For those who have read my earlier blog posts, you know that I received my BFA and then apprenticed with a practicing artist in his studio.  I have been drawing on this experience, long ago, to help explain the path my creativity has taken over the years. 


As a young and starry-eyed apprentice, I was in awe of the technical prowess of my mentor. I also was moved by the symbols that he used to paint works that spoke to people. I learned to paint using his symbols, but, I realize now, that those paintings were pale imitations of his work. It may be that,in learning from a teacher, you adopt some of their tools and their symbols as part of the learning process. But, there comes a time when you must find your own symbols and your own technique. 


I was once told: "Jo Ann, something must occur that will knock you to your knees and, in picking yourself up and learning to stand on your own, you will acquire your own symbols." At the time I didn't understand these words. Was I supposed to suffer for my art? That was the message I drew from the words. I came to the wrong conclusion. "Suffering" for art is like "suffering" for love. True love and true art aren't a form of suffering. That's a romantic and harmful myth. What is true, however, is that through the obstacles, the heartaches, the moments of crisis, that we all have as humans, we grow and our artistic vocabulary can expand. 


As you live a life, there will be events that hurt you, that sadden  you, that make you despair. The trick is to rise above those events and then incorporate them into your own consciousness as a means of expression. That is far different than "suffering" for art. It means to pour all the joys, the sorrows, the setbacks, the victories you have lived through and use them to spur your own creativity. You develop your own set of symbols. These symbols are powerful because they come from deep within your soul and your heart. 


Some symbols are almost universal. Think of the idea of Jung's collective unconscious and you will realize that there are symbols that are archetypes for civilization. Each person has the power to find their own symbols and to use these symbols to convey emotion through their work. 


I don't like to over-intellectualize art. That's the domain of pedants and pseudo-intellectuals. True art is something that flows freely and joyfully. It can be spontaneous. Sometimes you don't realize that you have used your symbols until you finish a piece of work. Then, it all becomes clear to you. But, it's my thought that these symbols that we allow to flow from our mind are powerful and allow an artist to express their own feelings and transform them into feelings that touch others as well. 


Sometimes I think the best advice I can give a young person who is entering the world of art..whether it is music, drawing, painting, acting, collage or whatever, is this: Just do it!!! Sit down and do what you love over and over and over again. Do it when you don't feel you have anything to say. Do it when you are depressed. Do it when it seems impossible. Don't wait for the muse to hit you on the head. That will be a long wait. The muse lives within you. Open up your mind to your own stream of consciousness thoughts. Then, you will find your own symbols and you will be your true self as an artist. 


I don't mean to sound like a know-it-all. The fact is that I am a person who is still learning, growing, and uncovering new ideas. In many ways I know nothing. I only know what I have learned from my time on earth. The jouney is the process. It's as simple as that. Just do it and listen to the sound that you hear in your mind. Never, ever, stop growing and questioning and seeking. 


Ok, it's time for me to stop being so frigging philosophical. I am who I am. And I just get up out of bed each day and do the best I can. 


When I was younger and contemplated a life as an artist, I will admit that I looked upon it more as a lifestyle option rather than a career. I had this glamorous view of living a bohemian lifestyle, associating with interesting and like-minded people, and making a living from doing something I loved. 


I think a lot of people go into the art world with the same naive and unformed views. Living the lifestyle of an artist sounds fun and very countercultural. Working for yourself rather than a boss seems fantastic. Setting your own hours rather than the humdrum nine-to-five grind also seems very appealing. And, there's that certain cachet that comes with "being in the arts." 


When I began my apprenticeship, after receiving my BFA, I had the mind-set I have described. Everything seemed very bohemian, exciting, glamorous and cool. For about nine months I drifted along in my little dreamworld as I painted and thought to myself, "Wow, I can do this and people will actually pay me for just having fun." It didn't exactly turn out that way. My first big project was a commission by a man who wanted a portrait of himself standing in front of his favorite bar. I excitedly went to the bar and took pictures of him posing and went back to the studio to begin painting. Trying to paint someone else's own vision of themselves is fraught with danger. Even great artists have struggled with this problem and I was not a great artist. 


After more months than I like to remember, I finished the painting and excitedly made an appointment with the man who had commissioned the it.  I had the painting framed and set out to show the finished work to my client. He took one look at my painting and and said, "I don't like it." He then turned his back and walked back into his office. I was crushed but I was also angry. How dare he dismiss my weeks and weeks of hard work without so much as a pleasant word?" 


I had just stumbled upon one of the great fallacies that surrounds being an aritist: the presumption that you are so special that people will immediately want to part with their hard-earned money or a non-utilitarian item. I had the cocky presumption of youth and inexperience. 


I took to my bed or several days and felt sorry for myself and then returned to the studio to tell my mentor what had happened. He was not the least bit surprised. He said that he knew all along that the man wouldn't like my portrait of him. And, he pointed out that I had no reason to be angry or upset. That's the way the cookie crumbles. This was my first hard lesson about being an artist: You are not some chosen person sprinkled with gold dust. You, like everyone else who works for a living, must satisfy someone else. You are not the stream that flows with creativity to be accepted unconditionally. You must have an audience that loves your work and that audience must be earned and their interest in your work takes much honing. 


So, I found myself, about six months into my apprenticeship learning something that would stay with me to this very day. Being an artist is hard work. It takes hours and hours of work to create one really good piece of art. For every good piece of art, you probably make 20 that are so-so. This art thing doesn't come easily. 


As for the glamour and the lure of the bohemian lifestyle, that all becomes a pipe dream when you have to consider how you will pay the rent, how you will get your old car repaired, how you will buy groceries. Yes, you are working your own hours but you find that you are forced to work many more hours than the average nine-to-five worker with a steady paycheck. And, whenever you finish a piece and hope it sells, you are putting your ego on the line. 


I learned all these lessons the hard way and that is the great thing about being an apprentice. You eventually see that even a really,  really, good artist has to deal with the matter of paying the bills, of finding the right client, of satisfying someone else's image of what they want. 


Most artists know that some of their work tends to sell better than others. This becomes their bread and butter. Innovative and truly creative work is appreciated by a much smaller group of people. When you have a mortgage payment due and need the money, you must paint something you are fairly sure that will sell. Those with their heads in the clouds will chastise you for "selling out." Sometimes you chastise yourself for selling out, but life brings obligations. 


There is a saying among artist that "those who can't paint; teach." I heard this many times and even believed it during my heady days of innocence. The fact is that great artists often teach in order to continue painting or making their more innovative pieces of art. And, having been a teacher myself, I know that teaching brings a special kind of joy. 


There is much more I could write about being an artist, but I will save that for my next ramble down memory lane. I don't have the answers. I just have the questions and I have my own experiences to draw upon. You may think I'm full of b.s. It doesn't really matter at this point in my life. All I can do is to try to point out what happened to me, in my life, and what I learned. And I am still learning every single day. I'm nearly 65 and I know that I damn sure don't know all the answers. I have more doubts and questions now than when I was a cocky young girl in pigtails who thought she could easily conquer the art world. Yeah, I was a naive and self-important little snit. But time and experience knocked me to my knees and I had to get up time and time again and try to do things the best I could. I'm still doing that every day. 


Ta-Ta for now. It's late and I'm going to watch "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and relax. 

I have no earthly idea what my blog will be about. Obviously, I hope to write about my collages and art work, but I write just as I do from and spontaneous. It I set out to do something a particular way, I always get it wrong. I've found that being intuitive is what works for me. So, that's the way I 'm going to approach this blog. Some days I'll talk about my collages and other days I'll probably just ramble on about whatever strikes my fancy. 


I live in Phoenix and am married to a man named Ray. We live in the center of this big city in an old Spanish style house that's filled with our collections that we have gathered over a lifetime. Sometimes the house gets a bit overcrowded and the collections need to be sorted and curated. I've been doing that the past few weeks. I'm a huge fan of thrifting and have been for most of my life. Needless to say, I've had some great finds. I've also purchased stuff that I look at in disbelief and and cannot imagine what possessed me to buy that particular thing. Those were the things I tossed out during my recent "decluttering" mania. I will never be a minimalist but I don't want to be a hoarder either. I try to strike a balance. 


Ray and I are both going to turn 65 next month. I cannot quite fathom that I'm the age of someone's grandmother. I certainly don't dress like my mother or grandmother did at the same age. Because we are semi-retired and because Phoenix is pretty laid back, I have been able to return to my old hippie look of my youth. When I was teaching, I thought I should look somewhat professional. Now I am freed from that need and I have grown my hair out and wear it in a long braid. My uniform consists of tee shirts, yoga pants and old jeans. I wear sandals most of the year (it gets really hot here) and boots when it's cooler. I wear lots of silver jewelry and long dangly earrings. 


Moving to Phoenix from East Texas seventeen years ago was a sea change. I moved here to marry Ray and I gave up teaching. I had lived in a small East Texas town and it was a place where everyone knew everyone else. That has its good and its bad points. In Phoenix, I really felt free to be the person I felt inside. I love my husband and I love the southwest. 


The move from the pine forests to the desert has had a major change on my aesthetics. Different colors appeal to me now. I like to surround myself with turquoise and orange and, of course, my basic black. The light is different here as well. In the piney woods, light was diffused through many trees. Here, trees are at a minimum and our yard has fig trees and orange trees. Across the street are towering palm trees. My environment is so different from what I spent 47 years of my life in! I loved the flowers and hills of East Texas and still do. But, I think you can love two places equally. 


I began doing my collages about 3 years ago. I had suffered from one of the longest creative blocks known to man. I was all about art until my mid-30's. Then, the necessity of making a living came to overshadow art and I truly believed I would never return to that love of mine. Several years ago I began to make altered books. Mine weren't cutesy or prim and proper (though there is a place for that)..they were a bit dark and satirical and full of black humor. From doing these altered books, just for myself, I began making collages and pasting them to 8-1/2 x 11 sheets of cardstock. This medium worked perfectly for me. It was intuitive, spontaneous and seemed to flow easily. As a painter, I had been very slow. I labored over every little brush stroke. I worried endlessly about what my painting "said" and how others would view it. My collages, however, have freed me from all that self-critical chatter in my brain. 


In my late 20s and early 30s I apprenticed with a master artist who had once painted landscapes, portraits, old houses and old barns. When I met him, he was in the midst of a change in attitude and style. He was becoming the surrealist that he had always been deep inside. Certainly, his surrealistic works influenced me. I read Jung and all the books about surrealism and dada. I delved heavily into the philosophy of art. But,I was still unsatisfied with my work. I think that I hadn't lived enough to have a set of symbols that spoke for me and to me. Now, with age, I have so much more to draw on than I did as a pigtailed young woman in overalls.