Blog: Just Keep Swimming
Posted on September 08 2020
For me, art is freedom. Art frees the individual to become an artist. Art frees the individual from the regimentation of a collective system. Cooperative collectives need rules in order to work – and those rules curb individualism. Sinking or swimming is no longer a choice in the collective – rather the individual becomes part of the system.
The collective is like floating with others on a barge. Together on the barge there is safety. The individual, on the other hand, makes a choice to sink or swim by themselves to the shore. They choose to swim – to be the master of their own fate. The individual forgoes the safety of the barge and rather takes a risk. If the risk pays off the gain is theirs alone – and so is the potential for failure. Going it alone - taking that risk is a hard choice to make. But the artist generally does not hesitate to take that risk - it is part of their freedom.
The artist represents all of this – the risk, the individuality, the freedom. If they believe in their individualism, it means they believe in their freedom to create independently – they choose swimming to shore on their own. They choose freedom and independence over floating on a barge. Many artists don’t make it – they either sink or are collected by those on the barge to float with the others.
For the artist, proof of independence is hard fought and there is often little reward. While our culture loves to relate to the independent free artist, while they love our work, they frequently do not support artists economically by purchasing original artwork. This leaves the artist constantly weighing the risk of swimming to shore alone – hoping they do not sink.
Rapids by Christine Alfery
But for many artists this is a risk they are willing to take over and over again – simply for their independence and freedom. History is filled with these artists. They changed art history. Van Gogh, Monet, Picasso, Rembrandt, Frankenthaler, de Kooning, Pollock, and more. The list of those who took the risk is the story of art history.
I am one of the artists who takes that risk every day.
River II by Christine Alfery
The other day I took a long hard look at my work. I was honest with myself. My work doesn’t shout. There isn’t that ah-ha moment with my work. My work will never be a Picasso, a Joni Mitchell. My work will never be a Helen Frankenthaler or a de Kooning. I have been swimming to reach shore for a very long time. All my life as a matter of fact. Kicking harder doesn’t get me there. Changing strokes doesn’t get me there. But I am not tired of the risk taking yet – I am not ready to stop swimming. My work is not shouting and I know I have to keep swimming.
As a long distance swimmer I know that there is a point, for me it about a quarter of a mile into the swim, where after breathing hard, telling myself it’s just around the bend . . . pulling . . . kicking . . . there is a point where my breathing becomes stilled and even, I stop fighting the water and become part of the water, and know I could swim on for ever and ever. It is a blissful space to be in.
I believe I am in that space now with my work. While my work is not shouting, I am happy. Happy with my independence, my individualism, my uniqueness. Happy with my freedom. I am unwilling to risk my freedom and become part of the barge.
She Emerges by Christine Alfery
While I am happy, there is also a growing nagging fear – a fear that my work will never be what I visualize it to be. What I visualize it to be, right now . . . there is no image. But I just keep swimming, telling myself it’s just around the bend . . . hoping that it will come.
Maybe I am looking for a happy Hollywood ending – knowing in real life they don’t exist. So I will have to work it out somehow. I will keep swimming. The last thing to go will be my freedom to create – even if it is only in my mind.