The Look: Expresión de la Cara

Recent iPhone "selfie" photo, October '13.

Recent iPhone “selfie” photo, October ’13.

All creative types at some point in their careers encounter the Look – that facial expression of disbelief (expresión de la cara) on others’ faces when one initially regards oneself as an artist. Recently, I’ve had the pleasure of three separate but comical experiences where acquaintances who work primarily in the business world have tossed back that facial expression of utter disbelief when I was asked, “What do you do for a living?” We creatives have all seen it – some may choose to just rise above it and not react to it, while others (such as writers, for example) tend to parody experiences with it. The Look seems to be pervasive despite whatever point one’s attained in his/her art career: high-end, blue-chip established artists through emerging artists.

Not every creative experiences this. It seems to be purposely removed from academic settings such as graduate schools/MFA programs, university/art school faculty/teachers, or coveted artist residencies such as Arrowmont, Tennessee or Penland, North Carolina, or Vermont Studio Center. In many ways – the wisest move for an artist exiting academia is to apply for and obtain a residency somewhere still within this insular environment, away from the Look. One can grow his/her own body of work or experiment with new materials, not only in a supportive atmosphere but in the case of many craft artists – with a fully-equipped studio, chock-full of kilns, slab rollers, steel hammers, rolling mills, dies, bandsaws – without that costly expense to set up one’s own full-time studio.

I didn’t take that path. After receiving my second degree in Fine Arts/Metalsmithing, I decided to pay off those nagging student loans by working four years as a production jeweler and diamond setter. I decided that I wanted my own studio; my own walls in private where I could bang, hammer, chase, draw, think, sulk – and it wasn’t going to be a temporary situation that would end in a year or two. Working as a production jeweler allowed me to learn so many aspects of the jewelry trade, not to mention how to “work on the clock” with precisely-timed production pieces. Still, I was in an environment that was immune to the Look; peers, friends and others didn’t question my profession. Not even my then-accountant! With the growing advent of the dot.com boom, this evolved into working professionally as a graphic and multimedia designer at a Philadelphia software company. I bought a modest house and in small doses, began setting up my metals’ studio. I was unmarried at the time and living the “single-girl” dream (which honestly I did not find glamorous at all.) While my life took this path – I had the respect of my peer group, work colleagues and immediate friends. However, deep-down, I knew that making art, creating the one-of-kind jewelry pieces that I had begun while studying at Parsons and New Paltz in NY were what I really wanted to pursue creatively.

The next year, 2014, is already looking strong. I’m working towards the first solo exhibit of my “widget lockets”/ one-of-a-kind jewelry at a gallery in upstate New York. The only downfall: now that I’ve “opened up the floorboards to the attic”, those folks from my past are peering back up through the new openings in a once-concealed floor and thinking to themselves while unknowingly giving me the Look: “Is she out of her blasted mind!??” “Full-time studio artist in this economy?”

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32 thoughts on “The Look: Expresión de la Cara

  1. Ah, yes: I know the look . . . and the snarky comments, covertly disguised as curiosity. Don’t get me wrong, some people are genuinely supportive but on some days, supporters seem few and far between.

    I loved reading this post and learning and your own particular story towards an artistic livelihood. Also, I’m grateful that our paths have crossed. All the best to you, Patricia!

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    • I’m glad that you grasped the exact concept that I’m driving towards here, Gina. This is a post that’s been brewing in my mind for quite a bit, but the three encounters all in the past month prompted me to get this post going. Surely, other creatives out there (besides us) can’t be so timid about discussing their perceived social standing with their peers – yes? As always, thanks so much Gina for adding so many fabulous insights!

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    • Rita, I couldn’t possibly agree more. Knowing that a gifted fiber artist like yourself knows what I’m talking about shows how courage and having a plan can reap rewards. By the way, congrats on achieving your 10th anniversary of Gone Rustic Studio & Gallery in Tassie! TY so much for stopping by and for your lovely comments.

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  2. I am new to WordPress and new to blogging and this is the first post I have read of yours. I am an artist too, posting one at a time pieces of an installation I made last March. Every day a new piece of the installation here on WordPress. There are 100.

    I loved your explanation of “The Look.” I know we are out there in a world of folks who have no clue as to what a serious artist is. Thanks for sharing your thoughts so articulately. I look forward to more.

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    • Hollis, it is a pleasure to meet you. I think you’ve just summed up in one phrase so beautifully what my entire post presents: we’re out here in a sea of folks that have no clue what a serious (and exhibiting no less!) artist is. I want to add that I’m enjoying your recent blog posts re: the installation and solo show in NYC you exhibited earlier this year. I hope you continue to blog and share your artwork and insights w/ me – as well as your fabulous commentary!

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  3. I have certainly had the one across the desk from the accountant! Handing in a big loss every year doesn’t help the credibility gap. I might break even this year. Naming it as a ‘look’ saves a thousand words. Nice post Patricia. Glad you got this aspect of our work out there!

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    • I will never forget the first year visiting the accountant after I left the software designer gig and started my own creative pursuits. That was more than just a ‘look’ – ! He actually was a fatherly-type bloke who wanted to make sure I had a game plan. Trust me, Philippa, this post could’ve been way longer!! As always, your spirited feedback is most welcomed. As a talented painter yourself who’s recently exhibited a solo show of your work this year – I’m honored to have you share your own experiences w/ me. Thanks, Philippa!

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  4. Haha… the look…it is a mixture of incredulous, disbelief and maybe even jealousy! I only began telling people I was an ‘artist’ about 5-6 years ago when asked what I do for a “living”… Then there are the comments about keeping artist hours and not really doing very much… if only they knew!

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    • Dawn, your comments are so accurate – I hate to admit it, but the jealousy thing is definitely there. Sometimes, it’s even from other artists who aren’t applying themselves enough or falling into lazy habits, etc. (that’s obviously not how it is for either of us!) The stereotypes of not keeping “normal hours” is also laughable. Personally, I’m up everyday by 7 AM, and the first thing I do is turn on the “pickle pot” in my studio (metals’ peeps will get this). I really appreciate your visits to my blog, Dawn – your comments are always highly valued here. And congrats again for authoring/publishing your upcoming book on pit-firing ceramics! Looking forward to seeing more about this.

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  5. Hi, I just returned from NYC after a trip from Eastern Europe. You have chosen the right place to create your art! NYC is still number #1 in terms of creativity in arts. Good luck to your ventures in NYC.
    Sincerely,
    Denise

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  6. Hmmm. I think “the look” could have a teeny aspect of jealousy attached to it. It can also be confronting to people to see someone doing something they would like to do but know they won’t ever be doing it for what ever the reason.
    I made a point of not discussing my “Pumpkin Pattern” with anyone before I put it in my shop. I know from experience I would get “oh do something else, it is Halloween, the market will be flooded with Pumpkins”
    I “just did it” (not bragging, heaven forbid), but they have been astonishingly successful! That was a true story but also a metaphor.
    ps. Isn’t it amazing how working consistently very hard makes a big difference?
    also I believe the old saying “do what you love and the money will come.
    if someone can make a (megre) living crocheting small anthropomorphic critters,
    anything is possible. 🙂
    Fascinating topic. Who or what gets to define the individual as an artist other than the artist?

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    • Sharon, yes, yes and yes!! Agree vehemently to all the above points you’ve so eloquently presented! I’ve also learned to *not listen* to so-called critics (mainly peers) who give bad advice to us. I’m thrilled to hear your last fiber pattern has become so successful. It’s because they are beautifully designed and so skillfully handmade! As to your last sentence – “Who or what gets to define the individual as an artist other than the artist?” – this would actually make an almost perfect summation of my entire post above. Well-spoken as always, Sharon! Thanks so much for popping in today to artdoesmatter and sharing your spirited commentary w/ us all!

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  7. I may be a tad cynical but I do believe that others are spot on when they mention the word jealousy. How very dare you wishing to follow your dream?! There is a great book written about this which I read many years ago ‘Jonathan Livingston Seagull’
    I am impressed by the methodical way you have gone about setting yourself up and I wish you every success!
    Anna

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    • Anna, thank you for such wonderfully reinforcing positive comments! I want to add how much I enjoyed your recent post about the years you did journalism in Bali before setting up your ceramic studio in the UK; there were many things in your post I could relate to, especially. So glad you stopped in to visit today!

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  8. Patricia, I just loved reading this and seeing your “selfie” which is great. I know exactly what you mean about the look. And I’m always amused by the questions about “how much do you sell?” which comes almost immediately after. I think most people do not know what brings them true happiness and there is perhaps some jealousy. I’m so happy to hear about the upcoming solo show. Well done and congratulations!

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    • Anita!!! I’m so happy to hear from you! I’m so pleased that some of my words here have had similar reverberations in your own past experiences dealing w/ those types of remarks and reactions from others. I genuinely appreciate hearing your encouraging comments. Your magnificent paintings (and blog also!) are a constant source of inspiration. Thanks so very much for your visit and your lovely, insightful feedback!

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    • Kathryn, it is indeed a pleasure – I’m enjoying following your blog very much. I especially liked your ‘Fragments Above’ series of brooches. Thank you for your ‘likes’ and kind compliments – I’m so glad you stopped by!

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  9. I enjoyed your post very much: I found it very engaging. Thank you for sharing your personal experience Patricia. It’s so inspiring to see how you’ve followed your path, and furthered your career as an artist. You’ve obviously proven your mettle!
    Yes, I know that “look” too (you’ve articulated that so well, thanks!). Why is it that we, artists, are often asked to justify ourselves – and so much more than any other professionals?
    I applaud your decision to pursue your work creatively, to create one-of-a-kind pieces and to make the time/space for doing so. Congratulations on having a show of your widget-lockets! I really look forward to seeing more of your work. It’s exciting!

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    • I agree!! Why – why is it that artists have to justify what we do more than any other profession. Personally, I thought that once I shared with friends and old acquaintances that I’ll be having a solo show next year, that “look” would go away; if anything, it’s even more defined and sadly as others have said above, shows jealousy. I’m so happy you stopped by and left me such wonderful feedback, Dominique – it wouldn’t ever be the same without your input! I look forward to hearing more too about your lovely metal work and your teaching practice!

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  10. Ironic: some people concentrate so hard on giving their fiercest “Look” on creatives but they’re missing the big picture because at the same time it’s exactly these creatives who are looking around, grasping new opportunities and finally manage to succeed by doing what they love. So happy for you Patricia!

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    • What a very true aspect to “the Look” I hadn’t thought of myself – as creatives we must seek out our own opportunities; these are not exactly “things” that necessarily fall into our laps like tree leaves in autumn!! I’m so thrilled you stopped by, Eleni, and shared such a thoughtful perspective on this issue w/ me!

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  11. Hi Patricia, I’m new to your blog, but have enjoyed many of your posts. In addition to the “Look” have you ever heard this comment…”I guess you are an artist because that’s low hanging fruit?”

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    • While that comment you’ve been told did give me a laugh, I can’t honestly say I’ve heard that one before. However, I wouldn’t be shocked if that was what was going through these folks’ minds as that “Look” was tossed my way. Nice to meet you, Albertus and glad you dropped by today!

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  12. Hi Patricia. I enjoyed your post. I certainly have struggled with the idea of what it means to be an artist. And how others react to the fact that I say I am an artist, although I don’t make a living as one. Yes “the look” comes with that quite often. All I truly know is that I create art, because it keeps me alive in a way that “making a living does not.

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    • Walter, what a profound and true statement re: why we create what we do. I really appreciate your stopping by and sharing such honest (and true) reactions to how others may perceive us when we say we’re artists. P.S. I’m enjoying your blog so much, too!

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