BY ANNE BELOV
July 4, 2014
If you think about it, all of us who work in the creative pursuits are really independent contractors. Whether we show our work in a gallery, perform with an orchestra or dance in the streets, we owe it to our audience—not to mention to ourselves—to march to the beat of our own drum.
Since this is the week that we celebrate our nation’s independence, let’s celebrate the independent spirits of those in the creative vocations.
I’ve had a lot of occasion to consider my own creative independence in the last couple years and—like the reluctant optimist that I am—I’m trying to look on my not entirely voluntary influx of independence as a good thing. I won’t go into the specifics of all the changes that have pushed me toward more independence recently, but I want to reflect here on the ramifications of these events.
Some artists work and create in a more communal context. Theater companies and orchestras come to mind, but I’ve always been something of an isolationist. Maybe because I was shy as a child, or because I didn’t want anyone else’s input as I try to work out my artistic conundrums, I’ve always worked best alone, in my studio. Here it is; take it or leave it. While I can understand the reasons a gallery owner or editor would say, “I know you are doing that, but we could really sell this,” I know that I do my best work without outside direction. When I listen to someone’s input and, in my gut know that it’s not something I agree with and then do it anyway, I usually regret it.
My most recent project, Pandamorphosis, a wordless picture book, did get some valuable input during the four years that I worked on it, but I had to do some very judicious consideration of what was a valid idea and what had nothing to do with my concept. I had to ignore that which did not serve my story.
It is in the essential concept of a creative work that an artist needs to be most independent.
I know, I know…I want to make a living from my work and to do that I need to create something that people will want to spend their hard earned dollars on. But I have finally learned (often the hard way) that when I listen to my inner voice (or inner panda), I do my very best work, and that is the work that people want to buy.
In the case of Pandamorphosis, after working on it for nearly four years, I made the rounds of agents and publishers. I got much positive feedback, including some close calls, a few from major publishers. In the end, they all decided it was not right for them at this moment, or was too risky a proposition. I don’t know. If I were in my 30’s, instead of being on the cusp of 60, I might have spent a few more years making the rounds in the traditional publishing world. As I said before, I’m an optimist, but I’m also a realist. The realist in me said, “if you want this book to see the light of day while you can still hold a pen to sign it, you better do it independently.”
So I did. Well, there was a little interlude where I almost published with a publisher, but some stuff happened and the person who coordinated the project suddenly left, and I realized that without her there to champion the work, it would get no attention or promotion. So I took my book and went home.
Did I do the right thing? Well, there are all sorts of right things and I’m as sure as I can be that it was the right thing for right now. You can find Pandamorphosis at Moonraker Books in Langley, and you can be the judge.
Meanwhile, back in the painting studio, I’m gearing up for another Froggwell Biennale at the legendary Froggwell Garden, not to mention a show of paintings at the Rob Schouten Gallery, both in August. I hope to see you there.
Anne Belov is a visual artist, cartoonist and writer living on an island in the Pacific Northwest. You can find her paintings at The Rob Schouten Gallery in Greenbank, WA, her cartoons on her blog The Panda Chronicles and read her guest posts on Whidbey Life Magazine, an on-line journal of arts, food, and culture on Whidbey Island. Her first book was funded by her second successful Kickstarter project. Her only regret in life is that there is no MacArthur Grant awarded for panda satire.