I came across the following essay I wrote many many years ago, prior to selling my business. Now that I am a practicing artist again, come full circle, I thought I’d share it here.
From a journal entry, 1990:
An old class mate I haven’t seen in about 13 years called me the other day to ask for a charitable contribution. Although I get such calls rather frequently, what made this one different was that towards the end she asked, referencing our school experience together, if I was still writing poetry. It took me aback — and back. Here was a person whose last experience of me was that of artist and writer. I found myself fumbling over my answer.
Twelve years ago when I broke up my stained glass studio, folded up my easel and put away my oil paints my friends (mostly artists) asked with incredulity, “How can you go from being an artist to a business person?!”
At the time, I found starting a business extremely challenging and exciting; a daily learning experience that stretched me enormously. It was, in those early days, very definitely a creative process.
In the course of my studies at the University of Vermont, I had taken a course that explored the nature of the creative process. The text was a compilation of writings on the subject by recognized creative thinkers: Albert Einstein, Vincent Van Gogh, Friedreich Nietzsche and Carl Jung to name a few. Each one, quite separately, recounted similar experiences of the process, drew similar conclusions. To wit, that it begins with vision and boils down to problem solving. Said problem-solving incorporating looking at all the different ways there are to solve a problem, and then to apply the best one.
In thinking of this in relation to starting a business, I came up with the following:
Have a vision, make a decision re its scope, identify the essential elements needed and then go about organizing the elements that will make manifest your vision. Confront all the obstacles/problems that present themselves as you go along, but do not jump on the first solution that presents itself. Ask yourself, “is this the best solution? What are the long-term implications for my vision?”
In painting, composition, light, color, their relationships, are all elements of a puzzle to be “solved” or put together — oft-times with several different workable solutions that the artist tries out. A delightful puzzle that can go together in an infinite amount of combinations, limited only be the individual’s imagination, and surely stamped with it.
And so, during the start-up phase of my business, my career change didn’t seem all that radical. I was simply applying my creative process to a different medium: commerce. Now it was product, resources, people, places, information and their relationships that have to be sussed out. But often, of an evening, I would pick up a pen and write away. Some weekends I would paint. But slowly those urges diminished. Finally, I am left only with a reputation in the office of being an irrepressible doodler, covering pages and pages of yellow pads and meeting agendas with what’s left of the “artistic” manifestation of my creative abilities.
When I heard my ex-classmate’s question, I found I felt guilty, a bit ashamed! She, after all, had managed to integrate her art into her mode of making a living. Had I?
After we hung up, I sat at my desk reflecting. What had happened to my creative process? It had all been channeled into the endeavor of maintaining and running a business. I wrote down the thoughts above. And it occurred to me that the product is rather abstract: a successful business.
These days there are no creative juices left in me by the time I get home at night. I feel disappointed in myself. If I try and review my day and see where those juices went, I see the puzzle of a business: sales strategies, budget crunching, people management, product extensions.
Really, am I still an artist? Working in the medium of money, creating business? Has the canvas become industry, the paints our products and the brushes our employees? The score card lies not with the critics’ aesthetic acclaim, but in profit and loss statements.
The real question for me is one of worthiness. We live in a culture that lionizes the pursuit of the dollar and dismisses the importance of art. Somewhere along the line artists got characterized as being rather self-indulgent, eccentric and irresponsible; while the words most often associated with the businessman or woman are more along the lines of “serious,” “contributor,” “hard-working,” and, of course, “responsible.”
And what is all this reflection leading to? For me, the task is to discover the truth beyond the stereotypes. To examine the daily applications of my creative energy and judge, for myself, their “worthiness.”
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So here I am, all these years later…. That business and my part in it are now history, literally, preserved in the Smithsonian Archives. I have come full circle and am writing and making visual art again.
And here is my 2016 answer to the 1990 question I posed all those years ago re worthiness:
It is all worthy. Every bit. Every struggle, painful partnership, different modality, confusing medium, and foreign-to-me industry (sporting goods!?). Every lousy painting, dry spell, failed product and awkward phrase. Every accolade and award.
Because it is spirit, our individual spirit incarnate encountering the Is-ness and having experiences of creation — evolving our Is-ness, as we all must. As we all must, in the infinite ways that are within us to do so.