The awareness of time

32

Dear Artist,

I recently found myself at a gathering of women, all new to me; mostly artists, plus an architect, a curator, a language specialist. The room buzzed with chatter; each person butterflying about with a baby-eyes joy. I landed near the drinks, and met an artist, recently retired from selling financial services. She was now devoted to her drawings, but hinting that she was wondering how to market herself. “What is the biggest piece of advice you would give to an artist just starting out?” she asked.

Dulka Warngiid, 2007 synthetic polymer paint on canvas 195 x 610 cm by Mirdidingkingathi Juwarnda Sally Gabori (1922-2015) After raising 11 children and many others and developing skills in traditional weaving and craft techniques, Gabori took up painting at age 80.

Dulka Warngiid, 2007
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
195 x 610 cm
by Mirdidingkingathi Juwarnda Sally Gabori (1922-2015)
After raising 11 children and several others and developing skills in traditional weaving and craft techniques, Gabori took up painting at age 80.

I took a beat. This, 2021, is my 30th year of painting professionally, having never held another job, having painted, and delivered non-stop, this whole time, even when life got very rocky and, in retrospect, it seems I could barely stand upright. In my 30th professional year, the advice I feel urged to give is “Don’t stop.” But that’s not it.

Outside Dibirdibi, 2008 Synthentic polymer paint on canvas by Mirdidingkingathi Juwarnda Sally Gabori

Outside Dibirdibi, 2008
Synthentic polymer paint on canvas
by Mirdidingkingathi Juwarnda Sally Gabori

You see, there’s a very special place in the world for a creative person who did not begin her adult life as a professional artist. Rather, this person found paid work in another field, or unpaid work in family life, and waited, patiently, for a day when they could fully pick up their brush. It has been my experience that this person sometimes feels “late” when she finally arrives at her art life. Words like, “don’t stop” assume a luxury of unfettered decades to develop and be discovered by a fickle and arbitrary system of recognition and livelihood. They’re words for an embryonic upstart, or a mid-careerist who’s already clocked a lifetime of slog. They are not words for an artist-in-waiting, now arrived. An artist-in-waiting deserves a practical plan.

Nyinyilki, 2009 synthetic polymer paint on canvas 197.5 x 606.5 cm by Sally Gabori

Nyinyilki, 2009
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
197.5 x 606.5 cm
by Mirdidingkingathi Juwarnda Sally Gabori

Sincerely,

Sara

PS: “I love deadlines. I especially like the whooshing sound they make as they go flying by.” (Douglas Adams)

Esoterica: Here it is: Do not mistake who you are as a creative person for the commodification of what you do. You may or may not have cultivated a lifetime of experience on how to develop a body of work and find collectors or critical acclaim. You may or may not be able to parachute into the art world with a boatload of talent, or savvy, or support, and make a go of it. You may or may not believe there is an art career waiting for you, that you deserve and will enjoy. These feelings are universal among artists of all ages and stripes and experience and ability. The professional factors that go into getting paid for your ideas are disproportionately arbitrary. Time — like a lifetime in my case — affords more opportunity for preparation and magic, and the day-by-day development of clarity of purpose, of skill and experience. Part of this experience is that I know how difficult and random it can feel. I have learned not to attach my feelings of worth or creative happiness to these external metrics. Understand that you are now a person who gets up every day and makes things that, for the most part, nobody asked for. They are just ideas, and so work, incrementally, to make them better. Go into your studio with this intention: be yourself, engage deeply, explore your curiosity and bliss. Unlike the journeyman who must make her rent, you have given yourself the gift of later-life play. For this reason, your work has the potential to be higher in concept, more patient in quality of execution, and more potent with the energy and wisdom of life. Take your beat. Infuse your position with joy. “For us, there is only the trying. The rest,” said T.S. Eliot, “is not our business.”

Mirdidingkingathi Juwarnda Sally Gabori with 'Nyinyilki' at the National Gallery of Australia, 2009

Mirdidingkingathi Juwarnda Sally Gabori with ‘Nyinyilki’ at the National Gallery of Australia, 2009

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“Time and space are fragments of the infinite for the use of finite creatures.” (Henri-Frederic Amiel)

 


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32 Comments

  1. I’m 66. I started painting seriously after I retired at 62 then spent a year with my brother before he died. There is no Moral— we all die. Do what you need to do. I hate marketing and I like painting.
    I am in a gorgeous group show with four other artists, three of whom are lifers. The show took a year and a half of planning, due to Covid delays. During this time I made four new friends, painted my ass off, and any further rewards I reap will be incidental.

    • Barbara Belyea on

      Sara, this is great advice, and Peter, you are on the path I want to follow.
      Marketing takes time, lots of it. Its only reward is success, which isn’t the same as the joy of making.
      As exemplary women who got late starts and kept their focus, we have only to think of Emily Carr and Maud Lewis.

      • Both wonderful Canadian artists! But both began young. Maud as a child making cards at her mother’s urging and Emily became serious with her painting after her parent’s deaths when she was 19. Most of the images we have of them are as struggling older artists so understandable how that idea took root.

    • Peter, I love what you are portraying. Ah, the fun of making art! At my age all I want to do is
      share that fun with others so they can participate and create too. It is a lovely ride. Maria

    • I love your response. “Paint your ass off and make new friends!” what more could life offer? I too went back to university after retirement. Having a ball!

  2. Sara, Your words come at a most important time, and I am one who jumped in later in life, although created art all my life. And now the energy flows, ideas abound, and I feel a freshness to life.

    Brava to all those who labor in love.

  3. Yes. After a lifetime of allowing myself occasional permission to paint, then a realization that I no longer have the energy to pursue the marketing gurus, I am enjoying my studio. I may never “make it”. And that is OK. I am doing what pleases me while ignoring the noise around me. I love what I do. I plan to keep doing it as long as I can hold a brush.

    • Marianna Browett on

      Hi Kate you are absolutely my kind of artist as I have followed the path you are on. I draw, sketch and paint every day and it brings me joy. I started at 62 with lessons and now 20 years later I still take lessons but on line and love every minute of it.
      Marianna

  4. Dear Sara. Thank you–for catching yourself and realizing the situation, for stating with such clarity the differences in words and meanings NOT demeaning, and for crafting one of the very few writings I have seen addressing the latecomer. You have, with this, SEEN a whole group of us. I am most appreciative.

    Carolyn

    • Carolyn, Winston Churchill wrote a fine little book on painting late in life. He used watercolr painting as a way to relax and bring out a side of himself that needed to be released. That creative side of us needs to be used, and will gnaw at us until gets its way.
      The book is called “Painting As A Pastime”. Worth a read……

  5. Thank you Sara, I just retired at 75. I’ve drawn and painted all my life, 25 years in the design trade. I have been in many shows, I’ve had my own. I’ve sold a lot of work.Mostly it has been those pieces which I painted plein-air, pushing my own personal envelop, which have attracted buyers. But I still feel like a “peintre de dimanche” The idea of going deeper scares the pants off me, but it is what I want to do.

  6. Thank you for this Sara – I am 69, have been painting seriously for 20 years, have sold a number of paintings but just got my first commission – what a feeling! I am an artist❤️

    • You were an artist before selling anything or receiving a commission – wasn’t Van Gogh an artist even though he sold virtually nothing in his lifetime? It’s work and intention that count; your own dedication rather than being valued by the outside world. As Sara said ” I have learned not to attach my feelings of worth or creative happiness to these external metrics. ” Of course the other things are lovely, but don’t count on them for your self-definition as an artist.

  7. Thank you, each post you post hits the spot.
    This post really was on the mark for me.
    I am also a late starter, for the first 5 years I absorbed and applied everything I was being taught, couldn’t do enough.
    Won competitions, exhibited , commissions and just loved being at the easel.
    Then mum diagnosed with dementia and now my head space is all about helping dad cope with mum.
    Sometimes I fear that I will never get back to my art .
    Time will tell. Just grateful I had the opportunity to finally be able to follow a dream later in life.

  8. Thank you, each post you post hits the spot.
    This post really was on the mark for me.
    I am also a late starter, for the first 5 years I absorbed and applied everything I was being taught, couldn’t do enough.
    Won competitions, exhibited , commissions and just loved being at the easel.
    Then mum diagnosed with dementia and now my head space is all about helping dad cope with mum.
    Sometimes I fear that I will never get back to my art .
    Time will tell. Just grateful I had the opportunity to finally be able to follow a dream later in life.

  9. You understand, even though you’ve never had to experience it. Thank you for saying these things that the art world in general doesn’t recognize. Somewhat by necessity, it panders to those who have had other challenges besides falling in bed at night knowing another day, year, decade has slipped past. What a gift those artists have had! All I can add is that now people like me are dealing with what life has handed us, even if we are behind, due to what so many have never had to experience. I’ve painted most of my adult life…on occasional weekend days, or other odd moments, and spent the rest of the time supporting others. Now, at 76, for the first time I have a roof over my head that I did not have to sweat to earn, and a companion whose love and support FOR MY WORK is unquestioned, steady. As I am for him. And I’m kicking’ it! Watch out, world, here I come!

    • Oh Sara, thank you so very much for this post. I am 78 years old and I knew I wanted to be an artist when I was a child and didn’t even know that word. I spent my entire life in the corporate world not because I wanted to do that but because I was usually the breadwinner. I took art classes at night over the years and fortunately had some good training. Often months and years would go by without any paintings being produced. I married my second husband when I was 55 and we retired and moved to NC in when I was 57. At last I was able to have more time to paint. One of the struggles has been the pressure to exhibit and market my work. When someone learns that I paint the first remark is usually where to you sell your work? Another is the pressure I put on myself to get all my “chores” done before spending time in my studio. I have become acquainted and friends with a number of artists who are my age but have been fortunate enough to have spent their adult lives making art. I realize that all those years I was working in the corporate world I had no one to even talk with about the world of making art and how that enriches my life.

      I am printing your letter to remind me of who I am and how I arrived at this place in my life. I believe that being an artist is a gift … the gift of being able to see the beauty in world around us whether or not we express it by painting.

  10. Thank you, Sara. Like many of the above artist, I did not start at the beginning. It was in my late 30s that I was dared by a friend to do art. Not to shy away from a challenge, I entered a competition and won. Then another and another until international level competitions. As a younger man, the thrill of victory drove me on. I sold some but not enough to make a living. I went back to regular work and plowed on until my late 50s. Now I am a widower and trying to find that artistic” spark” again. With no family to support and no duties to perform, I think I will take up your advice and do art for myself instead of winning competitions. Now is the time to start many projects that as you said “nobody asked for”

  11. Sara, I am so grateful you are there reminding us who we are and that we’re not alone – there’s a fantastic global community of people just like us. What does age matter? Better to begin late than not at all. As they say “when you love a thing, you love a thing.”

    Nina
    Waving from Toronto.

  12. Think of yourself as an artist.
    Do your art as best you can.
    Take chances to sell that come up.
    Don’t be tooooo picky. But don’t go for venues your gut screams no at.
    Enjoy the friends and clients you make.
    Tell your story and be hands on.
    Amaze yourself.. There will be flops but also sales.
    Persist and likely you will Make a living.
    But if you don’t put it out there and wave your flag you won’t.
    Enjoy the slog!
    You won’t do everything right so don’t beat yourself up.

  13. This morning I read this painter’s key while relaxing in bed and before my feet connected with the floor.

    Thank you for this article. Yes, I feel that this speaks to me. Art was always with me in some form and a part of me that waited patiently to open the the rusty hinged door. For me I feel that I have found the perfect art medium because it encompasses so many of the things I enjoy like nurturing and watch the gourds grow, cleaning the gourds is meditative for me, then looking at the gourds and imagining. I enjoy all of the sawing, drilling, sanding, dyeing, painting, burning, gouging, the vast and endless possibilities, using and imagining other mediums that can be used in conjunction with the gourds and learning how to use other skills to create what is in my mind. I love it all. The only downside of all of this is time, energy and weather. Time because there are more years behind me than ahead of me, energy because I could sure use more, and weather because much of my work I need to do outside because of the dust and mold. Winter is not a friend of gourd artists.
    But… I am happy that I finally found what I enjoy doing. And, I have a husband that completely supports and encourages me. I am not looking for fame, but the pleasure I get from this and everything I earn will go to our sons. So, this motivates me even when I am tired.

  14. Sara, your words arrived like a song with lyrics that truly resonated. I have been painting off and on for almost ten years. Now in my 70’s, I realized that I do not need validation from others, though to be honest, it would have been lovely to have sold some. I had a website for a few months only to realize it took me away from painting and it was tedious. I shut down the website and returned full attention to creating Art in my lovely studio. This is my comfort zone where creativity gently flows sans pressure. As several others have stated, I too have wonderfully supportive husband, which helps enormously. Recently, one of my very adult children said to me, “Mom, when you die, your paintings will be famous!” It was a bit cheeky of him but it made me laugh, so I sent him one of his favorites. That satiated my need for validation. Off to my studio I went and just enjoyed the peace that Art and creating it gives me. Onward, Artists!

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https://painterskeys.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/Line_Of_Fire_2_Hanlon_2019-wpcf_300x222.jpgLine of Fire 2, 2019
watercolor
6 x 8 inches

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