“Patrick, why are you so obsessed with artists and their creativity?”
I’ve been asked that question a fair amount during my years as an artist’s advocate and a creativity and writing instructor. There is no simple answer to that question, but if the top five answers were on the board, one of them likely would be perseverance.
I do not mean to disparage artists with this statement of fact, but when it comes to art–visual art, music, videography, writing, sculpture, jewelry, etc.–anyone can produce it. Yet the artists I’ve crossed paths with, through this blog and in my professional and personal lives, are the ones with the perseverance to grow their craft and get their art in places where it can be appreciated.
On a weekend getaway to Baltimore last weekend my wife and I stopped by the Steven Scott Gallery in the historic Fells Point district. I was admiring some stunning photographs by Amy Lamb, imagining that perhaps some day my photographer daughter Marisa might be displayed there, when I overheard a young man talking to the gentleman behind the counter. Naturally I eavesdropped. The young man was an artist looking to have his works displayed. When asked, the gentleman acknowledged he was the owner–“That’s my name on the sign outside”–but politely explained he wasn’t looking to take on more artists right now. It was a polite but firm rejection. The young artist nodded and returned to taking in the gallery’s art.
I approached Mr. Scott and started a conversation. I learned that all of the artists currently on display were a bit older than the young man I had just seen. The youngest, Mr. Scott speculated, was likely in her mid-fifties. Mr. Scott founded the gallery about twenty-five years ago and had usually represented artists older than him; he admitted that continuing that pattern might be skewing his average artist age older. But the art in his gallery didn’t say “older.” It said instead that it was produced by serious artists who have taken the time to grow their craft and find a partner like Steven Scott. In other words, the works demonstrated perseverance.
Later that night we had a couple of Loose Cannon IPAs at the Cat’s Eye Pub and took in a great show by an Annapolis-based band called Sweet Leda. We had never heard of them before, but I have a weakness for fiery blues women backed by brass, so it turned out I was in my element. Julie Cymek’s vocals wailed with angst and passion, and Ron Holloway’s tenor sax blistered the crowd with haunting precision. I was in the presence of talented and skilled musicians, and after their first set I bought two CDs, one for me and one to share with someone I feel would appreciate it (I’m still deciding that one).
Reading the liner notes the next morning I learned they had recorded the CD in 2012. I had just heard them two years later playing a bar about thirty minutes from their home, one they will be playing again in May. I’m sure they all hoped that their album would lead them to be “discovered” and before they knew it they’d be rocking out on Saturday Night Live. But for now they’re doing what they need to do, playing gigs and growing as musicians. And they are definitely proactive; that saxophonist I liked so much actually plays for a different band, but the bass player Saturday night kept boasting about how they were stealing him. Good move.
It’s possible that the young man I heard inquiring about gallery space will never become a famous artist. It’s possible Julie Cymek will never reach the level of a highly successful blues woman she reminds me of, Susan Tedeschi. But they are out there, producing art and being seen. They are demonstrating perseverance.
Why do I find perseverance in every artist I meet? An artist who abandons perseverance can’t be found. When I drove across the United States interviewing artists about their creativity, I wondered if I had a skewed sample, because I had found all of them through their art. In some way, it was out there, whether advertised on a gallery’s web site or self-produced. But as that trip made me realize I needed to return to an art-committed life, I decided it was okay that my sample was skewed toward artists who were able to be found as a result of their perseverance. That was something I could learn from them.
I’m in a bit of a dry spell right now when it comes to publishing of my creative writing. Twice in my adult life I walked away from writing when that happened. I’m determined not to this time. There will be no future returns to the path of an art-committed life, because I will not leave it a third time. But perseverance isn’t easy. So I am recharging my batteries by finding inspiration in that young man in the museum and in that talented blues band I heard in Fells Point.
What do you do to maintain your perseverance?