'Painting is simply my vocation.' These are wise words but they are not my own. I have quoted them from an article that I read in the Guardian about an artist who had been painting full time for 60 years and sold her first painting at the age of 89. I have read and re-read the article carefully as I believe there is a lot to learn from her. This is what I have learned about living a creative life from Carmen Herrera in the article:
You can't create if you don't put the time in, whether it's art, music, writing or whatever it is you make and create. Carmen Herrera painted for 60 years without selling a single painting. This bears repeating - 60 years! Every. Single. Day.
Don't give up.
You create because you love it, right? If you don't love it then you wouldn't be showing up every day. As Carmen says "Recognition and money have never been an issue, painting is simply my vocation." Do what you need to do and maybe recognition will find you. If it doesn't then it doesn't matter because you are doing what you love regardless of the outcome.
Don't be afraid to try something new.
When Carmen lived in Cuba she studied architecture. After she moved to America with her new husband she felt that she needed something more and began studying art. Later, she gave up painting representational art to paint in the abstract. Play, experiment, find out what speaks to you.
Education, while important, isn't going to make or break you.
Carmen studied architecture in Cuba and art in New York. She found art school too academic and because of this she couldn't express herself. After school she says "I had to change my way of thinking and feeling about painting, and reject everything I'd been taught." Is going to school good? Yes, it is for so many reasons. Is it the only path to finding your voice? No.
Don't let real world concerns stop you.
Carmen was lucky in that she had a supportive husband to work and provide for them financially. I'm sure it wasn't easy though. She says that they would have to move to cheaper apartments so that she had more space to paint. Some of these homes were in dangerous neighbourhoods. So what's the takeaway? Support your art. If you need to take on extra work to pay for supplies then do it. If you need to find a way to rearrange your day or night to make the time then do it. It's not easy for anyone regardless of circumstances so don't let money or time stop you. Find a way.
Recognition has a price.
Most creative people want the world to know who they are. They want some level of recognition. For Carmen it didn't come for 60 years but while she acknowledges that it is nice she also says that it was a good thing that she wasn't recognized for so many years. Why? Carmen says "Yet perhaps it's been a good thing I was able to work for so many years without recognition. I was left alone to refine and distill my art for decades, paring things down to their essence."
If Carmen has been well known earlier on in her life then she might not have been free to play with her skills and to experiment. She was able to become the artist she is today because she had the anonymity to grow and develop.
Good things take time.
Things worth doing are difficult and difficult things are worth doing. As Carmen says at the end of the article "The world came to me eventually – I just had to wait 94 years, that's all."
I hope you enjoyed the article in the Guardian on Carmen Herrera and the YouTube video (linked above in pink) as much as I did. Keep creating because you love to create and never give up!
I will keep you updated on my latest work and perhaps some insight into my creative process.
Jennifer Trefiak, Trefiak Art, Copyright 2018