Be warned! This is not gonna be your typical post on this topic. Usually when I read something about living up to your potential, I’m given a list of how to accomplish this, and loads of encouragement to be the very best you can be at something. Well, I’m here to redefine this phrase.
Continuing to explore A Career of Art vs. A Life of Art, I’ve discovered that my perceived inability to establish a full-time, money making art career has left me feeling like I’m not living up to my full potential. Let me describe a couple of real-life interactions I’ve had:
Several years ago I was in a regular figure drawing group. I sometimes drew the entire figure of the model, but would often zero in on the model’s face and draw just his/her portrait in charcoal. I love charcoal, especially with faces…it’s such an expressive medium. A gal who often drew at her easel beside me, seemed to like what I did and would ask questions. She seemed eager to learn to draw faces and expressed a desire to become a portrait artist.
Fast forward a year or two… I signed up for a proper portrait class in our area taught by a couple of fantastic artists. This gal had also signed up and on the first day she quizzed me about how I was doing as an artist, was I selling my work and doing a lot of portrait commissions. I told her I would enter a show and do a commission every now and then, but was very busy with raising my kids, teaching knitting and crochet classes, etc. What came out of her mouth next has stuck in my brain. “What a waste”, she said. “The very people who are so good at portrait drawing just don’t see it and never make something of their art. It’s such a waste of talent. You could really go places with the gift you have.”
Another interaction was with two other artist friends in a drawing group I was a part of in recent years. These two artists are incredible at drawing, I mean really incredible. They are older than I am and would regularly speak of artists who “make it big” as being so much better than they. At one point, one of them said, “I guess I just never really lived up to my potential. I can’t do anything about that now. It’s too late.”
My heart broke for these two artists in light of what I knew about them. They had both lived and were living very full lives, one had been a professor of art, the other a mom and artist who was a catalyst for starting a vibrant drawing group in Winston-Salem that has been well-attended for many years now. And I also thought of myself, and the above comment that rings in my ears. It left me wondering what would it mean to really live up to my full potential? Does this mean that I must show to the world all that I am capable of in artistic technical ability? Does this mean that I need to make a ton of money from my paintings and drawings? Does it mean that I create museum and gallery worthy artwork? What exactly does this phrase <live up to your full potential> mean? And in light of how elusive a career in art has been for me, does this mean I will die never having lived up to this potential, whatever it is?
And one more interaction to share with you: Just a few months ago, right before I landed in the hospital, a dear friend of mine who is an amazing artist and runs her own counseling business, came to visit me as I was hoping to get better at home, taking the meds prescribed to me. She was sitting in a chair looking through one of my sketchbooks and I was saying something about the “real art” I’ll make one day. She asked about this “real art”. “Oh, you know, the big paintings, the canvases, the major works that I will one day be free to make!” She said she knew what I was talking about and understood. Then she said this, “But Jennifer, THIS is the real art. All this in these sketchbooks. The drawings and paintings of your everyday life…THIS is it!” And I had to hold back the tears, as the profound words sank in.
What if we redefined what this whole potential thing really meant? What if, instead of having to prove our creative selves in a particular area of art, we could reach our potential by simply living artfully? What if, instead of striving to make lots of money with our art, or show just how technically perfect we could draw… what if we engaged in our everyday lives with an artful eye, probing the moments for beauty? What if, we reached our potential by daily living the life WE HAVE, the good and the bad, the mundane and the magical, with open arms and full hearts, celebrating and capturing some of it in an artful manner along the way? What if living up to our potential as artists had MORE to do with seeing the beauty in all of life and sharing it with one or more persons, than with being able to say we have devoted our whole lives to making a career of x or y or z.
In the hospital, as I realized just how close I had come to not making it through the ordeal, my thoughts were NOT, “I would’ve missed making those paintings and drawings, or knitting that sweater or crocheting that blanket.” NO! My thoughts were, “Oh how I would’ve missed seeing my kids continue to grow up, get married, and have kids of their own. How sad I would be not to grow old with Randy.” It was a wonderful realignment of perspective. But as I grow stronger and healthier, the old “achilles heel” wants to flare up and entice me down the “gotta make something of yourself” path. I’m not gonna have it! As Robert Frost so beautifully wrote:
“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less traveled by,
and that has made all the difference.”