The rewards and challenges of being an artist

Oil painting by Jen Derbyshire, one of the artists included in the new “Directory of Artists of St. George”

The month of June brings a whole new summer season of fine art exhibitions to the St. George peninsula. In preparation, many of us artists pushed the boundaries of our creativity into new territories during the long winter months. Our endeavors come with significant rewards and challenges. Last winter, as I reflected upon my own efforts, I wondered about the experiences of other St. George artists. Is there commonality among our experiences or are we completely different? So, I asked them: What are the greatest rewards and greatest challenges for you as a professional artist? Over a dozen St. George artists responded and it seems that our individual experiences overlap a great deal.

Most of us artists simply enjoy the freedom to create. For botanical painter, Banjie Getsinger Nicholas, “the biggest reward is the spark of an idea and the pleasure and challenge of nourishing it to life.” An anonymous painter added to that sentiment, “As I get older and less ambitious, the element of escape, that total engagement in the work, is a god-send.” It’s no exaggeration that we artists need to create almost as much as we need to breathe air. We thrive on the pleasure of making art because it springs from our core. And, our artistic core often forms during childhood. For instance, like most St. George artists, painter Hannah Nelsbach began making art in her youth. “As a young girl I started drawing with very colorful pencils,” she remarks. “I wanted to see the world as happy with my colors.”

For Jon Mort, “The biggest reward is the job of communicating with people. For me, art is a process based on dialogue and that conversation is the deepest part of my inspiration.” Chris Moses agrees, “I find great value in my work if I feel that I have captured the element that I was trying to convey to the viewer, as in light, emotion, character, etc. of a landscape.” Greg Mort adds that he is “fulfilled with what I love to do and share it with others.” And Sandra Mason Dickson feels rewarded “when others appreciate what my work says to them.” Indeed, we artists hope to communicate with viewers just as the author of a book hopes to communicate with readers. This is what drives authors to publish and artists to exhibit their work.

A third reward identified by many of our artists is validation. For encaustic painter Otty Merrill, it is important to “be acknowledged by your peers and those artists you look up to.” This provides an important sense of accomplishment that encourages us to keep going. Painter Kenneth Schweizer adds that “Finding and following the requisite disciplines necessary to raise the quality of my art is necessary for my creative development. And when a singular work is particularly praised by the public, it greatly enthuses my outlook and makes up for many artist-life tribulations.” Validation also occurs when our work sells. Gayle Bedigian remarks, “I love the act and art of creating, but my happiness springs from bringing joy to my customers.” Rick Bernard feels the same: “Perhaps, the most rewarding aspect of being an artist is the feeling I experience when someone appreciates my work enough to actually purchase it.”

These three types of rewards are the “carrot stick” that often motivate us artists. But, if we are to keep going, they must outweigh the challenges we encounter. Painter Carmella Yager identifies one of our biggest challenges. “The down side,” she reflects, “is when doubt enters and distracts.” This factor, alone, is the greatest inhibitor to creativity that often blocks our efforts to advance our work. We must rely upon our innate ability to ideate and create and no one can help us with that.”

Marketing our work is another big challenge. “For me, the biggest problem is the amount of self-promotion necessary to get the works seen by others,” says Nicholas. Most artists would agree that their talent and expertise is in creating art and not in marketing it. The task is expensive and time-consuming while the path to successful marketing is riddled with landmines. We learn as we go and hope not to make a “fatal” mistake that will cripple our professional standing in the art world.

A final challenge for many is the environment in which we create art. Plein-air painters like Chris Moses work where “bugs, heat, wind, changing light and accessing properties” hamper every effort. As a studio painter, I often need more space than what exists for laying out large paintings and for storage. And then there’s balancing our lives. “The hardship for me is making a living with my work,” says Bedigian, “since I’m also a wife, mom, grand mom, janitor, cook, secretary, dog walker, and gardener.” Anne Cox, a painter and rug-hooker, agrees. “The biggest problem I face? That’s easy. Time. Never enough, given the demands of making a living.”

For all the rewards and challenges we artists must face, I am personally rewarded when I view a work of art that moves me and connects me to the person who made it. I hope that your experience with the artists of the St. George peninsula leads you to the same appreciation this summer. And, if you don’t know all of our local artists, be sure to pick up a free copy of the newly published “Directory of the Artists of St. George” at the town office, the Jackson Memorial Library and other local establishments and get to know them!
—Katharine Cartwright

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4 thoughts on “The rewards and challenges of being an artist

  1. Barbara Anderson

    You shared a beautiful picture of one of Jen Derbyshire’s paintings, but In skimming your fine article I find no words about her. I was delighted to see the painting and have completely enjoyed getting to know her since she moved to Tenants Harbor a couple years after we did in the early ‘nineties. Of course being a Derbyshire she had already been coming here all through childhood. She was of course part of the Derbyshire artists’ group that was meeting (monthly? then – named after her uncle Bill. Then she started showing paintings, even though she was already a proven potter. She held after school clay classes for kids at her studio across the marsh from the school – and we still treasure the sculptures and vessels our son Pete made in those days. Jen studied writing as much as art and founded an independent school in New York state when her own children were little. She has continued making fine art all this time and is still painting and making silk scarves while also being a cheerful part of our community both at Jackson Library and with Neighbor to Neighbor. Thanks so much for including that image at the top of your article. And if she reads this she will probably send me a bunch of corrections, but I mean well!
    Sincerely, Barbara Anderson, Director, the Olde Drawing Room, Wileys Corner

  2. Katharine Cartwright

    Thank you, Barbara, for bringing to light all the wonderful virtues of our beloved artist. Jane. All of our artists had the opportunity to comment for this article and some opted not to. However, over the few years that I’ve been writing articles about individual artists I hope to give voice to those not represented
    In this article. We have an amazing group!

  3. David Blanchard

    Loneliness might be another aspect . . . working in isolation. This is why people join art societies, even though many artists are introverts and are quite self-sufficient.


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