When I was in graduate school for painting 30 (!) years ago, it was a rarefied environment where art was pure and uncorrupted by commercial concerns. To even ask about making a living or having a career as an artist was out of the question. It simply wasn’t done. There were vague murmurings of “getting a gallery” or “getting a teaching job”, etc, as if there was a natural sequence of events and everything would simply fall into place. So, for the two years that I was pursuing my MFA, I existed in a state of blissful, suspended reality where life was art and art was life and that was all that mattered.
Upon graduation I quickly learned that there was massive competition to get into decent galleries and to land teaching jobs at colleges and universities. Even private secondary schools were a tough nut to crack. But I was committed to my art; I would not stop making my work. And that’s what I did. I painted and painted and painted until I got to a point where I felt I could call myself a “painter.” I took a variety of jobs while continuing to paint until I found myself in Portland, Oregon, working as a carver at a bronze foundry. While in Portland I decided to go to massage school, so that I could return to Vermont, make a decent living, and have time to paint. That’s what I did.
In some ways, I was still living in that unsullied art bubble; I was determined to make my work, regardless of whether or not there was an audience or market for it. I was–and continue to be–dedicated to becoming the best painter I can possibly be. I want to surprise myself, challenge myself, and make paintings unlike any I have seen before. I want to inspire myself and others and learn something about who I am by doing this thing called painting.
Don’t get me wrong: it’s rewarding to make a painting that connects with someone deeply enough for them to buy it. It’s a thrill every time it happens. But because it is not what drives me, I continue to make work that is difficult and unknown to me. That’s the kind of artist I am.