As I mentioned last week, I spent this weekend at a local craft fair, one held at a fantastic space in my town- it’s a former middle school, its high-ceilinged, large-windowed classrooms turned into studio space for a wide range of artists. My own sales were middling- I made back my table fee, at least!- but I really appreciated the opportunity to meet and talk to other artists. It gave me a lot to think about regarding my own path, and especially, regarding some plans that I’ve been mulling over in my head recently.
Craft fairs are the perfect showcase for the wide range of artistic expressions that overlap with people’s desires to make a living. This show had everything from $10,000, large-scale pieces of wall art, to people making more commercial items like purses and jewelry, to entrepreneurial teenagers with their own tables- even someone who makes unique and fantastic hats. My own table floated somewhere in the middle- practical items like small notebooks, scarves, and throw pillows, alongside my embroideries on paper and wood and my needlewoven pieces. Even if I didn’t have a ton of sales, I was pleased to encounter lots of people admiring my work and commenting that it must have taken a great deal of time. (It does!)
But the question remains: where do I go next? Once this holiday shopping season is over, what do I want to pursue? Being an academically oriented sort of person, one who’s always flourished in traditional school settings, my mind automatically goes to the traditional path: art school. This is something I’ve been thinking about since early this year, casually researching programs in my free time. I consciously set aside planning for art school over the summer because I needed time to work through some other issues and come up with a cohesive idea of what I really want out of my life. Now, after getting a lot of input from a lot of different people in different life situations, I’m thinking about art school again- and this time in a much more concrete sort of way.
What it boils down to is this: I’m a self-taught artist, for the most part. That’s both a good thing and a bad thing. The good part is that I bring a different perspective to my art-making, and I’m not so locked into certain ways of creating as people who go through a traditional art education. My creative ideas are mixed and mingled with my other interests- nature, religion, the study of humans and their interactions and communities- and this can be a very fruitful combination. Various people have praised my work as unique, which I think is in large part due to the fact that I’ve always stubbornly tried to make my own way rather than following directions.
The downside, of course, is that I’m lacking in several areas that a traditional education would help with. My art-history knowledge has large holes in it, I’m still not very good at drawing or painting, and the haphazard way I’ve acquired skills has resulted in a patchwork of technical knowledge that usually works fine, but is distinctly limited. Also, I’m just a school person. I’m stubborn and a contrarian, but for the most part, I do well- both personally and by the standard markers- in a school environment. The few art classes I’ve been able to take were exceptionally good experiences for me, and the work I produced from them made me happy in a certain special way that my written academic work never quite matched.
So, tentatively, quietly, I’m working out a plan. There are a few things I know for sure: I’m not ready for an MFA, I’d strongly prefer to stay out of the big city and not move too far from where we live now, and it’s only worthwhile to me if I can find a program that’s specifically fiber and textile-arts oriented, where I’ll be able to get specialized advice from people who are knowledgeable in that particular field. My husband has been helping me check out what opportunities are available, and a few weeks ago, he came to me with a pretty exciting opportunity: a one-year, post-baccalaureate program at a state school (affordable!) where I could specialize in fibers and where I’d be in an “artisanry” department instead of fine art, which I think actually suits me better. I’m trying not to get my hopes up too much, but it really does sound like a perfect fit for me, so my goal for the winter is to spend a few months rounding out my portfolio, and then to- really! truly!- apply to art school.
It’s been a long time since I put together an academic application, and the art-program world is so different that it’s obviously causing me some anxiety. Since this is a certificate rather than a degree program, it’s a bit more relaxed, which helps. It’s also been a while since I had to do a substantial amount of academic-level writing, so I’ve already started mentally working on my statement of purpose. In my mind, my past experiences fit together and lead somewhere, even though they might not appear to do so on the surface; my background in the humanities and religious studies mixes and mingles with my ethical positions and human-dynamics interests which bleed into the kindness and creativity of artists I’ve known who inspired me, and then lead up to the artist I want to become. It’s my job to convince someone else of this, to tell them that all along, I’ve been looking for ways to see the world and its beauty better. There are infinite ways of doing that, and I’ve dabbled in several myself, but I’ve always known on some level that what I do with my hands and my creative mind would have to be an important part of my life permanently.
Discernment. That’s a very divinity-school word, and it makes me smile whenever I use it, just for that reason; now that I’ve graduated, I rarely hear that word used anymore. But that’s the process I’ve been going through- am going through- will continue to go through. It’s attempting to quiet down all the extraneous noises and listen for that still, small voice that will tell me how I should- must- lead my life. I don’t know if I’ve found it yet, but I think I hear its whispers in the distance, and I think it’s worth one more leap of faith to see if the art world is really where I might find my place in life.