My biggest dilemma as an artist: So little time, so much to create.
There seems to be a lot of talk about where to find inspiration. But I’m more concerned with the flipside: choosing from all the inspiration and all your artistic desires and visions. The tough call is which creative path to follow – and possibly killing your creative babies.
We can talk about THE WHY we create. For me (as for many) the answer is simple: because I must. It’s a calling, it’s a curse. It’s a blessing, it’s a responsibility. It’s why I’ve been put on this Earth, it’s my path to make a positive difference in the world.
And in a longer, honest conversation we can talk about more nuanced reasons and why we pursue a particular art discipline. There are deeper messages, goals, visions, skills, legacy, growth, activism etc. And in those nuances, we start to bump into THE WHAT.
When the question is not why – but what.
At this stage of our grant cycle, the most pressing question is not why, but what? What do I want to work on during the 5 months, and what do I want to exhibit, perform, or present during the big event in May.
Contemplating that important choice, made me revisit past big choices and what helped me make them.
Past creative career choices
In my creative career, I’ve had to make “the choice” between two creative paths and projects several times:
- Film Job (Germany) / Film School (USA)
Followed my heart and chose love and film school; left my production job, moved to the USA, got married, and attended FSU Film School.
- Fiction / Documentary
I chose documentary because the grant for All God’s Children was monetary while the one for “Summersquash” was in-kind, and the documentary was going to help people more directly. I stayed on the documentary path.
- Long-form / short-form film-making
After two long-form documentary cycles, I needed more instant gratification and launched the weekly 1-minute web series “Moving Postcard”, which ran for 7 years.
- Film Commerce / Art Liberation
I could write an entire “artist story” about this. But in short: I decided to take a break from the structured numbers-driven film world and I took the plunge to “be an artist” and invest and go public first with my photography and eventually also created and shared video-art, social and biophilic art projects.
Unexpected artist pigeonhole – And a question for you
What I hadn’t noticed until I proactively entered the visual art world: most artists seem to stick with just one kind of “look” or style within their art discipline, at least for the time being. Of course, artists go through phases – but within a phase they seem to stay very consistent. Is this because they can’t get enough of this one subject or style? Are there other reasons? Do I seem scattered if I don’t?
Confronted with that, I suddenly found my Florida photography pigeonholed with nature, particular bird photography (in Colorado it was mostly landscapes, in Berlin and Brooklyn mostly urbex and street art).
At some point, I broke a little free by switching disciplines and exploring social, biophilic and video art. Then I found wood transfers as a method for my urbex / urban art photography to separate it from my nature photography.
This does still make me wonder: Do we have to stick with one genre, style, or topic? What do you think?
Since you can’t leave comments here, please DM me on the socials @LuciWest or email me via my website
TL;DR / Actual How-to
All these thought explorations brought me to these simplified steps why we might need to make a choice between our art endeavors and which questions can help us choose.
Reasons for making choices (when it comes to art):
- Limited time, resources, energy, focus
- Overall goal / reasoning for art in general, or for a particular project
- “Create a brand” – be known for something specific and recognizable?
- Commercially viable? (aka can you afford to pursue this?)
Questions to help you choose your art path:
- What is most meaningful / most aligned with your goals (ethical, practical, etc.)?
- What can you do based on your skills – or skills you can acquire?
- What will help you grow?
- What fits with your limited resources (time, energy, etc.)?
- What fits with your achievable resources (e.g., materials, budget, etc.)?
- What do you want your audience to experience when they approach your work? (posed by Beth Gelman)… which leads back to the ultimate question of WHY do you make this art?!
And then listen to your gut, open your inner eye, explore the vision in your dream, follow the muse who whispers in your ear…
So now what am I going to do? The art path I’m choosing.
No matter what, I want my work to not just be experienced by the senses, but be meaningful and ultimately helpful – not just to the audience but as part of a larger social sculpture, if you will.
Next step: process of elimination.
My personal limitations of time and resources made for a relatively easy logistic decision, but with emotional trepidation. Because I’m spending a lot of time in Germany due to family health reasons and to organize a retrospective exhibit with my artist father, my “personal grant period” is shortened and so are my resources. Therefore, it did not make any sense to pursue a larger scale, visual / biophilic / social art “Moving Still” project, during this phase. I hope to do that after the grant period (so this creative baby can live on).
And then: the excitement about what’s to come!
For now, I have chosen to focus on a location-specific biophilic photography installation that I’m incredibly excited about and will come with all kinds of its own challenges and an opportunity for growth and exploration and conversation – hopefully not just for me. And as of right now, I also believe I can navigate the pigeonhole.
More specifics in a future story…