Next week we will be celebrating Thanksgiving, the time when people everywhere pause and take a moment to express gratitude for the people and things in their life all the while stuffing themselves full of turkey, mashed potatoes and all the trimmings.
A part of me feels like writing a post about gratitude around this time of year is rather trite because a date on the calendar supposedly reminds us to be grateful for our lives. But as an artist who is trying to make a professional living creating and selling art, gratitude is more than just a monthlong, trendy, practice.
Being a professional artist means taking something that I love to do and putting it through a nine to five grind. It means working when I don’t feel like it, and making compromises in order to secure a commission or make a sale. Turning art into financial gain is hard, and not always rewarding. People don’t always come because I’ve created something, and just because they like looking at my work doesn’t necessarily mean they want to buy it for their homes.
Selling art means that I take something I put a little bit of my soul into and assign some monetary value that actually says a whole lot more than just, this is how much the piece costs. Price a piece too low, I must not be taking myself seriously enough, or don’t like the piece that much. Price it too high, boy I’m awfully full of myself to think someone would drop a large sum of money. And if I try to straddle both sides of the pricing and find a way to meet in the middle, then I come across as desperate wanting people to buy my art.
I could not do what I do if I did not continually practice a mindset of gratitude. To embrace the struggles and challenges as learning moments and stepping stones towards furthering my career. To enjoy the small successes, like the times someone comes into the studio and just stands amazed, feeling so much joy just being able to look at my work. To appreciate the conversations I get to have with random people who share little bits of their lives and their stories.
If I did not remind myself every single day to practice gratitude, I would sink. I would feel sad and worthless if people didn’t buy my work or even come in to look at it. I would question whether or not I should even been creating work at all. And I would take the challenges, the critiques, the no’s personally as though every other person knows better than I do what I should be doing with my life.
If I didn’t practice daily gratitude, I’d miss out on so much joy in my life, and I wouldn’t see the amazing things that I have and the amazing people who love and encourage me to pursue my career.
It’s not easy, and often I forget. I get sucked into the vortex of negativity and self doubt that I forget to be grateful for anything. But when I stop myself, take a breath, and force myself to find something, even the smallest, tiniest thing in the swirling black cloud of darkness that I can be grateful for, the cloud ends up breaking apart and the sun comes through. It may sound hokey, but it works for me, and when I change my attitude I find good things will happen.
We are living in a time where there’s lots of darkness, lots of negativity, and it’s really hard to find anything to be grateful for even when we’re sitting at a table surrounded by family and friends with a large fat turkey in front of us just waiting to be carved. We think that one day a year is enough. That by making great big sweeping expressions of gratitude for family and friends, health and life, for roofs over our heads and food in our bellies, our gratitude quota is full for another year but really it’s the little things every day that are more important to remember and cherish– the person who holds open a door for us because our hands are too full, or who lets you cut in line because you only have a few items to check out and they have loads.
It’s those little moments, when we consciously practice gratitude, that helps keep the darkness at bay and we can see that no matter how bad things seem to get, there’s still a lot thats good too.