Brave Artist as Inspiration.

You know the feeling. You are working out an idea–on a book, a painting, a textile piece of creative work, and you begin to doubt yourself. “Who will ever think this is worthwhile?” you think. Maybe a friend or relative looks at your work and sighs. “Do you really think this is art?” they ask. And you begin to doubt yourself. Your work. Your life choices..

Haze, a sculpture by Tara Donovan. Made of plastic straws.

Most artists go through this, and many cave when faced with serious criticism or doubt. They move to something more acceptable. More popular. More understandable.

The artists who inspire me the most, who give me the biggest soul boost, are the ones who stick with their work and perfect it. They let the criticism and doubt stay with the person who feels it–while the artist sticks with the creative work.

Which is what I love about Tara Donovan. The art on this page is hers. She works in plastic straws, Styrofoam cups, and steel pins. She tended bar and waited tables for six years while working on her art. She heard people laugh and suggest “real” art work. Maybe event a “real” job. But she didn’t do that.

Tara Donovan's sculpture made of Styrofoam cups.

She graduated from the Corcoran School of Art in 1991, got a MFA from Virginia Commonwealth in 1999 and kept her day job till 2003, when she had her first solo show at the Ace Gallery. In 2008 she got a MacArthur Fellowship, often called a Genius Grant. And she still works with pins, straws and cups.

I find this dedication and constantly renewed creative energy incredibly inspiring. She knew what she wanted and she kept working at it. How many times do you think she heard jokes about tending bar and stealing straws? And she kept going.

It’s a good story to remember when you begin to question yourself.
See more of Tara’s work.

Quinn McDonald is a writer and creativity coach.

12 thoughts on “Brave Artist as Inspiration.

  1. I just recently discovered Tara’s work and she absolutely amazes me! I envision her walking around every day imagining mundane things in massive quantities…on display. I guess that’s what many artists do, make the mundane into something wonderful. I love how the creative mind works and I love that Tara kept going and is truly the definition of what I call an artist.

  2. First, let me say how much I enjoy your blog. I get it in my email (the only way I’ll consistently keep up) and I read it through, all the way through, every post (I can’t say that for too many blogs!) I really enjoy your commentary and thought provoking posts. Thank you.
    And Tara! I saw an entire exhibition of her work, here in San Diego, and it was breath taking. The dedication she has to her art–her voice–is incredible. She is an excellent example of someone who stayed true to her vision…thanks so much for the great blog!! xoxo

    • Wow, Jane, I’m so humbled that you read my blog. That’s really amazing. If I didn’t write it, I’m not sure I’d read it every day! Isn’t Tara amazing? I love that she has been working in this format for almost 20 years. That she didn’t quit her day job. The whole story just makes me feel wonderful, inspired and light!

  3. I learned not to rely on my opinion about a finished piece I make. I make art quilts and sometimes I make an art quilt for a specific call for entries. I find that really stretches my comfort zone.

    A couple of years ago there was a call for entries on the subject of merwomen based on folklore. I made a small piece per research and when I was done with it, I wanted to trash it. My husband wouldn’t let me and told me to submit it.

    The piece was accepted and then after it exhibited, it was part of a group a museum wanted to display. It was displayed in that museum then I was notified a professor who had a major national display on merwomen that had just closed, regretted he did not have my piece in that display.

    None of that would have happened if I had trashed the piece.

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