Crisis of faith

Last night I summoned up all my nerve and took myself to the monthly critique at the darkroom. I was half an hour late and all the beer was gone.

There’s a guy who is involved in the darkroom who is a bit, actually probably a decade or more, older than me. I bring his age up because he did: he turned to me and said something about, hey, we cannot compete with these 40 somethings, they know tech! and I thought, dude, you don’t even know me, and I was in fact a 40 something in quite recent memory, not to mention, I just got my damn hair done, how fucking old do you think I am? And why does this matter, to me, to you?

He was showing his work. It was really fucking amazing work, like, I would kill to have these pieces in my portfolio, big prints that were metallic and shining, work that started with extremely good photographs and went on to become something more. Things I do not even have the least idea of how to even begin to make. They were things he had made a long time ago and was showing now. He was confident and arrogant in a particularly male way, or so it seemed to me. I do not like male arrogance and men make me uneasy, these days. He talked a bit about hating the digital world and he said some dismissive things about stuff I care about- but this is on me, not on him, he was not being an asshole at all, it was just artist talk.

I felt horribly awkward and nervous and then I was first silent and then talked too much because I am not good in these situations and also it’s ridiculously hot. I really fucking hate summer. There were other people there who I like and respect tremendously, most of whom are much younger than me. Somebody said, eventually, “So, are you a photographer?” And I said, “Um, sort of! Ha ha!” although I have been defining myself as a photographer for fucking years and years now. I didn’t own it and I didn’t show my own work, although I had brought it. This is mostly because I realized, looking at this work and some of the other work people had brought, that my work is student work.

It’s objectively fair that it should be student work! I started this odyssey 4 months ago. Aside from one 7th grade afternoon (the memory of which I have treasured all these years and one of the driving forces in where I am now) I had never been in a darkroom, never printed a photo from a negative, never done any of this. I am trying, now, to make something. I know that, but. But I have been making art, one way or another, for a long time now and taking pictures for almost 20 years and, hell. I didn’t own it.

I am ashamed. I don’t have a body of work to show. I am old and I should have my shit together and know what I’m doing, in art if not in life, or at least somewhere, and I so, so don’t. I remember when I was a painting student in college and the middle aged ladies who were taking classes. I wasn’t a nice kid: they drove me crazy and I was mean to and about them. I was horrible and confident then. Now I am neither. Now I am a (mostly) nice middle aged lady, taking up space.

I went into a bad spiral last night. What is the point of me, middle aged lady, pretending to be an artist? I’m just a fuckup. I’m just a lameass broke bookstore clerk. I have failed in everything I have ever attempted. I have no right to try to make art, to print photos like it’s the first time anybody ever printed photos of a concrete pig. I remember this feeling – I got like this one time before, in my late 20s, when I felt it was disgustingly privileged to try to make art and nobody should doing it using anything other than stuff you can buy at the dollar store for less than $5 because otherwise, you are hurting the world. I spent years pulling myself out of that.

This though is sort of worse, because it is tied up in being a middle aged lady, and feeling like perhaps you should really put yourself on an ice floe for the good of the planet. Okay, granted, I would hop on a nice ice floe so fast right now you could not even see my smoke, but heat wave (heat DOME! It’s DOMING!) aside, it is really difficult for me to think I have a reason or a right to exist. Mostly I sort of think I don’t. I am not pretty anymore. I don’t have a great job.  My children are grown and gone and . . . I am just sort of keeping the dogs and the tomatoes alive. And trying to make, well, art. Art. Like I thought I would spend my life making when I was 23 instead of 53. Now I think, how dare I? How dare I try to reinvent myself and learn a new art form?

This says a lot about me – whoa dog! A lot! An extremely fucked up lot! –  but it occurs to me that it also says a lot about the world I inhabit. Why is women’s work dismissed? Why is it so easy for me to dismiss myself, my aspirations, my interests, my art – as pointless and stupid? Why do I think I should just quietly give up and maybe, I don’t know, do good works and needlepoint? Men my age do not, I think, feel they should be on an ice floe. (No they mostly go on OK Cupid looking for 32 year olds because they have suddenly realized they forgot to have kids but yeah, okay, I might be a little bitter, #notallmen) They have a kind of confidence, though, that I don’t have. I need it. I don’t have the faintest idea how to acquire it. I remember my mother saying dismissively, oh, that’s just women’s fiction. Those are just women’s books. Women’s paintings. Not important.

This toxic stew of misogyny and ageism, it can bubble up badly quite fast.

I don’t have any answers. I talked to my friends a lot tonight, most intensely to my friend Zen,  an artist, a photographer who has gleefully at 60ish taken up being a graffiti artist and is really good at it. He made me feel better. My friend Meg reminded me that this is the depressive brain – it tries to tell you stupid shit lies to make you stop doing things. And it was in general lovely to see them and remember that if these people like me, well, they are smart and awesome people, and they would not like me if I was horrible shit. I came home and took a bad picture of one of the sunflowers in my front yard, which are growing crazy and are like 16 feet tall and yet are standing up, being as orange as orange can ever be.

I worked in marketing for years. I could turn this into a nice redemptive piece with a happy ending right now. But there isn’t one and I don’t (thank you dashboard jesus) work in marketing anymore. I’m still kind of unhappy and I don’t have any answers. My art is probably shit. I don’t have a good reason to make it. I am one of the daffy middle aged artsy fartsy ladies beloved by parodists (and why is that, by the way?) and I am unhappy about it but fuck, I am still going to keep on trying, I guess. I pretty much have to – I suck at needlepoint. So here is a picture of a 6 foot concrete pig. img013


This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Crisis of faith

  1. Carol Robinson says:

    I love your concrete pig! Please keep doing your art!

  2. zen says:

    Fliss, your crisis gave me pause. I felt your words last night both sing and sting. It made me dredge down into my own childhood brain and pull up the exact thing you’re talking about – the feeling of being the very mediocre older person who photographs or paints or writes poems or makes things to staple up on telephone poles and think i’m being so clever or powerful. The kind we want to make fun of, except it hurts.

    What other right do i have to call myself an artist except that i just do? I’ve rarely doubted my ‘ability’ as a creator of artful things and that has come from 2 sources. One, the unflagging love from my parents, and two, yes, male arrogance. I was (and maybe still am) too stupid to doubt that i can’t. It really doesn’t make sense or me any more or better of an artist, but it lets me the practice in ignorance and with the sheer number of mistakes to make the rare hit among a whole bunch of misses.

    I”m not gonna blow sunshine up your dress, but you have every part of talent except drive. Your eye, sense of balance, composition, you understand color way better than i, you get chaos in a way i just can’t – and i know it’s not all about comparison to me as i don’t have any competitiveness at all, but these are things i admire in your natural sense. Above that, you express yourself so well in words, i can’t imagine how you have difficulty expressing it through art, but we all have hurdles.

    I just think you haven’t found ‘the thing’ yet. The thing is that which comes from yourself that you get so lost in the act of creating that you don’t care what others think, that it doesn’t matter that your 50 something and a woman who has been told subliminally or directly what you can’t or shouldn’t be able to do. It becomes not great, not trash, but something of you. You can. And do, but you haven’t felt like you have enough ‘hits’ to propel you. Your excitement for ‘the thing’ comes from a glimpse of vision like the bubble-wrap in your landscape. There’s just something about it that maybe you could describe, but i can’t that’s for sure.

    Your schooling may be one cause of your barriers, you know. You know too much. You’re too well-read. You know artists and works and references that i can barely see the beginnings of especially when i hear you and Jodi talk – but again, in that male arrogance, that didn’t stop me from believing that I knew better (even without the knowledge of art’s history), that what i was doing had to be unique and zen because i hadn’t seen it before. Ignorance as belief in myself. Without the least concern that what i’m doing may be being done better, faster and with more creativity that i could ever muster somewhere else, probably by an 8 year old Japanese girl with a broken iPhone. But please don’t let your knowledge get in the way. Like they told us in school, Hemingway KNEW the rules so he knew how to break them properly. Your mind works too much ahead of you – “Oh, that’s what Ansel or Annie or Diane or Dorothea would do and i don’t want to copy, i want to be unique!” Unique is polishing your own talents of expression even if the technique is borrowed to get there.

    I don’t want you to stop; I want you to stumble on ‘the thing’ or at least pretend you have it until you do. I love you and have faith in you. ~z

  3. Thank you Zen this is really lovely & thoughtful & has given me a ton to think about! I will mull it over.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s