As both an artist and a career business professional, I embrace both and switch back and forth in my brain, depending on the situation. One pays the bills, the other pays my soul.
I am currently on a business trip for a fairly important meeting and at these events it is customary to have a group photograph taken by a professional photographer.
To that end, yesterday we were told to gather in the lobby for this year’s group photo. We were told we were going outside where it was a bit cold, so the photographer was going to arrange us inside then we’d head outside for the shots in front of a lovely green space.
Immediately the carping began “Why are we going outside, it’s cold out there!?” The photographer’s answer, “Because it’s very pretty outside and will make for a much nicer photo.”
“Can’t we just do it in here?” The photographer’s answer “Yes, but we want a really good photo and the lobby isn’t very nice.”
Then the photographer began to evaluate the shot and arrange us by height, clothing color, and other aesthetics he wanted to see.
Herding about 20 bossy people is no small task, but this photographer is an old hand and firmly took command.
“You in the blue shirt, would you switch places with this person in the charcoal jacket?” and so we’d switch around, moving forward and back as he studied the pose.
More than once I heard a comment along the lines of “Artists, sheesh! Just take the picture!”
Or “Why all this fuss, let’s get on with it!”
Or “This is an awful lot of trouble for a picture, can’t we just use a cellphone and be done with it?”
With this, my hackles began to rise. You see, a business professional is what I do, an artist is what I am. To hear this kind of careless talk is not unexpected, but fully disheartening. I took it personally.
Maybe people don’t see photographers as “real artists” or maybe because the photographer is employed by our institution and not hired from outside he is subject to coworker’s careless talk, but I found the comments rather tactless.
What stings me the most is when the word “artist” is said in an unkind and sarcastic way. As if being an artist is somehow bad.
It is not the first time I’ve run across this in my work setting, only the most recent.
I have been at my creative work for a long time, and I’ve long since grown past any discomfort or sheepishness I have in calling myself an artist. In other words, I own it and I’m well beyond trying to defend it. It just is.
However, I somehow have not gotten past people going “pfft, sure” when I describe myself that way.
I think there is a perception that an artist is a hippy-dippy, flowing skirt, wacky hair, free spirited, out of touch soul. And why not? But in my experience a working artist is also a nuts and bolts, down to earth, hardworking soul with enormous amounts of self-discipline, organization, and drive.
In this instance, I get that people don’t like having their photo taken, but if a photo is taken, people certainly want it to look nice. Good work takes work.
People love to consume art, but for some reason underestimate the work it takes to produce quality art. A few minutes in the Choosing Beggars sub-Reddit offers a few sobering examples.
I do sometimes feel like there are two of me walking around in a one-human unit, and that’s okay. My business side brings some discipline to my art and my artist side brings some creativity to my business work.
So while I grimaced a bit and noted the careless and arguably rude undertone in the use of the word artist, I chose to move past it (under the guise of “pick your battles”), moved where the photographer told me to stand without comment, and thanked him when we were done.
What follows is me working out some “stuff” up there in the ol’ brain pan. A bit indulgent to do this publicly, but maybe putting it out there helps someone else. Or makes me accountable for my own crap. Either way.
So here it is… I have been taking part in a Flickr group that challenges its members to do a new macro photo every week based on a theme the moderators choose.
I started participating on December 4th with this photo:
I felt clever. Sassy. Like my photo was more creative and of better quality than the others in the group. Go me! I was rewarded with well over one hundred faves in the first day. Hey, fun!
So I kept going. Each week working hard and having fun doing these weekly photo challenges. Creating a new image every week. Some weeks I worked really hard (or agonized) over executing my idea.
Other weeks it came easy to me, I snapped a photo that was exactly what I wanted and went on about my day.
But always having fun and not taking it too seriously.
Until two weeks ago. Two weeks ago I stopped having fun and got deadly (overly) serious about my weekly photo entry.
Let me back up. This Flickr group is huge, over 13,000 members. Each Monday between 800 to 1,200 photos are posted for the theme. This means in order to function, the group must be tightly moderated. And it is. Tightly.
I both like and respect that there are heavily enforced rules for the group. But I also HATE it because I’m an *artist* and The Muse can’t be contained by your silly rules. I should be able to break them because MY work is the best.
Yeah, okay. I own it. I got weird. I hate it when I get weird.
The week’s theme was monochromatic, and I turned this one in:
I really like this photo. I worked hard on it and felt really good about it. I feel like I did something worthwhile. Artistic.
Less than ten minutes after adding it to the group, a moderator pulled it, telling me “This is not monochromatic, I can see both brown and green.”
I seethed. I stewed. I started looking at other photos in the group and found SEVERAL that also had tiny bits of another color that made it through the moderator’s net.
I bellowed about how unfair it was. I started making a list of all the other photos that were let through. I prepared to launch my vitriol on anyone who would listen and demand answers for my mistreatment. How could they hate my photo so much!?!?! (I know, I know)
Then I went to talk to The Good Man, and as I detailed all the ways I had been wronged, I heard myself. I listened to my words and realized…aw damn…I’d stopped having fun. I was this worked up over a photo on Flickr in a group where the only prize is some eyes seeing the photo and some faves.
Yeah. I hit the wall pretty hard. This came just a day after struggling with a story for a writing contest that just would not gel for me. I hadn’t given myself enough time to work on it and the story would not come together no matter how hard I tried. I tried to shotgun it and I failed hard. I did still turn in the story but I know it’s not good.
You see, I wasn’t mad at that stupid unfair moderator. I was mad at me.
And that’s no way to create. That is the antithesis of creativity. This dampens The Muse.
So I went all the way there and now I’m reeling myself back in. I swear. I sat my Muse and my brain down and we had a talk. Feelings were felt and admonitions were issued. Promises to be better. To loosen up. To remember why I do any of my creative work…to have fun. To let the creativity out. To create something.
And I’m better. I am. The following week I swore I wasn’t going to participate in the Flickr group again, but that was EXACTLY why I needed to get back in the game. So I made a photo based on the theme “in a bottle.”
Here’s my Valentine to myself. Green like the Hulk who gets very, very mad. Sweet like the victory of turning out a piece of art and something I really like. It also met the rules and made it past the moderators.
My parents were pretty strict when I was growing up, but I’m not here to complain about that. I think my brother, sister and I turned out pretty well, overall. Well, my brother and sister did, jury is still out on me.
But it’s true, my folks were a bit old fashioned and handed down strict discipline. They kept us in line.
One thing my Dad was all about was his kids answering “yes, sir” or “yes, ma’am” when addressed by an adult. It’s ingrained in me, automatic. It’s a show of respect for elders, along with respect for a person’s position.
And so when either of my parents would call out “hey Karen?” I would automatically drop a “yes, sir” or “yes, ma’am” without hesitation.
It’s carried into my adult life and usually has served me well. On a recent visit with one of my favorite Aunties in Michigan, she at one point called out my name and I dutifully replied “yes, ma’am,” and I knew it was right. I felt like a good kid.
As the digits in my age advance, however, I also notice that I get ma’amed here and there. At first I didn’t like it, but then I began to appreciate that for those younger than me, their parents raised them with that same value. Yes sir!
Here’s where it gets weird: My new boss at work? She’s my same age. In fact maybe a year or two younger. She was my peer for the past several years and was recently made the acting manager. It’s also very likely that she will soon be the permanent manager. And I’m okay with that.
I have nothing but respect for her and we’re working out the bounds of going from peers to boss and employee.
Yesterday, she came wheeling into my office, fresh off one of her many meetings each day and with something on her mind. “Hey Karen?” she said sharply.
“Yes ma’am!” I replied.
And she looked at me kind of strangely.
And I looked at her kind of sheepishly.
“Ahem. What can I do for you?” I revised.
It made me think maybe I need to change up the ma’am/sir thing. I mean, it still fits in many cases. For example, if I come across any of the distinguished scientists that I work with, I’m sure as heck going to ma’am or sir them, regardless of age. Or any dignitary.
But maybe I have to realize that I am the grown up now. I am the one to receive the ma’am treatment. I suppose it is time to finally own my own mildly elder status. Right?
It’s just so weeeird! And will take a while to reprogram my brain.