I paint and write go about many of the tasks of daily life with a conscious creative spirit. Since I’ve not had the luxury of a trust fund or wealthy spouse, I’ve come to accept that I’m required to sell myself and my work if I want to make a living from my artistic endeavors. This part I do not love. I would like to run from it.
This is not to say that I don’t like receiving money for my work. It’s the part between finishing a painting or book and seeing it into the homes of collectors that makes me cringe.
I don’t run into many artists who love the selling part of their career, so I know I’m not alone. I’ve had a thousand conversations with artist friends about the awful drudgery of figuring out how to sell our work. But we also concede that it is necessary, and the most dogged of us make a go of it the best we can.
Having to work at getting noticed feels like I’m forcing myself to come off like a big shot when I don’t care about being a big shot. My moose represents this idea, with his headshot pose, his business suit, and his fancy surroundings. I chose St. Basil’s Cathedral in Russia because it is a recognizable famous building with oodles of fanfare. I also liked the way the onion domes point to the sky, like his upsweeping antlers.
His tie carries near his heart a reminder of his natural environment, the Rockies wilderness. The wilds of Colorado were my home, too.
The moose’s enormous headdress and reputation for being anything but a pushover made him a suitable power-creature for my painting. Commanding, majestic, and surprisingly graceful, the moose is one of the big shots of the mountains, but would rather be left alone to his asocial life than be noticed. He will show you with overpowering belligerence how much privacy he needs.
One would think that after decades of having an art career I would have come to find the sales part of the game more agreeable. Not so. After working the first 20 years of my selling career without the internet, the switchover didn’t come naturally. I was recently agonizing over trying to figure out the newest digital marketing ploys that pop up with exhausting regularity, and found myself properly disgruntled. I wondered if my ingrained attitude could be improved. Was there something in my discomfort that could be helped, or was I doomed to despise marketing?
The first component to answering that question lied in my upbringing.
A look into my past revealed a formative environment highly adverse to anyone who comes off as a show-off. My parents, my church, my community all saw self-aggrandizement as one of worst of sins.
My grampa used to say “Everybody’s got a gimmick” and it wasn’t a compliment. My dad used P.T. Barnum as an example of a crook, someone who lived on attention so he could sucker people, by his own admission. Dad and Grampa believed that if you delivered a good product, word would get around.
My mom was a product of her generation and was discouraged from being anything but a mom and housewife. Recently writer Elizabeth Gilbert asked women to count how many of their female ancestors had had a public voice. The question struck me hard. I counted none.
I grew up in a Catholic Church where people were kind to one another, but its legacy of 2000 years of somber penitence entrenched an impression upon me that it was better to be a humble, quiet servant than to shine your light.
The town I grew up in was a cold, remote ranching and mining town. Being strong and not complaining was valued. As flashy outsiders came in to partake in the new ski area and enjoy the mountain air, I saw the P.T. Barnums of the world show up in droves. Local town folk looked on with disdain, and I was caught, as I am now, between wanting to catch on to new worldly changes while being more comfortable with the stoicism and reserve of a rural populace.
These may seem like surface reasons to be averse to attention, but cultural predispositions and prejudices can play a big part in one’s worldview. I find relief in remembering that I came by some of my tricky traits honestly. In seeing where these old inclinations came from I can ask whether I still agree with the outlook that spawned them. In this case, I no longer have much in common with the taciturn team that reared me.
After stepping out in the world I had plenty of the typical rejection and humiliation that accompanies life. Like everyone, I’ve been ridiculed and put down from time to time, and it has stung and stuck. I’ve worked hard to keep on trucking whether others approve or not, but I’m not immune to criticism. I’ve always got a lingering concern about not wanting to be pummeled with tomatoes.
So, my idiosyncratic cocktail of experiences has left me here, hating to show off. Wanting to go forward and offer my wares to the world with confidence requires that I say NO to a deep-rooted set of values, ones I didn’t really agree to sign up for, but have long been affected by.
Saying NO took more for me than just seeing the story of my past. Validation that my fears make sense is good. But it isn’t enough to dismantle the cellular and subconscious obstructions that still have dominion over my conscious mind, without my consent.
That deeper work is dealt with by more physical means. I have to bypass the logical mind, which wants to figure this out quickly and get on with things. I must grow my ability to hear and feel my inner states and literally breath fresh air into them. I need to let out the frustration, guilt, and fear that have been hiding the bright lights and bright ideas. It means acknowledging and staying with the discomfort until it peters out. And it will peter out.
I won’t fully access the deepest parts of these fears unless I purposely trigger them. This means I have to go forward with new actions, in this case, being a so-called show-off by putting myself out in the arena. The inevitable crush of old voices and insecurities will come sneaking in (or flooding in, as the case may be.) If I repeat the same courageous accommodation for the pain and fear over and over, I will eventually find I’ve conquered it, or at least subdued it to a manageable size.
Eudora Welty’s quote, “All serious daring starts from within” inspired my work here. Being bold by expressing myself in the world is commendable, but if I don’t simultaneously clear away the old notion that I should be keeping quiet, there will be shame and judgment lurking inside, ready to thwart my efforts or stifle my voice. Self-sabotage is degrading and disheartening and leaves me impotent, so I have good motivation for rooting out the creeping tendrils of broken down self-concepts.
The arena is exciting, demanding, testing, taxing, and stretching. I need strength and stamina to flourish. I’ll have more of both if I’m willing to be who I am now instead of a product of my past.
While my moose is dignified and impressive, he wears an emblem of nature and home near his heart. He has ventured into the arena and thrived, but he doesn’t conceal his continued love for peace and privacy. Like a real moose, his call to me is dramatic and can be heard for miles.