I had finally finished a major painting assignment, and I could not wait to show my efforts to my professor. I admired and respected him very much, and of course I wanted his approval. At the time, his opinion meant a lot to me. So I stood proudly beside my work as he approached it.
The image was conceptual, as was most of my art at this time. I was not interested in reproducing something from a photo or a still life, but rather in combining images from my own imagination to create new realities. I was hiring models and dressing them up, adding elements from nature, changing laws of physics. And I was having a great time doing it. I felt the subject matter of my work was it's most definitive quality, for my paintings were completely different than what anyone else in class was doing. I loved the things I was creating. To me, the paintings were innovative. Creative. Imaginative. Real.
But my professor, upon viewing my piece, merely cleared his throat, said a few positive things about my use of color and technique, then moved on to the next student's work. I was dissapointed that he seemed to see no merit in an image I'd spent hours developing in my head before I ever picked up a brush. Over the next few weeks, this routine would repeat time after time, until one day, as the semester was drawing to a close, he approached me and asked if I'd mind staying after class for a few minutes. And there, sitting across from me at his desk, he cleared his throat once again, and said, "Amy, you have a gift. I admire your imagination and your ability to draw upon it for inspiration in your work. I love the fact that you are not afraid to show raw, real emotions in your paintings. I love it, I really do. But this is South Carolina. You have to be realistic. If you're ever going to have any success with your art, you need to start doing some simpler images, things people can understand, like houses or flowers. That's what people around here want to see. That's what they're going to buy. If you keep showing works like you're painting now, no one here is going to understand them, and they're not going to understand you, either. And you're going to have a very difficult time."
I was younger then, and my first instinct was to listen to his words. He was, after all, trying to help me. So I went home and painted a daylily. I rendered it accurately, almost scientifically, and I took it in the next day and showed it to him. He applauded my effort. He showed the work to the entire class, celebrating it's attributes. But I wasn't proud. For some reason, to hear praises in this manner felt worse to me than when he bypassed my subject matter altogether.
I took the piece home and spent a long time looking at it. It was well done, yes...but it had nothing of me as an artist in it, and why should it have? I'd created it not to honor my own spirit, but to please someone else. It might have the potential to win an award in a regional show or became a top-selling print, but it did not honor who I was as the creator of the piece. And I realized then that this was not the type of success I wanted. I put the painting on the easel, took out my palette and spent the rest of the evening making it my own.
Today this painting hangs in my room, and it is among one of my own favorite works. It represents to me a time in my life that I was bold enough to listen to my own wisdom, to let my own soul tell me what I should express on canvas. When I was bold enough to risk failure on my own terms than accept success on someone else's. But I did not meet my professor's predicted failure...I've gone on to find success in selling my work, winning awards, illustrating book covers, and various other projects, including being selected as the artist to represent the prestigious Greenwood Music Festival for the 2009 year.
My work has changed a lot over the years, and whether or not people in and around my area understand it, I may never know, but I do know that there are many here who have been very supportive of it, and for that, I am incredibly grateful. I am also grateful for the broader audience that my work has also been able to reach because of the fact that I was bold and stayed true to my own creative intuitions instead of yielding to someone else's idea of what I should have been doing.
Think of a time when you were bold, when you went against tradition or the advice of others in order to follow a path you knew was right for you. Or, just the opposite, a time you wish you'd been bold but gave in instead to the desires or expectations of others. What were the consequences? Would you change your decision if you could? Share your story here in a comment, or if you prefer to communicate privately, email me at email@example.com. We'll build upon these stories for future posts on living in a bold, intentional way!!