The landscape of life is filled with peaks and valleys. Sometimes, you’re sniffing the crisp air at the top of the mountain; other times, you’re drudging through the muddy runoff at the base of existence. Your terrain is relative to your path, the road that you have chosen for your adventure.
As I get older, the mud of the valleys seem to catch my boots and keep me from striding ahead. Last year was a strange year for me — with some high flights (publishing my 3rd book, launching my SereFire Candle brand, growing my audience, connecting with great people and influencers, just to name a few) but mostly lowly trespasses (cancellation of a Gallery show, Dad in and out of the hospital, layoffs at work, disconnection from friends, etc.). Progressively, the mud of my real life has been more difficult to remove from the boots I use to walk as Artemis Sere, slowing down my evolution, minimizing my artistic advancement and stifling the growth of my brand. The needs of my employers and my family (including my extended family) have forced me to choose between advancing as Artemis and stabilizing my reality.
The wise one doesn’t allow for excuses, and takes ownership of the turns in the path while maintaining direction toward personal goals, regardless of conflict and compromises.
But I was not prepared for the big picture learning around my Artemis Sere brand last year: for the first time, I published a book that received zero engagement, zero traction, zero support. Even though I was supremely excited about “Cacophony”, it was an artistic dud.
It’s difficult to admit that my third book — which operates both as an artistic “best of” and as an introduction to my antagonist for “The Skeleton Men”— was a failure. While I’m not looking for awesome commercial success from my brand, nor am I looking for sympathy or pity, I am putting time into packaging, promoting and selling my work for a reason: I have personal goals, and want to become relevant as a producing artist.
But, failure is the truth, if the metric is sales and audience adoption of my artistic product. As an artist, near zero engagement is a humbling thing to face, and has forced me raise all sorts of questions about who I am, what I’m doing and who my audience really is.
I don’t have those answers.
I would be lying if I said my confidence wasn’t shaken. This precipice is different than previous.
I don’t feel like I know my audience anymore — or, attrition of my fans has been so swift from year to year that I no longer feel confident that my creations will reach an audience. As a content marketer, I’ve pushed millions of impressions over the last year, advanced my brand recognition and solidified an interactive base — for what?
I often give away my first two books, give away art prints, candles and paintings because few are willing to pay for my work — or at least the value that I believe my work is worth. And I spend a great deal of my time creating artistic products and evolving my talent and making artistic connections, growing my footprint of art — for what?
I counsel and help other artists find their path. I push artistic thought leadership content and try to provide value to other artists. I study and research styles and approaches of other artists to try to complement my own — for what?
The easy answer is “for me”. I’m doing all of this because I want to, and it makes me happy. Right? The painful paradox is that I’m most happy when I’m creating and evolving — when I’m standing in front of a blank canvas or paper with infinite creative possibilities before me. The soft acrylic begs to be placed; the sharp pencil calls to be dulled; the empty annuls of my Bonesetter’s Series weep to be completed.
But I have very little time to dedicate to patient creation anymore. Too busy. Too burdened. Too bruised. Great creation takes time, not a rush to the finish line. A masterpiece isn’t usually made overnight.
Time seems to be swiftly zooming away these days, and I am offered too little time to focus on mastery of my pieces.
It’s not just creation that makes me happy, but sharing an artistic experience with my audience, my fans, those people that really appreciate what I do and am trying to accomplish in my lifetime. Unfortunately, those experiences have also diminished. The fires of passion have been mostly extinguished by the disappointing journey through this valley of my life.
The wise one also knows that valleys are just natural dips in the landscape, and that ascension is probable if you keep moving forward out of the trench. The question is who you are — or who you have become — by the time you try to make your ascent again.
It’s clear that I need to re-evaluate the landscape and the priorities of Artemis Sere in it after 2015. There is no sherpa to assist with guidance in this valley.
Maybe I just need stronger boots. To climb. To stabilize. To kick ass.