painter Rebecca Alzofon
interview by Douglas Eby
The image above is a detail from a painting by Rebecca Alzofon: "Hecuba's Child." Thinking about a woman who may not be a professional artist, but has a passion to paint, Alzofon points out that being an artist is a demanding life.
"First of all, I'd say you won't reach your potential if you share your painting with any other job," she says. "And if you decide to quit your job to paint, be ready to spend fifty percent of your time staring, with your mind blank. If you don't have that time, you won't be able to make your art.
"It's a required part of the creative process, to be sitting still and letting ideas pass through you. If you don't have that, then the creative work doesn't start."
"A lot of people panic at first, if they're not used to this, they find themselves just sitting and not doing anything, and they think they're wasting their time, and make themselves get up and do something while they're waiting for inspiration. But you have to hold still, and be peaceful. You might be able to look through a book, or look at pictures, or just scratch on paper.
She notes this has probably caused a lot of people to stop the effort to paint, "because they have a belief you need to be physically active, and productive. They think if you're not doing that, you're failing, and you don't have it in you."
Alzofon says selling enough to support herself as an artist is definitely an issue. "Finding a marketplace would enable me to continue making it, and support generating more of it, and better conditions for making it better," she notes. "But the struggle is, if you have unique ideas, and a method which is considered a little off-center, there's a problem."
She says many people, professional women and others, see her art and love it. "But art historians and the critics want something that makes sense to them in the context of recent art history," she says. So in terms of career, this is where it gets difficult for her, and many other talented painters and others.
"Am I making a living as an artist? The answer is yes, and no. Because I've been doing portraits so long, people ask me to do them, and are so enthused about them. But then I'm in a very long term project that takes me away from the speculative work, which is truly exciting, and what really feeds my soul."
"Gallery people appreciate portraits, but they have no use for them. Galleries are interested in what you have that they can hang on their wall, and sell. And they are the doorkeepers, the ones who are in touch with the museums and the critics, and they coordinate career pathways for artists."
Another of her struggles as an artist is staying on track: "People see my work and I get various reactions, all of them positive, but they would distract me if I went after them. So I have to keep a cap on that, and it's painful to turn so many people away." But she does teach an adult class and sees private students, in addition to creating her own paintings.
Alzofon agrees that the label "artist" commands more respect and higher prices than "woman artist" and says friends of hers regularly talk about the issue. "The problem is," she says, "making it in the art world is so difficult for anyone, it starts to get pretty foggy about what is causing the problem.
"But I never did promote myself as a 'woman artist' and never thought of myself that way. It's been disturbing to hear people qualify any artist as a 'woman artist' if they're female, and otherwise they're simply 'an artist.'"
Referring to the issue of feeling "entitled" to work as an artist, Alzofon notes, "I don't put myself in situations where others expect me to place anything other than my painting at the highest priority. I have always been this way. Because of my aversion to social expectations, this might make me appear eccentric to many people, and I miss out on enjoying the company of more kinds of people, but this is what I do."
She agrees living as an artist can get hard: "There are times when I say, I hate my life and wish I could escape," she admits. "And then I think, the only way to escape is to get better at what I do, and do it harder. Then I will protect myself from these disappointments, and I'm back at work."
While painting, she finds herself often in a meditative state, and says, "problems go away if I just start painting. Nobody is going to stop me from working."
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