I’ve been living a double life for sometime, painting what moves, touches and inspires me, while dutifully holding on to the moniker of being a professional artist.
Today, I am giving up the identity of being a professional artist. Ironically, it is also the day I’m launching my new website. Special thanks to Larry Collett of NetGalaxy Studios who was the brains behind this awesome new experience.
I am fully committing myself to painting, writing, acting, teaching, film making, etc., responding to truth and light rather than depending upon the sale of my art, for my sustenance and purpose. Not that my art isn’t for sale; it most certainly is. I’m just no longer depending on it to sustain me or identify who I am.
Truth be told, I have never been comfortable selling my art anyway. After years of trying to market my art, teaching seminars on sales and marketing, admonishing artists to treat their careers like a business, viewing art as a commodity, I have decided to drop all pretense and identities associating my art with any commercial purpose.
I am officially getting out of the art biz. It’s as simple as that. I have peddled my art for too long. I will no longer be the Willie Loman1 of creativity, the working stiff, scouring my territory, hoping for some magical transfer of wealth, beating myself up with the broken promises of the American Dream.
“But Rob, how can you have your work up for sale and not be selling it,” you may ask? “Isn’t that a contradiction?” My short answer is that I am only giving up my identity as a professional artist. If you want to pay me to do what I love to do, I don’t consider that a conflict. I’m as happy to feed my family as the next person. I’m just a Democratic Socialist, after all, not a Communist.
What I am doing, is claiming my freedom to fully explore the world of ideas, among them, that we must strive to do no harm. But I will no longer pretend to remain innocuous. I will use all my creativity, cunning and compassion to make you think, feel and understand. I am taking a stand for fairness, equality and freedom. I claim my right to speak my mind and for you to speak yours. And if what I say has value for you, I am perfectly fine with your decision to invest in my work.
I am simply a creative, formed in the image of the Creator, imperfect, going about the work that brings me joy and which edifies Him.
There may be those who read this declaration as an admission of defeat, that I am somehow flushing my career down the toilet. On the contrary, I see it as a victory over the idea that my life is a game that can be won or lost. These people may approach me from a place of superiority and try to take advantage of my new found freedom. For you see, I am also declaring that people are no longer welcome to devalue my worth or the worth of my God-given talent by taking advantage of my ardent desire to give back.
I have found that what seems inevitable and irreversible also is subject to change; God has intended that we evolve. Yet, even as our perceptions about ourselves and our relationship with God evolve, He is the only element in the universe which remains unchanged. Truth doesn’t change the moment we discover it; it is we who are changed by the truth. “And the truth will set you free.”
The amazing Todd Simonis, my dear friend and pastor at City Church, spoke words to power again last Sunday, and I paraphrase: “Our mission is a response to God, rather than an initiative waiting for His blessing. Our purpose is not something we must go out and find; it is right where we are. The Kingdom of God is at hand.”
As of this day, I no longer make art for a living. I now live in order to please God. And as long as it pleases God, I will make art. No, I am not becoming a Christian artist. I am simply a Christian who makes art. For some time now, I have been evolving into an artist whose mission it is to edify God and His creation. I’m talking about all my work but in particular about The Quench Project and my Faces of the Lowcountry series of paintings, videos and books which are clearly not intended for a mass market or even for typical collectors and patrons of the arts. My work is about expressing the desire of humans to be closer to God. Unfortunately, that is a fairly narrow market.
I am accepting the reality that I have become more of a monk in recent years, than a professional artist. I have evolved into a servant of the truth, even as I know I’ll never have complete access to it. But God does grant me snippets from time to time and for that I am grateful. I ran from this knowledge for years, because I believed myself to be damaged goods. Who was I kidding? I felt ineffectual, that I was unworthy to express the important ideas burning inside me. That paradigm began to shift when I gave my broken self to Christ.
Who I am, my truest self, my essence, stripped of form and ego is a unique, an eternal being, connected, inseparable and ubiquitous, one with the entirety of God’s creation. I am a child of God, whose voice is precious. Though unworthy of God’s grace, it has nonetheless been given to me in full abundance. I am simply claiming it and “painting it forward,” as I hope you will too.
What I am giving up, once and for all, is my addiction to identity. Along with the remorse I feel at the thought of giving up my delusions around identity, there is also a tremendous relief and freedom that comes with giving up any addiction.
I am not dependent upon the affiliations of man, the labels, trends or clubs assigned to us by others — or ourselves — including religious and political bullies, the celebrated elite.
I am a person who tinkers with important and unimportant ideas. I do not consider myself a mover or a shaker. I do not even consider myself wise. I am simply retiring from the rat race of professionalism, essentially, from being a know-it-all. The real trouble with being a know-it-all is that when we don’t know something we have to make it up. And I’m tired of making things up. I’d rather be creative. And there is a difference.
I am competing with no one. My standards of excellence are informed but not determined by any implied elite, who have set themselves on high as authorities, to protect, teach or otherwise control me.
I am also giving up the delusion that I have authority to determine professional standards or am somehow in a position to distinguish between a professional or amateur artists, or speak with authority on what is art. Who cares? We’re all in this together. If I can get more for a painting than you that doesn’t make me more of a professional or a better artist. I didn’t devote myself to studying the masters, understanding my craft and practicing in order to beat anyone or to be considered a “talented” professional; I did it so I could more fully express the ideas with which I have been blessed. I don’t show up on time, keep my word or build my brand in order to be taken seriously as a professional; I do those things because I am a human, striving to have integrity in my work. I am a servant of God, joyfully striving to connect more deeply with Him and my fellow beings.
“But Rob, aren’t you just identifying with different names, like servant, artist, child of God, tinkerer, etc.?” Yes, I am attempting to give up those identities which enslave me and replace them with those that set me free.
Therefore, I hereby ban my personal use of the word professional in context with my arts career. It was an identity I inherited from my father, a burden I no longer choose to carry. The implication of a professional artist is that I’m just in it for the money. My actions throughout my career have proven just the opposite is true. So I am simply acknowledging what has always been true for me. I am simply an artist.
I have burned a lot of bridges over the years as I’ve tried to set myself above those I’ve categorized as “non-professional artists.” It was never my intention to tear anyone down. I thought I was teaching and protecting an identity that I now see as meaningless. All I can say is that I am truly sorry to anyone (including myself) who has ever been hurt with my ego-infused judgements.
While I’m at it, I am also giving up the moniker of portrait artist. I enjoy the collaborative process and I believe God has something to say through me about humanity in this genre. I shall henceforth refer to myself as a poetry artist.
And finally, I am giving up the identity with the law, that suggests if I give up something, like an addiction, that God will somehow favor me with the blessings of my choosing. I understand that God has His own plan for me and will provide an answer to my prayers in His own time and in His own way. So my prayer is one of thanksgiving and of asking God’s will be done in all things.
“. . . I count all things to be loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but refuse, that I may gain Christ.” Philippians 3:8 (ASV)
1From “Death of a Salesman” by Arthur Miller