I've seen several social media posts from fellow independent artists lately all having a similar theme: how do we justify continuing to promote our work given the present circumstances? I've wrestled with this to a great extent myself having spent the last several months developing an entire collection for a marketplace event that had to be canceled. It promised to be a pivotal break-through for my tiny business, a chance to make a local splash and get the exposure a business like mine needs in order to get off the ground. When faced with decisions to make about how I could pivot and keep going forward, I admit I struggled a great deal with the overwhelming question, "Is it offensive to even try?" I think that's the question that is at the heart of our discomfort as artists, and I hope this little journal entry helps someone out there who might be wrestling with the same ideas I have been.
The photos above were taken two doors down from my house in downtown Muncie, Indiana. This once-beautiful abandoned home is finally up for auction, but I don't have the funds or time to love it into habitable. Wish I did. What remains of its former glory, however, is this striking magnolia tree. I've written in the past about growing where you're planted. When I went to snap some photos of the tree yesterday evening, I was reminded of that post, titled Ever Hopeful. I am shocked by how helpful it was to read those thoughts again. It's exactly what I needed to hear as it solidified what I'd already been thinking, which is this: it is at precisely times like this that we need beauty more than ever, and it is often the artists of our world who are the ones creating it.
It might seem strange to those of you who caught the Facebook LIVE event I decided to do last Saturday, April 4, to hear me talk like this. I think, or at least I hope, I came off as very positive and hopeful. I on purpose made no apologies about blatantly marketing my collection to you, and made a point to not mention the virus, the isolation, the doom and gloom. That was a hard decision I made just a day before the event while I was setting up my lemonade stand, as my husband calls it. A feeling of awkwardness had taken up seemingly permanent residence in the center of my chest. Nobody has heard me address these things, and I struggled over whether I ought to, as if it might be necessary to justify out loud why I chose to do this non-essential business marketing in the midst of all the awful hoping I could prevent anyone from thinking that I am flip or without care or attention to what has become of our daily lives. As every business on the planet succumbed to the public relations necessity of putting out their official Covid-19 response, the pressure mounted inside of me. Maybe you fellow artists were feeling some of these things too as we are repeatedly reminded our business is non-essential, and likely consequently making a number of us feel as if our work is a worthless pursuit, of no value.
To make matters more confusing, the flurry of mask making began the same week I was feverishly trying to finish photographing and updating to my website the massive amount of inventory I had been making. I did have a few people anxiously ask me that week, "Are you making masks?!" because, as everyone knows, I do sew. Even Etsy sent out promotional emails that read, "Calling all Makers! We are experiencing unprecedented demand for masks!" There was no possible way to accomplish both tasks, so I was faced with a decision: do I stop what I'm doing to make masks out of the limited amount of fabric scraps I have on hand, a way to become, in essence, essential? My husband's modest income has been reduced to meeting our bare essentials- which I am deeply thankful to still have, by the way- making it impossible to spend money on supplies, and perhaps even more important for me to continue to attempt to sell off my new collection. But, is me earning money more important than potentially saving lives through mask making, even if I can only produce a small number from the supplies I have on hand? Is this even a valid supposition?!
The pressure is acute thanks to our social media shouting at one another. I even contemplated if this could be yet another opportunity to offend, to lose the respect of those whom I considered a friend as they quietly judge under their breath, "She can sew. Why isn't she making masks?!" which attitude quickly turns into, "She should be making masks instead of trying to sell us non-essential items!" all fueled by social media memes and arguments over who should or shouldn't be doing this or that and what works as a mask and doesn't work, etc. etc. etc. and UGH.
I have these thoughts, folks. Have any of you wrestled with these thoughts too?
Obviously, in the end, I shook it all off and decided to press on, but what I want to share with you today is the why behind that choice I made. I have a fundamental belief in the power of beauty to inspire hope, courage and strength in people especially in times of distress or darkness when the disparity between the two is even more noticeable. Thanks to the unique circumstance of basically the entire world being relegated to the isolation of their homes, people are using social media to communicate more than ever before. The need for hope, joy, beauty is obvious as posts are being copied and pasted across Facebook calling for photos of happy marriages, lovely landscapes we've visited, or diversions like finding out what your quarantine song is. (It's the song that topped the charts on your 12th birthday, by the way. Mine is "Like a Virgin" by Madonna. I'm still laughing about that one! Who comes up with this weird content anyhow?!)
I think we're doing that, the asking for people to share something that is NOT relevant to the latest news, because there is no escape from the constant barrage of general negativity. We crave being reminded that maybe there is indeed a force even greater than the power of the horror of death, something that cannot be overcome or intimidated into silence, something indestructible and eternal, a hope so powerful that nothing can shake it, no darkness can prevail against it or cause it to waver. This hope is not a fairy tale. I have it inside of me. I live with it and am guided by it everyday. If you ask me about it, I will speak openly, but I'm not here to preach an Easter sermon to you today.
I have had my share of good cries over these past several weeks. I'm not suggesting you shouldn't feel grief, not at all! But, I've come to realize that we have a unique opportunity to help those around us to see all that is still good and lovely in this life. No matter how dark some circumstances can be, there is a profound need for us to be reminded that we do also laugh. After the destruction of a forest fire, new life always springs forth. I have decided that, as an artist, my greatest honor is to give someone even just a moment of joyful pause, a whisper in your ear that nothing except the Lord Himself can change the fact that the magnolia tree is, empirically, beautiful and becomes even more so against the backdrop of our tragedies. Make the choice to stare at that long enough that your hope is renewed, your spirit refreshed, so that you can carry on in these difficult circumstances with vigor rather than having the circumstance swallow you whole!
For my part, I've been cemented in my resolve that I make because creating beautiful things is at the core of who I am. It is breathing to me and seems to bring moments of joy to others as well. I do, of course, hope that people start purchasing non-essential items again, mine among them, and that there is another opportunity to get this little venture off the ground. But even if everything I make hangs in a closet until I finally give up on the idea that this could be a viable business, I will continue to paint. There is a different, and valid, type of currency in your comments, "That is so beautiful!" or "I'm so inspired to start painting again!" Artists, I beg you, keep making! Keep posting those photos of your work! I believe strongly that it is imperative- dare I say essential- for our mental health that you stand up in front of the camera with your art to offer us all even just a moment of looking away from the ugly. Grow where you're planted, and right now, you're planted in the rich soil of adversity. Stretch out your limbs, let your maker roots go down deep, and see what blossoms out of this in your work. I bet it'll be more honest than anything you've ever created. At least, that's what I'm hoping for myself! I hope it for all of you today too. And before I sign off, let me just admit that I am writing to remind myself of these ideas as much as I am to encourage you! Bless you all for reading my ramblings!