It was my grandfather who told me to pick something as a career that could be done for the rest of my life. I felt instantly smart in my choice of becoming an artist, even if at times I still question it. It is, if nothing else, something I can do for the rest of my life.
I joke often that “life is short, art is long.” Art is history- not dead, but really is history. It lasts; it is forever, good and bad. Worse than a terrible comment on Facebook, art doesn’t really ever go away. You make something, you make more, you go back to that first thing and wonder what you were thinking. And so on, for decades.
I am thinking about legacy, and also about the act of creating. The long slog that is being an artist- the daily struggles, the agony of failure and the joy of success, in all their forms. I wonder if my work will end up in thrift stores when collectors grow tired of it, or if they will love it enough to pass it on to their children. In the grand arc that is an artist’s career- their oevre- what is their message? What am I saying in painting after painting after painting?
A year or so ago, I sat crying over a painting I thought I had ruined. My daughter and husband came downstairs to the studio to check on me. I looked at my daughter and said, “Painting is just really hard, honey.” I looked at my husband and said, “I could quit, but you’d have to heavily medicate me to get me to stop thinking about painting.” In that moment, like so many moments before, I knew I was stuck with this choice I had made in my life, this artist life. There was no going back.
But it is something that I can do forever.
Two weeks ago, when opening a show of my work at Jennifer Perlmutter Gallery in Lafayette, California, I met one of my fellow exhibiting artists, Michael Rizza, a 90-year-old sculptor. At the artist talk, he said that his granddaughter had asked if he was famous, to which he had replied, “I’m not famous- I am undiscovered!” We all laughed, recognizing that fear all artists have of obscurity. (“Help, help! I’ve fallen into obscurity and I can’t get up!” joked a recent New Yorker cartoon.) Yet many of us keep creating, out of that primal need that art-making is, going back in history to the very caves of our ancestors themselves.
Art is history.
Julia Rymer is an abstract painter and writer based in Colorado, where she creates work inspired by nature, science, and color theory. Learn more at juliarymer.com.