I have been making art for as long as I can remember. I remember once when I was very small being taken to the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., and my heart filled, I felt like I was in a holy place, my love for art started then. But school and work and life caught me up in "reality", so I spent an awful lot of my life putting this great love aside, studying architecture and working in that field, raising a family, teaching, and working at "real" jobs. Jobs that would earn me respect and money.
I worked hard at these other professions, but always ended up coming back to the studio, to a pile of watercolors and papers and inks and pens; I found myself needing to play in an art journal to keep feeling that connection to the mystery, to keep true to myself and my vision. Joseph Campbell calls it "following your bliss", and he says it leads to where we are meant to be, in our truest authentic self. The thing was, I always felt like I was being indulgent, or neglectful, or starry-eyed and that it should be the "real" world that I engage in. I don't think I really believed that actually following your bliss could result in success, it just seemed too far away from the mainstream, too impossibly unrealistic.
For the last three years, I had a mighty battle going on in my heart, I love more than anything making beautiful collagey images and playing in my studio, but no one was paying me for doing this. I tried so many other things -- I showed "sellable" work in a few galleries (with minimal sales), I taught art journaling workshops, I took up book design and taught a graphics class, I even applied to work retail, feeling quite desperate to earn a living. Still, I kept coming back to the studio, making layered papers and collage after collage, adding paint, taking photos and adding them to these textured images. I just felt blissful doing this, and guilty at the same time for not "contributing" more to the real world.
Well, a few weeks ago, all this changed. I realized I had quite a pile of interesting work here in my studio, and when a friend mentioned an artist agent was looking for new artists, I applied. Lots of back and forth later, and suddenly, I find myself with an enthusiastic supporter who will be taking 48 of these images to the largest art marketing show in the country, Surtex, in New York City. I now finally know I was not crazy to spend years working on these collages, that someone in the world might even pay me for them. Not that money needs to be our validation, but the fact that if we truly love what we are doing, if we commit to the vision, if this is the only thing that fills our hearts with joy, then of course that is the right path. Money or no money, praise or no praise.
Developing an art style takes years; years where you won't get a paycheck. But imagine if no one in history ever dedicated their time to this. No new creative work could ever bloom. No innovation in the arts could happen, no progress, no evolution. So artists, keep at it, give yourself to your work. Even if no one is praising you or writing you checks, one day, one day, your contribution will deeply enrich the world. And in year heart you will know you have done good work, worthwhile work.