Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Right to Choose

copyright Hannah Phelps
Swimming Lab
9" x 12", oil on canvas

I am painter. And a printmaker. Oh, and I also train for and compete in dog agility trials with my golden retrievers. Is this too much? Shouldn’t I focus on one thing and try to be the best at that?

This challenge, spoken and unspoken, came up quite a bit while I was with other artists in the past month. One great reason to hang out with professional colleagues is to exchange ideas. That doesn’t mean all the ideas are good, or at least good for me.

One of my painting friends asked me about my printmaking. I excitedly told her about the types I have done and the methods I can’t wait to try. I explained that so far I prefer my white-line reliefs, but I want to know as much about printmaking as possible.

She eventually said, “There are so many types of art I want to try, but I feel that I need to concentrate on painting.”

She isn’t alone. There was a lot of talk in the last month about the number of hours artists spend every week painting. When you reach 9 or 10 hours a day, 6 or 7 days a week, you are leaving little room for anything else, even other forms of artistic expression.

If printmaking is taking away from my development as an artist in the eyes of these people, imagine how they must feel about entire weekends spent competing in dog agility. When artists start asking questions about the sport, their interest is genuine. But whether they say it out loud or not, I know they are wondering if I can possibly be a serious artist if I spend so much time and money on my dogs.

So here’s my defense. For the record, I don’t really feel that I need one. If you are having trouble deciding between two or more fulfilling activities though, maybe reading some of my reasons for keeping all three will help:

- I am a better painter since I started printmaking. I am not sure exactly why or how this happened, but I have some guesses that would fill a whole new post.

- Because I hang out with printmakers and painters now, I hear about new exhibit opportunities for my paintings and prints.

I could do a year’s worth of posts about living with dogs. The dogs are staying and so is agility. The top three reasons for this are:

- I have learned skills from competing in agility that I use in my art life. Again, this topic could fill a few new posts.

- Some of my closest friends are from my agility life. We all know how precious a really good friend is no matter where or when you find them.

- “Agility people” were my first collectors. Dog portraits paid for the supplies I needed to learn to paint landscapes. Even if my agility contacts didn’t buy paintings like the one at the top of this post, the more people I can meet, the more likely I am to meet new art buyers.

Finally, here are a very few of the hundreds of notable artists who, like me, refused to choose:

Charles H. Woodbury was a very accomplished painter AND etcher

Pablo Picasso mastered many art forms, including printmaking, sculpture and painting

Aldro Hibbard was best known for his plein air paintings of New England scenes but he never gave up playing organized baseball

Blanche Lazelle is credited with bringing modern ideas like cubism to the US AND helped invent the white-line relief method of woodblock prints

And in contemporary times, artist Jack Johnson has successfully built a creative life combining competitive surfing and making music.

Geez, imagine how great these folks could have been if they had just picked something.



Anonymous said...

I would never want to be a square peg in a square hole. A round peg in a square hole has more wiggle room. More room to have fun and enjoy life.

Scott Bulger Photography said...

No defense is necessary. Inspiration is found in many a different place. A person with many interests is well rounded and can see things from different perspectives. Different perspectives are the basis for fresh vision. On the other hand, some people don't have the capacity for thinking about more than one thing at a time. It's not better or worse, just different.

Erica said...

Hannah, I think your interests are all enhancing each other! I hadn't visited the blog for a while (shame on me) - it's fresh and energized! I've been enjoying updates about your busy and productive summer.

Hannah Phelps said...

In one lifetime, there certainly isn't time to excel at every passing fancy we may have. But life is too short to not try new things and make time for what we enjoy.

Thanks for stopping by, guys!

badloi said...

nice painting you your work// cute "dog".....keep it up...