not as hard to find people interested as you might think.
3. You Don’t Even Need to Be Good- At Least, Not Right Away
I believed that before I had any business pursuing a career as an artist, I thought I had to be good. I don’t even know why I thought this, because there are many teenagers out there on the internet who are already making a living making videos of their art and pride themselves on how they’re learning, and simply want to be an amazing artist when they grow up- as they should!
The truth is, a good artist should always be learning. As a general rule of thumb, I found that no artist believes they’re really “good.”
Not only that, but look back at history. The most remembered artists of the 20th century didn’t create the most beautiful, realistic artwork, their expertise lay with creating a strong message behind the artwork, shaking hands with the right people, and marketing.
So, it doesn’t matter if you’re good, as long as you keep at it, love what you’re doing, and do the necessary research along the way, you’ll be fine. You may not get rich, but that’s not the goal, the goal is to be an artist and make enough to get by.
4. There’s Parts of it That Might Suck… Just Like the Job You’re Currently Working Now!
You’re smart enough to know that once someone becomes an artist, there’s a whole lot of challenges to face along the way and after the fact: keeping a business going, deadlines, customer relations, taxes, and there even might be viscous and jealous competing artists. This may be what’s keeping you from pursuing your dream as an artist, that these may be things you don’t want to deal with.
As opposed to be the job you might be working at now, you’re working for someone else, they may be malevolent and send you home every day with this feeling like you’re not worth anything, the work you’re doing is soul-killing and not doing any good for the world, maybe even making it worse, and it may be affecting your attitude, your family may find you unpleasant every time you come home from work, and things will only continue to get worse.
As opposed to working for yourself- you may not make as much money- but you’ll at least have the chance to do something you know is meaningful. You will come to the end of your life not having regretted doing what you really love.
5. Even If You Don’t Make it As an Artist, You Will STILL Pick Up Skills that Job Seekers Like
I do not advocate dropping everything and starving yourself to be an artist. It’s good to have a fallback plan. Take comfort in knowing that not only do you have one, but by following your dream, you will be even more equipped, proficient… and desired, in said fall back plan.
I actually want to write more on this topic, but one of the things that keeps me going, even though I’m still new, is all the skills I’m learning along the way to reaching my dream of being a stay-at-home artist.
I thought of the skills I was learning that jobs seekers wanted: utilizing social media through a business perspective, waking at 5 am to work on my art career before going to my 9-5 job, customer relations, setting and keeping deadlines, sales, photo editing, marketing, website development, etc. Many of these were not skills that I learned how to do in school or at other jobs, but they were skills that I learned while pursuing my own art career.
It’s easy to think that it may not be worth it in the end to become an artist professionally, that you’ll be spending so much time and money on art, no one will want to buy it, and it will all amount to nothing.
Even if you make art that nobody buys, you will learn many other skills and develop habits that will be attractive for future job seekers.
6. You Will Fail… A Lot
The reason why I personally don’t have a fear of failure anymore is because I I know I will fail… many many times.
You will fail to make the masterpiece you want, you will fail to make online sales, you will fail to get the number of followers/subscribers you want, you will enter that Call for Artists, and you will fail to get in. You will fail many many MANY times. And that’s okay. I know, it’s still discouraging when something doesn’t work out, but that’s part of the journey of becoming an artist.
With every failure, you will learn something, the next time you try something, you will approach it a wiser person.
It’s also satisfying to know that you are not a quitter. That the world is out to get you, and knocked you down so many times. Just to spite it, you got back up and kept going. Nothing will keep you down!
You are a warrior! You’re a lion! You’re a Viking!
You’re not afraid.
That tingling feeling in your nerves… that’s excitement. You’re going to go back out there and fight! Everyone will see how impassioned you are, and they will either cheer loudly with you and follow you to victory… or out of fear, they will get out of your way.
7. It Takes Time, but It’s So Worth It. And Fulfilling
Becoming an artist is not something that happens overnight. It takes a lot of time. You’ll find shortcuts along the way, but for now, what you have is a cute little baby snowball.
You keep packing a little snow here and there, and it’ll get bigger. You roll it down a hill, and it will start to spiral and get so big you don’t know what to do with it (which is why I’m writing this blog post right now).
I know that ever since I decided to dedicate a minimum of 30 minutes every day to my art, I go to my day job feeling happier and more fulfilled. I have a sense of purpose and understanding of who I am because of my ambitions and goals that I dedicate a little time every day too. I am more resilient, less anxious, and stronger because of the habits that I spent the last several months accumulating. Because I actively look for things in other peoples’ art that I like- and used my art to build a philosophy of focusing more on creating the world you love instead of tearing down the one you hate- I am much less introverted and enjoy being around people more.
I like the person I am. Especially since I decided that I was no longer going to be afraid to be the artist I want to be.