Alaskan Artist - Elise Tomlinson
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12/15/2004: "Feeling Knocked Down a Peg (or two)"

Lately I've been suffering from, oh, let's call it "delusions of grandeur". This isn't uncommon for me, actually I've suffered from overconfidence complicated by a low self-esteem, ever since I was little. Overconfidence in myself as an artist, and low self-esteem because basically I think as far as people go I'm total rot.

But I’ve felt good about how things have been going recently. Really good. I been getting so much positive reinforcement, especially from this website. I get loads of emails, and comments in this blog and in my guestbook (as well as written in my show guestbooks at openings)…from people all over the world telling me how great my work is…and after awhile, I started to believe it…to think that my work was just as good as anyone else’s out there. That I’d be able to compete in the crazy competitive art market and make a real living at it someday.

Then, last week while surfing the Net I found a site called “Art Scene Alaska” an online art criticism publication for artists displaying work in the state and I started to read it. (Don't be fooled by the amaturish look of the website, the writing is really good) Anyway, REALITY CHECK! There are a gigillion talented artists right here in Alaska. I thought I was becoming a big fish in a little pond and I’ve discovered that I’m a minnow in an ocean. I started looking up some of these “real” artists to see they’ve been having shows all over the US and overseas, that they’ve won grants and fellowships for large foundations and won prizes in juried shows. How can I ever compete with that?

And hey what a minute! What about all that praise I’ve been getting regarding what a genius I am? Well, it doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. For example, the majority of people who attend my shows are either friends, colleagues, or people who especially like my work. Of course they are all going to have great things to say and anyway, people critical of the work rarely leave comments.

Secondly, my website gets close to 80 thousand “hits” and around 7000 unique “visitors” every month. And from all those visits, only a handful of people actually comment that they like the work. I’ve been looking at this as “glass half full” and not the reality that thousands of people see my stuff every month and don’t feel moved at all.

I sent an email to the guy who writes the artsceneak publication because he has a list to “Alaskan artists” on his website and I was hoping he could add me to his list. He never even responded! I know he got the email because I had asked him a question about my password and he responded to that. Geesh. It sucks to realize you’ve been weighed, measured… and found lacking.

I have always hated the idea of juried shows, I’ve avoided them like the plague. And I’ve never applied for a show that I wasn’t certain I could get (the only exception was when I applied for a solo at the Alaska State Museum several years ago and they said I needed to submit to some of the juried group shows before I’d be considered for a solo). I’ve never applied for anything again.

For one thing, I feel like in order to win at juried shows your stuff has to be really “clever”, tongue in cheek, political, or confusing. I don’t want to have to name my paintings things like “Broken Isotope number 11”…besides, paintings almost never win those things anyway. It’s always someone with mixed media of some sort, painting is dead and I don’t want to have to suspend little vials of blood from the canvas in order to be taken seriously.

OK, I have a thin skin but I hate feeling like an amature, like I'm not being taken seriously. I want to scream at those who think I’m nothing much: THIS ISN’T A FUCKING HOBBY OK? IT’S MY GODDAMN LIFE!!! DON’T YOU GET IT!???

Replies: 8 Comments

on Wednesday, December 15th, Dave from Nebraska said

Geeeze Elise!!
I sympathize with you. I really do. But I'm strongly resisting the urge NOT to scold you.
I think all artists go thru periods where they are happy with their work and sometimes unhappy with it. I believe this is part of the creative process. We learn from our experiances and emotions.
There are lots of talented artists in this world. You are one of the better ones. You are original and skilled in more then one medium. You have interesting perspectives, style and craftsmanship in your artwork. You sell your work, you have commisions. Those are some very good indicators of the quality of your work.
You need to decide what you want to do with your art. The important thing I think, is that you keep making it.
If you want to have solo shows. Then jump thru the hoops. If you fall down and scrape your knee GET BACK UP!
I'm sure there are ways to gear your artwork towards some juried shows. It probably wouldn't hurt to investigate. Who is the judge? Where did they come from? Background, credentials, likes, dislikes etc, etc.
Ya know, the internet is a very impersonal place. You can be sweet as pie or nasty as dog dirt here. Not many people are gonna come looking for you if you say something insensitive or neglect to answer a email. It's the easiest thing to do. People surfing the web or tasked with handling a public website are mostly thinking about time. Where to go next, what to look at. Obligations exist and wait until the viewer finds what he wants or his obligations interupt. I'm generalising here, I know.
Just because you haven't gotten a response doesn't mean you've been ignored or aren't worthy of one. This goes for unanswered emails, comments from your website, guestbooks and so on.
People have reasons for not responding. When you are dealing with something as abstract and personal as art I think you have to expect that.
I know how you feel. I think a piece is a failure if people just walk by it at a show. A sucessful work should create comment or criticisum. Not indifference.
I've noticed your work. Lots of folks have.
Please refer to my comments made Dec 9th.
Some advice, an idea or two. Perhaps a gentle nudge is what you need.

on Wednesday, December 15th, Elise said

I know I'm being a self-indulgent whiny cry baby. I can't help it. I'm feel dejected by a combination of things:

I'm envious of the talent of others, frustrated that I have to work long hours at something other than art to pay the bills, and I've come to the realization that no matter how hard I work it will never be enough.

I don't expect for anything to be handed to me, but I'm turning 35 in a few weeks and that age always represented something to me, a benchmark of sorts. I always thought I'd be much further along by now. Technically I'm "mid-career" and I'm realizing I have very little to show for it.

It doesn't help that there's someone in my life who likes to remind me of how few people are able to "make it" as artists and trys to comfort me by saying I shouldn't feel bad for being "average".

I want to prove to myself that I *can* do it but there doesn't seem to be enough time.

Thanks for your comments though, I know that where ever we are on the ladder there are always going to be those ahead of us whom we admire and envy, and those below us, that admire and envy us. I guess that's the nature of the beast.

God, I would do anything, *anything* for just one day with a little sunshine in it. What's the weather like in Nebraska?

on Wednesday, December 15th, Dave from Nebraska said

I didn't mean to scold. That was a typo.
Hope my comments were clear and relevent.
The weather in Omaha is not bad for this time of the year. I almost rode the scoot to my friend's pottery studio in the Old Market. It's only a mile or so from here. Almost did, but didn't.
It's 36 degrees and clear.

on Thursday, December 16th, Jim L said

I understand your frustration very well. What gets me out of that frustration is realizing that when I get that way I am buying into someone else's idea of what an artist should be in our f*&%ed up culture. That includes all that careerism crap that comes with implicit and explicit judgements that are out of your control and are really beside the point.

The point as you've said is to make art, it seems to me that you've found a way to make it and get it out into the world and if having a non-art job allows you to do that it looks like you are a success to me.

Also, you will be turning 35 and you have paintings you are working on in your studio. That is NOT average. That is stupendous. The average 35 year old is worrying about things so banal (mortgages, TV shows, addictions, etc.) while you are transcending that with art.

Part of the creativity of the artist entails creating the life that creates the art, we all can get there in different ways.

on Thursday, December 16th, Howard said

I know exactly how you feel.
Making art is such a personal things and trying to meausre your own progress by the standards of the outside world somewhat futile.
It's hard to have the inner conviction that our work is good when much of the world around us doesn't seem to care one way or another.
Don't dismiss your fans. In the end these people are the ones that matter the most.

on Thursday, December 16th, Elise said

I appreciate your thoughts. Maybe when I get down I need to just toughen up a bit more and not let it spew forth so unbecomingly?

On the other hand, when I read the thoughts of other artists who struggle with the same problems it makes me feel not so freakish and alone.

on Thursday, December 16th,">Jackie said

E: Wow. I think there is some illusion that there are all these happy 'successful' artists out there getting rich. I'm happy working a 9-5-er, and having time and energy to make art when I want to/feel like it/have the burning desire to create - not when the pressure is cooking under me that I have have have to make another piece of art for the gallery or for some richbitch to match their sofa or whatever. There are 'artists' out their who seem to be getting rich - but I think their work is crap! And then there are people whose work I love, and they're hanging it at the co-op gallery, and only the other artists at teh gallery and their friends & family & patrons are seeing the art. And they have to hock their mother's heirloom jewelry to buy a few tubes of paint. Art is just so subjective. And our society really puts little value on artists' contributions to our world. So I would never, ever rely on what someone else thinks or says about my art to decide whether I'm 'worth something' or not. And I'd never use that as the deciding factor to make art or choose instead to drool in front of 3 hours of 'primtetime' tv a night.
Take a risk - submit your portfolio to some galleries outside of Juneau or even Alaska. I'm not a huge believer in juried shows - but if you haven't tried it, then -- do it. Do something different! You've had two successful shows in the last few months. That sounds like success to me!
And 35 isn't bad. 40 isn't bad. Age is more relative than art.

on Thursday, December 16th, Elise said

I've wondered if I'd be as dedicated to my art if I didn't have to squeeze it in here and there.

Still, when I had ten days off in a row around Thanksgiving and I *loved* it. I was able to get into such a groove, something it's hard to do when you only have little swatches of time here and there.

But you're right, I've never felt that winning awards or anything would be better than making the art I want to make, I just wish that art was valued more in general. I want to believe that I can make it as an artist someday without having to try and do the whole rat race hoity toity gallery scene.

Ah, who knows. And I know 35 isn't bad at all, I like being this age...I just thought I'd be further along than this by now.