To understand how I became an artist, we have to understand what exactly an artist is. For me, an artist is someone who intentionally does/makes/creates art. So I won't make any wild claims that I "was an artist since I was 3" or "all my life". I intentionally began making art in 2011, with blips of intention all throughout my childhood. At the age of 8, I sent in one of my sketches to The Washington Post and they published it in their 'kid's corner' section. I was so proud of my poorly drawn swan with a rainbow cascading off it (dramatic effect). But the real intention, really knowing that this was my career path- that came in 2011.
2008 found me, at the tender age of 22, in the middle of a divorce with a toddler on my hip. I knew that I had to salvage and reclaim my life. So I rented a tiny apartment, enrolled at my local community college, and lived off $600 a month. I didn't realize that I qualified for government aid, so we made do with the $600. I decided that Small Business Management with a concentration in Entrepreneurship & Marketing was a viable option and soon transferred to a four-year liberal arts women's college in Pennsylvania, Wilson College. Logically, I knew I needed to pursue a Business Law degree if I wanted the salary needed to support my single parent household.
But in 2011, everything changed. I gave birth to twins and went through some pivotal life-changing experiences. Being a single mother of one kindergartener and two newborns was... a feat. It was really, really hard and I was sculpted both mentally and physically during those years to be resilient and determined. But I can attribute much of the 2011 career u-turn to grief. Processing emotion or loss (especially death) isn't something I do particularly well. To be quite frank, I don’t believe most people process the hard stuff, like death and loss, particularly well. In 2011, I grieved. Hard. And grief does funny things to a person. I found myself unable to do anything except parent and paint. After three years, the grief left- but the art stayed.
It was also during this period that I embraced abstraction- the ability to hide your rawest and most painful of emotions in plain sight. Abstraction isn’t just about pain or grief, I also put positive, happy emotions into my pieces. My best pieces are during my some of my lowest moments. And that's okay because I can look back and say "I survived, I persisted, and I’m stronger because of it".
Another huge factor for becoming an artist was being told I couldn't or shouldn't. I already knew it was my path- but a little push down that path came in the form of criticism. That cemented the decision for me. If you tell me I can't- I'll show you I can. Perhaps I saw Fried Green Tomatoes one too many times or I was just willfully obstinate- but I resented the way friends and family would casually command me not have a career in the arts. Much less studio art. Much less abstract art. So… for lack of a better phrase- hold my beer.
So naturally, in 2011, I switched majors from Business to Fine Art. It was humbling to be almost to the finish line and have to start at the bottom and work my way up all over again. But this would later become one of my strongest and most valuable assets: a solid grasp of entrepreneurship, small business management, marketing and public relations, business law, grant writing and grant seeking, and accounting. This foundation of business knowledge paired with my core creativity (and a deep desire to pay my electric bill)- was what gave me the ability to pursue the fine arts as a career. In 2014, I was awarded my (hard earned) Bachelor's of Fine Art.
I continued to use art to process the my life’s events, emotions, and struggles. But I began exploring more than just my individual perspectives and began looking through the social lens with my work. I began my terminal degree (the highest degree in a field of work) in 2015. The program offered some of the best faculty, reputable and experienced, in the art industry. I spent two years making work, exploring other genres, pushing my art past its comfort zones, and cultivating what would later be my career practice. Fast-forward to 2017 and I had earned my terminal Masters in Fine Art, the highest degree in my field. As a single mother. With a 4.0 GPA.
But art isn't a degree. The experiences and education behind the degree certainly give an artist the advantage in his or her work- but the commitment was what made me an artist. Facing all the hardships of being an artist (can you say 'free exposure'? haha!) that come in the form of not fitting in and still feeling the gravitational pull that is making art and pursing an art career. Artists do not fit into the traditional career mold and art is rarely recognized as a legitimate career unless your work is parading around Sothbys or Christies. And don't get me started on the 99% of family & friends that will criticize and attempt to help you get a 'real job'. Ugh. (But to the family and friends that do have my back: you're pure gold and I love you and I thank you) I wasn't a secondary education art teacher (no shade, they're cool) or a art professor (no shade, they're cool) or a paint party consultant or a craft lady... I was just an artist. That's it. This is hard to explain to people because the assumption is that art is a hobby. Not for me. I’m an artist, just an artist. And it’s a career for me, not a hobby or side gig. I might even go further to say that it’s my calling, my purpose. At some point, I realized that I was going to be 100 years old and still making art. And I was perfectly content with that idea.
Still am, actually.