The Good News, the Bad News, and the Best News About Being an Artist

by JoAnne McFarland in Artist Statements

The Good News

When I was a kid there were ads on matchbook covers, or in the back of women’s magazines that read DRAW THIS. Then you would send in your drawing to the address in the ad to see if you had talent. I made my drawing and sent it in.
One day my mom got a call from a man who said she absolutely had to get me art lessons (I didn’t find out about the call until I was in my late thirties). My mother said he kept her on the phone for ages, desperate to convince her that, with the proper training, I could be a great artist.
My mom was raising two Type A daughters alone in the Bronx. She told him that she simply couldn’t afford it, that I was going to have to make it on my own. And that was that.
So what’s the good news? 
Although my artistic path has had many missteps, I’ve been lucky to have a few people along the way who have been passionate about my work. And work it is. I spend most of my time making infinitesimal moves, teaching myself how to create beauty, even out of the harshest realities.

The Bad News

One of my first jobs out of college was as a Mechanicals Artist, laying out pages for an agency that produced elementary school study guides.
It’s hard to believe now, with all the layout work done on computers, that at one time artists spent hours and hours pasting down every single element on every single printed page. This required an extraordinary amount of precision, and each design change meant going back to the drawing board.
I loved my job! I was pretty speedy too, so my boss often gave me ‘busy work’, making illustrations for the manuals.
One day I went to get something from his office—half buried under a pile of papers on his desk was a note, attached to one of my drawings that read ‘Please stop sending these. They’re terrible, the perspective is all wrong, and they’re just really, really weird.’
Another artist on staff said, ‘well it’s true, there is something odd about all of them, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.’
All along the way, there have been people who have had no interest in what I’m doing, or might be able to do. Others have been actively disdainful, scornful, occasionally even antagonistic to my work.

The Best News About Being an Artist

Given the way human beings basically work, if I practice at something every day (or as often as I can) I’m likely to get better at it. Getting better at just about anything feels really, really good. Discipline is most of what is required for improving, not talent, and that I can control, most days. 
I am more disciplined than talented, and that has made the difference between giving in to others’ ideas of what I can accomplish (positive or negative) and savoring the process of discovery.