Sticking to Your Idea

Yesterday, I talked about working with what works for you. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks about your work, if you are making meaning in your life, if you are finding inspiration and growth,  you are on the right track. For you.

A few people asked me to prove my point by giving an example. Gladly.

Museum installation using styrofoam cups. © Tara Donovan.

Museum installation using styrofoam cups. © Tara Donovan.

The art on this page was done by Tara Donovan.  She works in plastic straws, Styrofoam cups, coffee filters, 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.

You may 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..

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

Tara Donovan's installation using plastic straws. © Tara Donovan.

Tara Donovan’s installation using plastic straws. © Tara Donovan.

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.

Tara Donovan 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. All the way to that Genius Grant and beyond.

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.

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11 thoughts on “Sticking to Your Idea

  1. I love this story! It truly inspires and every artist knows that the making of art is the love of what you do and the dedication to keep tending the growth. What a wonderful share.

  2. This is a very inspiring story-I really fight the idea of “real artist” all of the time but I have a friend who make unique passionate art and because she is brave enough to go out on a limb like that the comments are so often negative, but thank goodness some folks have the vision to appreciate the passion and it sells!!!! I love Tara’s work!!!

      • aint that the truth….
        Started my fiber textile art again after cleaning house…I worked on this one piece for 3 hours yesterday…doing it imperfectly….I never, well it has been a long time…felt so at peace, relaxed. It is like I had been meditating for 3 hours. It led to one thing and then the other and it was creating upon creating.
        And when my partner came home and I made a comment saying the food I had made was excellent…I caught the drift of how artists…creators…get hit on so much more. And the truth is we all are creators and artists. Some have been so beaten down, we lost our voice and then we speak garbage like my partner did. My response was this…”I will not demean or lie about those things I make, to keep anyone in a comfort spot. Because it is not comfort. What you want in this selfish moment is for me to play with you in the cat turd sandbox and think life is futile. It is not…there is much to do and many words to speak. And one of the many is EXCELLENT and wow I did that…”

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