Firm or obstinate continuance in a course of action in spite of difficulty or opposition.
In my previous post, I discussed frustration. The words for that came pretty easy, likely because most of us are experiencing some form of it at the moment. Persistence, on the other hand, seemed like more of a challenge- until I started writing.
An email arrived to inform me I was denied unemployment. Taking into account my life-long game of cat and mouse with the universe I decided this was a challenge. After an eye roll… a wildly exasperated sigh, yoga, meditation, a shower, a self-pep talk, and… a bunch of water- never understate the benefits of water- it was a challenge I accepted.
Persistence is a decision, right? It may get easier over time to become persistent but when you choose to keep at something, when you don’t let failure get in the way, when you’re met with opposition over and over again and you decide to keep going, that is being persistent. I’m reminded of a quote from an utterly beautiful movie called Big Fish- “There’s a time when a man needs to fight, and a time when he needs to accept that his destiny is lost, the ship has sailed and only a fool would continue. Truth is, I’ve always been a fool.”
This show I’ve been talking about, Small Drawings High Hopes, is 365 drawings I did over the course of a year, and they saw it all. They started in Indianapolis. They came back to Seattle with me. They were drawn in countless coffee shops, bars, restaurants, at friends’ houses, at 7 am, at midnight, in my car, through happiness, tears, exhaustion, uncertainty, financial instability, all set to culminate with a show in a brand new Seattle-based art mecca that I helped to build! Until a pandemic changed everything.
The first compromise I made for this show came in the form of uninviting everyone. Just as I was set to send out press releases and after hand making the 365 custom frames, the severity of Corona started to hit. Gatherings of more than 250 people were banned. Ever the optimist, I didn’t want to put a limitation on how many people could attend my show, so after some deliberation I decided it would be better, at this time, to live stream the show. This would give people something new to look forward to, to take part in safely from their homes. At an almost certain financial loss to me, I chose to persist, after all the show must go on! I set to work on concocting a show that would broadcast from the museum. The plan was to display the art just as intended but live stream it with a couple of friends- turning it into something like a show and tell rather than a traditional exhibit. I thought It would still be fun and it would still take place in this incredible space I was fortunate enough to be a part of. Until it became apparent that implicating even five people in the show’s production would be a bad example and socially irresponsible.
This idea, these 365 pieces, started as absolutely nothing. This project was designed as insurance to make sure my year was productive. It was catapulted to a level I can only classify as beyond my wildest dreams (maybe not WILDEST) only to now take place from a 150 square foot apartment. It’ll take place with me sitting on the floor, alone, just as it started- trying to utilize my art for something beyond my means.
I may view persistence as a decision, but I’m going to let you all in on a little secret- that cat and mouse game I mentioned with the universe, it’s very real. I’m going to dedicate an entire post to this game but for now, I’ll tease it with this story. I took my first real leap of faith in 2012 when I signed a lease for my first art studio. Even the events that led me to that are ridiculous. A classic tale of trusting the journey, especially when you don’t get the things you think you want. Months before signing that lease, I had a dream living situation set up. I was about to move in with two of my best friends in Indianapolis. It was a block away from a house full of other best friends and just beyond that was the best neighborhood of the city to hang out in. It was a three-story house with a fireplace and had an entire unfinished basement, ripe for a home art studio. We had the papers signed, set to pick up the keys and it just didn’t happen. To this day I don’t know why. This led me to explore other options. I found there were discounted artist live/work spaces in Indy that I had no idea existed- I did not get one of those either. What I did find, because of that widened search was the Murphy Arts Center. There was one art studio available, not a place to live, just a working studio. The leasing office told me “these places go fast” but I walked away. Rent for a place to live AND rent for a place to work?! There’s no way this guy working at Old Navy can afford that. I signed the papers an hour later.
I renovated the entire place; it was all I could think about. Here I was, a couple of years post-college, not a lot of shows or notoriety, but now with my own studio and gallery, I could create those for myself. The grand opening was a blast, no one was beating down the door to buy anything, but everyone was really happy for me and for the space I had curated. After the party, I remember a moment in my studio, after everyone had gone, when I looked at my bank account and realized I couldn’t afford a five dollar pizza. What had I done? As I slunk to the floor my phone gave off an alert, somehow, I knew what it was before I picked it up- a payment for a large commission I had written off as lost, had been paid. I picked myself up and got a five dollar pizza and a six dollar bottle of wine. Art, and perhaps something bigger, has always given me just enough to stay the course.
These nudges to stay the course don’t always come in the form of money. They have been an unprovoked kind word, people reaching out to let me know they appreciate what I do and who I am. Or in my most wildly inexplicable example, I have yet to detail- when you’re so god damn frustrated with just how persistent you’ve been, with the apparent lack of progress you’ve made as an artist, and in your career, that you manifest the building of an entire, brand new, three-story art center.
I am happy to say it’s through persistence that I have become a person I am very proud to be. I like that I’m able to push myself past my limitations. I am honored that I am a person others can count on. I relish that my first instinct is to care for and help others. I am wholly grateful for the path I’ve strode. If not for persistence so many people, places, and experiences would have been kept from me. And I cannot wait for what else is in store. For what else is in store for me, for you, for all of us continuing to fight, unaccepting that the ship has sailed, unable to accept our destiny is lost. Because in the end, I love being a fool.
Co-Founder Atlantis Collective Gallery