As artists, we struggle to find our identity and voice in the creative globe. With thousands of others shaping and sharing their own work, how are we to stand out in the endless sea of talent, skill and craft?
Create the work that you are passionate about and share your story.
THROUGH THE EYES OF MARGARET KEANE.
A few months back, I watched a compelling film about an artist who encountered struggles both in her creative journey and personal life. Big Eyes tells a real-life tale of Margaret Keane, known as the painter of the big eyed waifs.
To give you a quick rundown, the movie takes us on a spin on Margaret’s awakening as an artist and standing up for herself and her art. It tells the tale of Margaret and Walter Keane who climbed their way towards fame through Margaret’s big eyed portraits. The undesirable hitch? Her husband took all the credit for her work and she let herself be a doormat for him.
If you’re planning to watch Big Eyes, I suggest you skip this part.
To give you a sense of how moving the plot line is for any creative professional, here’s a written excerpt form an interview with Margaret Keane on The Guardian:
“He had me sitting in a corner,” she tells me, “and he was over there, talking, selling paintings, when somebody walked over to me and said: ‘Do you paint too?’ And I suddenly thought – just horrible shock – ‘Is he taking credit for my paintings?’”
He was. He had been telling his patrons a giant lie. Margaret was the painter of the big eyes – every one of them. Walter might well have seen sad children in postwar Berlin, but he hadn’t painted them, because he couldn’t paint to save his life.
Margaret was furious. Back home she confronted him. She told him to stop. But something unexpected happened instead. During the decade that followed, Margaret would nod in respectful admiration as Walter told interviewers that he was the best painter of eyes since El Greco. She said nothing. Why did she go along with it? What was happening inside the Keane marriage?
“Back home he tried to explain it away,” she says. “He said: ‘We need the money. People are more likely to buy a painting if they think they’re talking to the artist. People don’t want to think I can’t paint and need to have my wife paint. People already think I painted the big eyes and if I suddenly say it was you, it’ll be confusing and people will start suing us.’ He was telling me all these horrible problems.”
Walter offered Margaret a solution: “Teach me how to paint the big-eyed children.” So she tried. “And when he couldn’t do it, it was my fault. ‘You’re not teaching me right. I could do it if you had more patience.’ I was really trying, but it was just impossible.”
She felt trapped. She wanted to leave, but she didn’t know how. How would she support herself and her daughter? “So finally I went along with it,” she says. “And it was just tearing me apart.”
In the end, she powered through and eventually found the courage to stand up for herself and her work, and in the process, inspiring thousands of people with her riveting story, in spite of all the difficulties she faced. Tim Burton, director of the film, did an incredible rendition that captured the very essence of the protagonist’s journey on finding her voice.
As artists, we all go through similar roadblocks as we go about our creative path. We let strangers or worldly things rule over our passion and work. Until we learn how to speak up and believe in ourselves, we will unconsciously let outside forces trample and influence our being and our worth. This makes it difficult to hear our guiding voice and share our story.
YOUR PERSONAL STORY IS MEANINGFUL, IMPORTANT AND VALID.
Every work takes us on a journey and shapes our soul, and each journey contains a story that is unique to you and only you. That makes up an essential part of you.
You are a collection of moments, stories, experiences, lessons, thoughts, creations, beliefs and feelings. What you are not is the opinions and beliefs of others. When you combine all of these magical mementos found within you, it stitches a remarkable and distinctive story of yourself, and that story needs to be shared if you want to stand out in the sea of whispers, shouts and chatters.
Every single story matters. The only thing scarier than sharing your story is what the rest of the world will be missing out on if they don’t hear yours.
Once you acknowledge that you are beyond what you simply do, you will begin to see how amazing you are, including your own value and unique contribution to the world. The courage to share your story and the magic that’s entwined with it will follow through.
Follow your instincts. Your gut is your best friend.
Let the work guide you. Tune out outside sources who influence you otherwise.
Your story matters. Tell it to the world.
Believe in yourself and your work. Embrace who you are, flaws and all. Don’t let others bring you down.
Stand behind your opinion and beliefs. Speak up and be firm with what you’re passionate about.
Your value exceeds that of your work. You are more than what you do. You are you and that’s the most beautiful thing the Universe has ever created.
ART IS THE WINDOW TO YOUR SOUL.
As Margaret aptly puts it: “The eyes are the windows to the soul.” Just like in any artwork, it is the window to an artist’s soul. Your artwork, whether you think of it or not, is a part of your being. It was shaped in your mind, created with your hands and tempered by your emotions. And you, my darling, are offering it for the world to see. But bear in mind, you are more than what you create. Nothing and no one can ever steal that away from you.
DO THE WORK THAT REFLECTS YOUR BEING.
Do the work that speaks a thousand words yet conveys a single, compelling message.
Like I mentioned in my previous essay: build the confidence and believe in yourself. As Henri Matisse reminds us in this simple truth: Creativity takes courage. The courage to be confident, to believe in yourself, to stand up for your work, and to share your story; all so you can inspire and move others to share their stories as well. So be brave no matter what. If you are passionate with what you do, it will definitely shine through your work and people will be attracted to that light.
Be true to yourself, and your work will be true to you.
Your voice is a tool. Embrace it. Use it. Love it.
Happy Mother’s Day, darlings!
That’s a wrap for my first creative series. I’m hoping you were able to pick up a lesson or two from the four articles under this sequence. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this four-part essay. Let me know in the comments below!