Just do you, don’t worry about anyone else
I would like to dedicate this piece to my friends: Rhoda, Nick and Fr. James. You have been my constant encouragement and support during some of the most difficult struggles that I have been through
For the past 3, years I have been going through a crisis in my artwork due mostly to the abrupt end of my marriage and a lot of ridiculous things which happened around the time of the end. The crisis was so powerful and consuming that it caused me to need to totally change the people who I surrounded myself with and completely re-examine my outlook on life and beliefs. I lost a lot of faith in my abilities as an artist and even stopped doing the work which I have loved to do for the past 21 years out of anger, frustration and sadness which came from the crisis. To make the crisis even more severe, I was forced to move out of the house that I had spent countless hours renovating and had numerous head injuries during that time due to the affects of car crashes caused by other drivers bad habits. There were definitely some dark times which I went through and I let those times deeply effect the art which I do.
Shortly after the x-wife left me, I met a very empowering woman. She was very much a free spirit, not one who was going to let anyone or anything tell her what to do. Her first challenge to me was to stop letting the world and what my parents and others thought of me rule me and to start being the person who I know that I am. Be me. Be the little boy who the teacher had told me about in the library a decade and a half earlier, who I had been searching for ever since. Be the me who loved to draw all day long while in school, before Dad got mad at me for finding that my notebooks had more drawings of battleship war scenes, airplanes and cars in them than anything pertaining to school notes. Be the little boy who loved to build with legos and who would make ramps for my cars to go jumping off. The little boy who was constantly drawing and thought the 64 pack of crayons was God’s gift to creativity. Be the artist God meant me to be.
Being an artist is not easy. I would say it is one of the most daring and challenging things you could ever aspire to be. Teachers, Engineers, Lawyers, most professions all have fairly well documented guidelines as to what is expected of you and what you can define as success. To the analytical mind, the world is a very easy place to navigate, but to the artist, the world is not that easy to navigate. It takes a lot of trust in yourself and what you are doing to be an artist. You must face the fear of rejection of your work and then work past such fear. You must look that fear in the eye and say “I am still going to do this piece, even if I am the only person alive who understands it.” Further, it takes even more trust to show your work to others, all the while wondering if they truly appreciate what you have just created. Imagine the angst the Great Ludwig van Beethoven must have felt the first time the Ninth Symphony was performed, but also imagine the great satisfaction he felt once the final note had been played.
For years, I spent much of my time comparing my own work to the work of others. This was especially true with iconography. I would look at the near flawless faces that my teacher painted and how each one looked almost exactly the same. I would look at how Nick’s faces showed a unique character which clearly said that Nick P painted this icon. I would look at the intimate detail which Cheryl P would put into her work and all the while I would mentally diminish my own work. I would tell myself my work was sloppy, unrefined and too nebulous in style. And yet, in spite of all of the negative things which I had to say about my work, I had a constant stream of customers wanting to either commission work from me or buy mounted prints of my work. It was only as I began to take on a student and teach her how to paint icons that I slowly learned to be content with my work and appreciate the unique qualities of my own icons.
The same is true with my photography. It is especially true with my photography. I struggle mightily with my own worth as a photographer. This is especially true due to the fact that I don’t have some of the studio gear that I would love to have and haven’t had any studio space of my own since I sold my house last year. Numerous times, I have had models stop working with me only to go on to work with other photographers. I would tell myself that I am not Juan, Farzeen, Sohail, Al or any of my other photographer friends and thus that I was inferior. And yet, every time I even hint at the idea of quitting, my inbox fills with comments from people who are all too familiar with my work telling me that I am entirely too talented with the camera to ever give up. Recently I was at an event with a model who I have worked with extensively. Another model who I had never met approached us to say that she was a huge fan of my work with the model accompanying me to the event. Imagine that?! I had no idea that anyone even paid attention to my work, let alone followed the work that I was doing with this particular model.
As a friend who sat down to talk to me about my emergence from the crisis of the past few years said to me the other day “Do you!” Do you, do not worry about what others are doing, or what they think of your work. If they have something constructive to say about your work, listen to it. There is always room for artistic growth. But if their comments are negative and destructive, ignore them. They are most probably reflecting their own insecurities and not anything to actually do with the quality of work which you create. Remember that every time a finger is pointed at you, four fingers are being pointed back at the accuser. Be too focused on your own work to listen to what the nay sayers are going to say.
Being an actual, functioning artist can be brutal work, and not for the faint of heart! You have enough to struggle with in your artistic endeavors to worry about what others have to say about your work. Have faith that what you are producing is worth the time to produce. Even if you do not produce a finished piece this time around, trust that the time and effort put in to your work will lead to finished pieces down the road. Do you! Do your work! No one can do your work but you! Do not compare your work to others because other people are not experiencing the same things which you are! And most of all, enjoy making your work! Sure, there are times when making art is very tedious and often difficult. But it should always bring about some joy and satisfaction when you are done. I often say that the best feeling in the world is to step back from a piece once it is completed and look at it for the first time as a whole. I get to view a new piece of art which I have just spent hours completing and I get to be the first person to see and enjoy it!
Do you! Do your own work and stop worrying about what others think of it.