Becoming an Artist

It’s been almost a year since I posted to my blog. A crazy, busy, intense year.

During everything I have continued to work on my art, even if slowly. I have upgraded my tools (never underestimate the power of good quality, proper tools when creating!), kept the website up to date and even have my work up locally in town at The Loft in Clonakilty and entered the members show for the West Cork Arts Centre in Skibbereen (currently still on!).

When I picked up art again in 2007, I felt like it was a hobby and an indulgent one at that. I didn’t feel like an artist, I just knew I wasn’t happy unless I was creating or learning. I couldn’t not make art. Or crafts – something often dismissed as quaint and cute and useful for gifts but nothing more. All I knew though, was that I loved created and dreamed of becoming an artist. Discovering I was dealing with a chronic illness in 2010 really stole the idea away from me that I would become an one though. I kept creating, because I can’t help it, but I started to realize how difficult it would be to go to school or get any kind of third level qualification when I couldn’t even manage to work any more.

Ironically it was not being able to work that gave me the small chunks of time to keep enhancing my skills. In 2012 I applied nervously for the Fetac level 5 course in Skib, but when it was time for my interview, I was expecting further bad news about another disease I might have. When I got the opposite news I called up Rossa College and begged the chance for my interview back, and was granted it. I had previously applied and cancelled interviews for two years previously because I couldn’t a) imagine myself as an artist b) imagine my work was good enough and c) figure out how I would afford it.

Starting that course in 2012, I had no idea if I could even finish it, but I said I would go and see what I could accomplish and even if I never finish, at least I get to have this big chunk of time carved out to create every day. My GP was fully on board with me going as I was spiraling into depression due to chronic pain from my illness (I still had no diagnosis at that point).

I can’t remember the last thing I became as stubborn about as that course. I showed up day after day, in increasing pain, out of pure stubborn love. I loved creating every day. I loved learning about fellow artists, alive and passed. I loved learning techniques and discussing ideas and sharing triumphs with my classmates. I loved being pushed, challenged and refocused every day.

I finished up in 2013 and earned a distinction to boot. I don’t think I was ever as proud of myself as when I got that cert. I was determined to continue on to the next level in 2013, having watched the class ahead of us all the previous year and envying their projects and progress. I enrolled, again not knowing if I could even finish, but desperate to try. I had finally received a diagnosis of Fibromyalgia but there was more going on there and I had no way to access any kind of diagnosis as the public system takes forever.

Regardless, my GP fully on board again and armed with what felt like obscene amounts of painkillers, I began the Professional Arts Practices level 6 course. As my pain levels increased, my stubbornness increased. As did my love for what I was doing. I am auto-didactic naturally (meaning I teach myself any new interest I come across) and with the facilities of Rossa at my disposal I was like a kid in a candy story. Again, the ability to spend time with other artists, the challenges, the access to facilities caused me to thrive creatively.

While I was basking, however, I was suffering more and more. I developed carpal tunnel syndrome severe enough to need to wear braces, get steroid injections and eventually need surgery the following year. I finally found a lead on what was really affecting my health and was diagnosed with a rare genetic disease called Ehlers Danlos Syndrome before the school year was out. My classmates had my back the whole year though, and there was always help when I needed it (and I like to think I helped when they needed it too!).

I remember mid year we had to do a project wherein we had to create an artistic reaction to a famous artist. Having a passing knowledge of Frida Kahlo, I began to read up on her. Realizing that she became more and more disabled through out her life, first via a horrible bus accident and later through degenerative issues (I believe because of that accident) and yet she still created and derived purpose in life from creating. I connected. With her writing, with her anger, with her drive, with her pain, with her need to surround herself with what was beautiful in order to make living in pain bearable. I ended up creating a piece of work that exposed the utter terror I felt at the time, in losing the functionality of my hands. It was scary as hell to face what was happening (instead of ignoring it), to be so open and yet it was cathartic at the same time. Frida will always have my heart from working on that project.

I finally finished in May 2014 with two exhibitions under my belt and another distinction. I received my cert and was honored with a student of the year award last autumn and all I could think was “I am a real artist!” a la Pinocchio in Shrek.

I don’t know at what point along the way I felt qualified to finally own the title of artist, because I was still doing what I have always done since I started in 2007 – pottering along, teaching myself, creating whenever I can and basically just loving being creative. I am absurdly proud of my educational achievements, humble though they may be, and by equal measure gutted that I cannot currently manage to go on to get a degree in art. But I have my studio. I have amazing followers of my work who encourage me every time I show off a new finished piece and cherished clients who buy them. I value what I do now, not as a hobby, but as my career and vocation and the hours I pour into trial and error, research, reading, and creating as work. Real work that is valuable.

Now when people ask me what I do, I respond half bashfully, half proudly, that I am an artist. That I may be disabled, but I am an Artist.

So I guess, at the end of the day, you grow into being an Artist.

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