Jennifer Sparacino of Chilliwack, B.C. wrote, “I have some questions regarding growth as an artist, the changing of subjects and the evolution of one’s “style.” I’ve been primarily painting wildlife since getting into galleries (about eight years now). I have had good success with sales and recognition for my interpretation in this genre. Here’s the rub… I’ve been feeling like a “type-cast actor” for the past couple of years. I can feel my art wanting to grow and change and I’ve dabbled in new works (smaller format) alongside my animals. I’ve shown my galleries these works and although they’re always polite about it, and have even sold a few pieces, the feeling I get is that they just want more of what sells — wildlife — which I totally understand from a business perspective.
I’m curious if you have had this experience yourself or if other artists — wanting to grow and change but feel a bit restricted by current commercial successes. When I look at other artists’ portfolios, especially your Dad’s, it seems he was able to paint what truly moved him, he was a “landscape” artist who also painted many other things and seemed to have a broad enough market to bear his many creative ideas. I feel I’m limited to one.
I want to be as considerate to my galleries and collectors as I pursue possible new horizons, and I’m honestly not sure how to move in new directions. I love the work of Lois Dodd, and I’m also inspired by the ‘everyday’ and the beauty of nature in my immediate surroundings. I’m just not sure how to make this leap into new markets or if I can.”
Once, when going through a particularly bumpy period of growth, my Dad offered me these words: “It takes courage to stay, and it takes courage to go.” You, your excellent work, your honed and professional style, and your untapped potential are all a profile in courage. You are egg-beatering, with great effort and commitment, in a state of creative, technical and expressive stasis, longing to leap while wondering if this could be the pinnacle of your commercial success as a painter. No one — not you or me, or your gallerists — know if this is it, though you do have some proof of concept that your other subjects can find an audience. First, you need to come to terms with what your current professional status means to you. What is its value, its purpose?
Serving your creativity over your lifetime will not always be the most practical or even a productive path. When faced with my own knowing about when it was time to grow, the decision came easily — it was the execution of the decision that was excruciating, because it brought with it the collateral damage of defying the expectations of others, the thought of endangering their security (and mine), and then living in the terror of the unknown. Are you up for the terror of the unknown? It’s okay if you’re not. Business, your career path, your galleries and your collectors are all vital and precious. Next, you need to ask yourself if there is anything else you deem to be vital and precious. What do you envision your art being, doing and serving for the next 8, 16, 24, 32, 40 and 48 years?
Many artists let the market and their galleries decide who they are and will be. Others, through luck or longing, inspiration or hard work or bravery or some combination of these, have decided for themselves. Carr, Picasso, Monet, O’Keeffe, Dodd. Check the first eight professional years of their work against their last eight. Were there difficulties in arriving there? What, if anything, was sacrificed? Can you trust yourself and others to follow you on your most adventurous, most loving and creatively generous artistic journey? There is no guarantee, and there will always be something worth holding onto. There will also always be something to reach for. “Growth itself,” wrote Pearl S. Buck, “has the germ of happiness.”
PS: “Here’s a link to my website. The section called “from the studio” are examples of many of these smaller, experimental works. As you’ll see it varies in style a bit too, but when I paint these… I feel joy.” (Jennifer Sparacino)
“The different styles I have been using in my art must not be seen as an evolution, or as steps towards an unknown ideal of painting. Everything I have ever made was made for the present and with the hope that it would always remain in the present.” (Pablo Picasso)
Esoterica: My Dad experimented with many more styles, media and subjects than you or I ever had the chance to witness. He also understood the importance of professional identity, and in making a commitment to a practice that would give him the creative freedom to grow over a lifetime while also sustaining him with a meaningful professional career. He identified early what his spirit needed within the creative devotion he called his life. He summoned growth, and let growth guide and nourish him. His most experimental work was not always his most commercially successful. His experiments continued until he laid down his brush for the last time. Finally, identify what you truly need to thrive as an artist. You already possess the tools required to not be limited to what you describe as “one creative idea.” Any artist confined to one creative idea serves no one with her calling. “Love dies,” wrote Pearl S. Buck, “only when growth stops.”
“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” (Anaïs Nin)
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“Security is mostly superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” (Helen Keller)
Christine Hanlon, whose work has been compared to that of Edward Hopper, creates ‘urban landscapes which quietly exude atmosphere.’