In my last post I talked a lot about preferring not to be social and how difficult this can be to put into practice in a world that considers an always available glad hand, winning smile and assertive speech to be hallmarks of a successful and well-adjusted human being. Thanks to the apt and timely recommendation of my good friend Patti of Missouri Bend Studios, I have just spent the past few days in the company of the excellent book by Susan Cain called "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking” and now feel a lot better about myself, not to mention that, when it comes to needing to be alone, I am far from alone.
This book comes into my hands and my life, as so many do, just when I needed its beautiful balance of hard logic and gentle good cheer most, and just when I had not only the time, but the right time to spend time with it. Lately, as the weeks of my being unemployed, yet also reluctant to begin any creative projects that might be abruptly terminated by my becoming employed, have accumulated, I’ve been living a sort of half life, prepared for some routine-changing development to arrive, and meantime unable to fill my hours with anything else that requires my full passion and attention. They do say that everything happens for a reason, and my being unoccupied has certainly been worthwhile in that it gave me the free hands and mind to help Brian with some of the amazing opportunities that have lately come into his artistic life. If you haven’t been following the progress of the mural he’s working on, check out his facebookpage.
Thrift Patience and Focus
My empty hours have also compelled me to put to the test once again the character of my commitment to the life of an artist, and answer the tough questions of what sort of artist and what sort of life exactly, questions you never have time or need to ask when you are actually actively living the life of an artist. I’ve found that I have done a lot of work in the past two years to get the business side of my creativity established to the point that it no longer demands constant management. I’ve also found that having made many errors of judgment regarding making things for the sole purpose of selling them, I am now content to create only what I feel like creating, and selling only what I am pretty certain somebody out there wants to buy, either because these items have sold well before, or because they have been expressly requested. My days of large boxes of unsold inventory are over. The past was about enthusiastic indiscriminate abundance, playing guessing games to please the buying public, and full disclosure of every aspect of my process and product online. The future is unclear, but as things for me seem to move in cycles of outward and inward focus, times of activity and times of quiet retreat, I already sense that I am on the verge of a period of thrift, patience and focus, and being my own one and only target audience when it comes to my creative output.
Not Beyond Reapir
Meantime, in need of pocket change, I happened to visit a very cool camera store recently in an attempt to sell one of my old zoom lenses that I never use. Apparently Pentax equipment is not very popular in this area, and the proprietor declined, but while I had his ear, I inquired whether he could repair my old Pentax K1000, which other less approachable guys at other stores in other cities have firmly declined to attempt, claiming opening him up would do more harm than good. This kind gentleman was happy, even eager, to oblige, and because of his good work, I now have as a working addition to my equipment a camera that I bought 27 years ago, took some of my best photographs with, (including the one that began this blog two years ago,) and retired 6 years ago when the film rewind contraption started to grind to a halt and shred any film in its grasp. I’m looking forward to feeling this good old weight again, and how it rests on my face and becomes part of my seeing. I’m not sure how this ties in with the future direction of my photography, but it feels both good and right to have my old friend back.
Lately I’ve come to terms with the reality that even in a good economy, photography doesn’t sell well, and that unless you are one of the top ten most famous photographers at work today, you must spend your every waking moment hustling to make a living from it, and hustling only a little less even to count on enough supplementary income to offset the costs of getting the work out there. Even then it’s a matter of quantity, never one big piece or commission. If you are not the type to get behind a meaningful project that borders on journalistic reporting, or the glossy presentations of commercial photography, there is no money out there to be had for you. My photography and I used to have a wonderful relationship, thrilling as a clandestine affair, requiring no input or feedback from the world outside. I shot film when I felt like it, when I was moved by certain circumstances. I was not ever in a position where I had to feel bad that I knew about as much about the inner workings of my own camera as I did about the Hubble telescope, because I made no claims to be a professional photographer. I left a cannister with the guy at the camera store, hoping to dodge any technical speak he might try to engage me in, and a few days later I received back an envelope with images that looked a lot like what I saw through the lens. Opening the envelope felt like Christmas morning. It felt like magic when a shot turned out, because I honestly had no idea how it happened. When I shared my photos, I modestly waved off anyone who kindly but misguidedly suggested “you are so good! You really should do something with these!”
Slow Meditative Rhythms
Similarily, in 25 years of crocheting for pleasure, I never sold a single item. I gave them to friends and family. Crochetting was an act of solitary enjoyment followed by a gesture of generosity. It had nothing to do with marketing, promotion, cost analyses or inventory control. I did not have to join groups or spin my own yarn to feel legitimate. I never documented what I produced. In all this free time lately, I have also started crocheting again. I have enough old stock to get me through whatever fall markets I choose to attend this season, but last week I bought some alpaca fiber and started a new scarf, not really caring whether it would look good in my Etsy shop or hanging in a tent, whether I could make a profit on the materials and labor, I just missed passing the hours with the slow meditative rhythms of the crochet hook my only guide. It started to feel like not such a bad thing if I hang up the hat of the artist and go back to being someone who simply lists crocheting and photography and writing among their spare time activities, along with crossword puzzles, long walks and reading. I can still be proud of and good at what I do, even if I do it entirely outside of the community of people doing the same things.
Two Years Ago Today
The conclusion is that so far there is no conclusion. I have been enjoying shooting without a specific project or targeted event goal in mind, and I am enjoying crocheting again with no real agenda. I sketch out timelines and strategies for production for possible future events – perhaps I should fill a tent with photographs of rural scenes and farm animals along with my fiber accessories to grab people’s attention where urban scenes, shadows and cracks have earned admiration but not inspired the opening of wallets? But this feels counter productive, like going back into something that I am already on my way out of, and that I do best to look ahead even if there is nothing yet there. Unfortunately, part of this turning away involves suspending this blog, established exactly two years ago today to support and document something that seems now to have run its course, and no longer able to pretend otherwise. Thank you everyone who has followed me these past two years. I may be missing from the blogosphere but I can still be reached by other means. Wishing you all the best in your endeavors. If you need me, I’ll be in the quiet hours, catching up on my reading.