SHE Persisted an event by YubaLit | Featuring Author Bridget Quinn
This is an essay I read at SHE Persisted about how I overcame a time in my life when I was the most discouraged and wanted to give up being an artist. It starts and ends with a self portrait I painted that changed my life and was the first step I took to create my own “rags to riches” journey. Well, not so much not riches in the form of money.
Spring 2015: I’m on the back end of my 40s, and this time I’m going to really give up. Pursuing an art career feels hopeless, and the uphill battle I’m fighting right now is more than I can handle. It’s 4:00 am Monday morning—hot coffee, cell phone, Facebook app, and the dog. Every week my husband will be gone from Monday to Thursday or Friday. I’ve committed to homeschooling our only child; I feel lost, I feel alone. Every bit of my spiritual energy is being given to our beautiful daughter who will turn 10 in May. I had no idea that motherhood would take this long or be this hard, that I would feel so disconnected from my dreams and my art. I’ll be 50 before ya know it; I don’t have the time or energy to pick up a paintbrush. “Who am I kidding? Get a real job! I’ll never be a working artist.” I’ve been through this before, but this time it’s different.
When I was six, my home was on the Venice boardwalk, and within me was a well of strength I would not realize I had until I was older, much older. To be totally honest, I was at my very strongest then. I wanted to be the first woman president when I grew up. At that age, dreaming big was easy. The fact that my tutu matched my bodysuit was enough affirmation for me to believe that I could do or be anything. I remember that dance outfit like it was yesterday; I remember the empowering feelings that went with it, too. It seems like it was the only time in my life where my dreams belonged to me, and I was in them wholeheartedly, against all the odds.
Summer: There are signs that the demands of motherhood are changing. I’ll try to paint a self-portrait of that little girl. The one who dreamed big dreams.
In the late ’80s, I was a student at the San Francisco Art Institute. I wanted to be an artist with a gallery and be in a museum; I wanted to fill my life with conceptual artist friends and travel the world, eating exotic foods and drinking too much wine. Every idea I had about being an artist came from school, a book or someone else’s life had already lived. As the years go by, I no longer fit into that dream; in fact, I don’t have time to dream.
Fall, I am almost done with the self-portrait. It makes me cry for months, will it ever stop crying? I go with it. I paint, and paint for hours over weeks and into months, one painting turns into 13, turns into a whole installation with audio and video.
It’s August again, I’m 52, I have my first solo exhibition today, the LA Weekly will be there. I try to stay present as 400 people attend. That’s a lot of hands to shake, my feet are hurting me in the killer shoes that tell the world “I still got it.” The following morning I will wake up to some 500 texts with my name tagged all over Facebook and Instagram, they will keep coming for the rest of the day and throughout the following weeks. The City of LA will mail me a Certificate of Appreciation for that one self-portrait that turned into the West of Lincoln Project. I never saw any of this coming.
Today I embark on a project called I AM HERE, about how women maintain their sense of belonging. It’s no coincidence that I am working with the theme of BELONGING because that has been the theme of my life. Perhaps the theme of life?
Three years ago, I had no body of work and 30 years of a whole lotta nothing on my resume. Two years ago, I embarked on a dream more significant than I could have imagined—a dream where I belonged to my art.
Here’s my self-portrait, “Stronger Than You Realize.” I realize now that I AM stronger than I ever thought. I did not find it in a book or a movie; I found it by letting go of an old story, one that was never meant for me, and moving forward, one tiny brave step at a time, toward my dreams. The dreams that were meant for me.
Bridget Quinn is an Art Historian that delves into the lives and careers of 15 brilliant female artists in her book Broad Strokes. Learn more. These images were taken at SHE Persisted on May 31st at the Stone House for YubaLit.