Tag Archives: UBC

Failure: the Doorway to Success?

Photo of Iona and Labyrinth under new ownership 2015

Photo of Iona and Labyrinth under new ownership 2015 DS

Government programs fail to deliver; countries fail to provide for their citizens; ghost towns form. Movements fail or decline, new ways emerge. Countries like Syria are struggling for survival. The Yukon was the sight of failed gold mining. Planes fall out of the sky (Malaysia Airlines, EgyptAir, Indian Air Force), again.

Wars are lost. Boundaries are changed. Peoples are displaced.

There are failures on a global scale to protect air, water, and land. Species have become extinct. Some failures may just be the natural ebb and flow of existence.

The iconic Iona Building at UBC had to be sold although the theological college still exists apart from that grand space. I think of the Highland Clearances of Scotland (to make room for sheep), to be a failure, as well as the Potato Famine of Ireland. The wildfire of Fort McMurray is a failure of sorts but the town will be rebuilt. I hope.

We fail to rehabilitate, to resuscitate, to reinstate, to collaborate, to meditate. We are unsuccessful in love, in business, in losing weight, in baking a gourmet cake. I do/am.

Friendships are lost. Cars are crashed. Our bodies are injured or break down with disease. Mine does.

Everyday failure is real. It is not the end of the world though it may seem like it at the time. Failure may be a chance for change, or just sorrow to be endured.

How would Mother Teresa have measured success, or Picasso, or Matisse who created from his bed, or Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr.…? (How do I – by mission statement?)

Sometimes our failures catch up with us. We stand in need of forgiveness. The making of amends, as in AA, can rebuild relationship success.

Success can be illusive or inconclusive. It can be fleeting or misleading. True success in life – who can define it?

I just received 2 ‘declines’ from an art jury. I have received many of these over the years. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, I say. Do I take their refusal as permanent – or as fleeting?

Is it them or me, their judging or my creating? I have never actually kept track of my declines or failures. I change goals. My work has been exhibited in over 70 shows.

A Business of Art course instructor once told us that some artists have commercial success and some critical success. Juries love my work. Yet the fact remains, that I have a high ratio of donated paintings versus those I have sold. By which criteria do I judge my own work?

Much of what I create, I will admit, does not fit well in a living room above a couch. It is too raw for that. The colours are anything but subdued. The techniques are immediate, layered, direct and even messy. My style does not have the requisite consistency. But there is an internal rhythm. In my latest jury submission of 33 paintings (one for every year of the life of Christ) each has a cross or stripe pattern.

The truly difficult thing is that the work has to be created, the materials purchased, the time set aside. Years of work needs to be framed before one applies. One has to get the paintings onto a gallery wall so viewers can consider buying them. One has to have the space to store unsold paintings. New paintings have to be imagined and realized for the next jury, to fit the next art space requirements.

How, I think now, can any artist really keep going to achieve success? There are so many barriers, so much competition, so many people who ignore art totally.

It seems to me that each artist must define success differently. Each artist must hone and redefine the definition to fit the circumstances, must see benefits where they seem invisible.

Creating art is similar to being a mother. Our paintings incubate and are born. Success, I realize now, is to have children leave home ready to meet the world and to have paintings leave the studio to find their niche. My children and my paintings are offered to the world as the best of me. Adult children forever at home or paintings lying dusty in the studio are the true failures. But success often calls just when we are ready to give up.

In the meantime, children may struggle, paintings gather dust, but independence is close and my oeuvre is being built for that day not too far away.

How can one achieve success when accolades come for just the opportunity to show? What can assuage the echoing sting of ending an exhibition with few sales? How can one go on year after year financing one’s own – what – ego? When the paintings pile up in the studio why do I apply to more juries? This art-making refuses to die. It becomes like a form of addiction. That first flow of colour off the paintbrush at 7 years old had me hooked. As with all addiction there is grief.

My paintings need a home and I want money for them. There, I have said it. Maybe after I am dead, success will come in memorial. Perhaps it is my children, my estate that will benefit from my collection. I have now got it: my legacy will be my success. My part is to enjoy the process of creating.

One thing about achieving a degree of success is that one asks what do I do next? Where can I go? When can I say, it is enough? For now, I decide I will rest with gratitude.

I know that if I get that show for my 33 paintings my desires have not changed. I want people to attend the opening. I want a decent write up in the reviews. I do not want to carry those cumbersome paintings out of the gallery, into my vehicle, and back to my studio only to begin over again next week. I am tired. I need success now and I need studio space. My body feels broken. My mind and spirit carry it trailing behind like the tin cans tied to a wedding car.

Jesus’ death on the cross: failure it appeared.  Was his goal to live three score and ten years? The Resurrection 3 days later proved the success of his mission.

When I think of failure and success after all this, I ponder two questions:

  1. What do I want?
  2. How will I know when I get there?

As I wait to see how sales have gone at my latest exhibition, I receive a message that my painting “VanDusen Gardens” has been chosen by the art committee at Lions Gate Hospital for their permanent collection in ‘The Healing Power of Art Program’. It will hang with the greats – Molly Bobak, Sylvia Tait, Gordon Smith… Am I there yet?

 

VanDusen at home

“VanDusen Gardens” Acrylic on Canvas, 32″ x 48″, Deborah Stephan

Blue Suede Shoes

IMG_3105

“Blue Suede Shoes” Collage DS

So yesterday as I walked the UBC campus a woman came out of a building wearing blue suede shoes. I had just written an in class test and was on my way to grab lunch at a nearby Italian café. My hand went to my bag to retrieve my phone to capture her feet. Then disappointed, I realized I could not take a photo of her feet without being observed. I thought perhaps it would be a violation of her privacy unless I asked permission. I was too tired for that level of sociability.

Today they are still etched in my memory. They were a lighter blue than expected – just a bit paler than blue jeans. They had chunk brown heels and matching blue fringes along the sides of the low rise boots. They complimented her pencil skirt in beige. She was a student of fashion.

Last week I had just gifted a light blue-framed collage I had created months go. It featured a cut-out of boots which I had coloured royal blue. The abstract surrounding magazine imaging of ochre and orange I supplemented with royal purple, green, red and white paint. The idea of creating those blue suede shoes low in the picture plain gave me great pleasure. I did not know why.

It came to me that they were a metaphor for dancing, yes. I have always, from my earliest days of doing the Scottish “Highland Fling” and “Sword Dance,” loved dancing. In recent years, after a catastrophic ankle injury, I do not dance – on the outside. Inside, however, I dance as much as I have always done. This, I see, is God’s message to me. He sees me, as I really am – a dancer.

David danced before the Lord with all his might.

Second Book of Samuel

Future Directions

Paintings donated to BCWH placed above cans

“The Angel Meetings above the Recycling and Garbage at BCWH”

While preparing for “The Abundant Life” art show at The Carey Centre, UBC, it seems God had in mind for me to do a review of my life, so far. Art and life mix together, as is the case for a narrative painter. Recently I had occasion to visit B.C. Women’s Hospital and to see the paintings that I donated a few years ago. I noticed that now they are accompanied in the space by the recycling and garbage. My first reaction was outrage and to plan a phone call to the hospital foundation to ask that the garbage be moved.

As the day went on, I thought about the image. The paintings are part of a series of six that I created called “The Angel Meetings”. I had imagined that angels met to discuss how to handle us humans here on earth. They would strategize ways to help us. When I looked at the paintings today it came to me that just like Jesus’ cross being his way to provide cleansing for the detritus of the world, so his angels would be dealing with us and our garbage in his power. God’s ways are not mine, but are higher (Isaiah 55:9). So be it. They were offered up to God and given.

I have been concerned about many things (Luke 10:41): art sales, workshops, people. Yet, I choose to sit at Jesus’ feet like Mary (Luke 10:42) and wait for his next steps for me and leave the results of my work up to him.

DS, June 2015.