what they don't tell you in art school

what they don't tell you in art school

what they don’t tell you in art school.

i can be seen on minimally-listened-to podcasts, quoted in publications, and heard discussing with show-goers that my favorite part of painting is when i’m stuck – when i step back and contemplate if i’m done or if the piece is missing something – the part when i don’t quite know what to do. there is no better creatively climactic feeling than when i try something that works.

i’ve got it, I think. i’ve figured it out.

about six months ago, i was painting a group of pieces for a show to be held during art basel week in miami.  for several weeks, my art studio had been an energy drink explosion combined with an attack on paint and marking pens. sitting in my studio rolling chair, i pushed back and sighed deeply.  and i decided i liked where i was at. i felt like i had pushed the line between challenging myself and challenging those who look at my work to think.  just think.

it was not middle-of-the-road.  it was not glennon-doyle writing.  what i created actually said something.

in my excitement at the canvases stacked along my wall, i said to myself in a sing-song voice, “i know someone who likes you.   me.  me.   me me me me.” in a furious moment of synchronicity, my thoughts came together: that’s it, I thought. the work is brilliant, but add a small line of pieces that say just that: “i know someone who likes you. – me.”

a new line of work was born out of a simple thought based on weeks of involved, arduous painting. painting that sometimes pained me and my psyche and deprived me of sleep. just like that, however, this work came so easily.

it was done. and it was my best.  ever.  and i knew it.

. . .

here is what they don’t teach you.

in life, there is no grade.  there is no warning.  there just is.

and here is how it is.

i painted somewhere north of 100 pieces to say what had been on my mind and in my world. i packed these paintings in the back of my sprinter van and have taken these paintings over 2,800 miles to many art shows (with bulk packs of energy drinks) from chicago to miami. i have hauled, lifted, repaired, touched up, stood in front of, talked about, posted up, meditated over, sweat at showcasing, and sage-burned all of it. all of it – with little to no validation of my process.

and it is crushing me.

i will smile and talk to you about it.  i’ll gently push away your “what’s your inspiration?” question with a diverted and scripted answer about the process, doubling down that inspiration is for amateurs only because it hurts too much to give the honest answer that THIS is what has been stuck inside of me for far too long.

in full disclosure, there have been small moments of reward. i have heard validating comments and remarks about how creative these pieces are or how this work is the best at the show. i’m told often that someday, a particular person will save up just enough to buy a kent youngstrom original.

of those 100+ pieces, i have sold a handful.  and i love that they are where they are supposed to be.

but i don’t know what to do.  i have so many that i thought would be loved enough to be taken home by someone.  to have my time, thoughts, and work exchanged for currency earned by someone else’s time, thoughts, and work.

but they are still here – in fact, they still sit stacked high in my van because i can’t physically take them out of their boxes one more time.

do i paint over them all?

do i burn them?

give them away?

i cannot live with them in my space.  i cannot look at my wall and see – “fuck you, i am the trend,” when all my mind does is flip the words to read: “yeah, you thought you were the trend.  you should know better; you were taught to save, not to risk. you knew you weren’t capable of being that big – you are more comfortable being small.”  i cannot read “pull me through the crowd” and be put back in the exact place where i knew i needed to turn that thought into a painting.  i can’t remind myself of the hurt a painting can do (so assumed by many to be happy, flirty, and fun) that caused me to spray the words and stand in front of them.

i cannot lower the personal value of each piece and create some illusion that i’m not having a sale by having a sale.  i sold a piece or two for below the numbers on the price tag, and to be oklahoma honest, all i did was lower the value of the words on the painting as to the experience it was for me.

my work is my life.  yes – “all he does is paint words.”  words are intimate parts of my life, and i’m guessing in yours too.  i paint stories in short verse form; i attempt to transfer the energy of my experience to you.  perhaps i value that more than others – or more than others are willing to pay.

i don’t know what to do.

i might give them away.

and that’s where my painting brain has stopped for now.

so i’m pushing back in my vermilion orange, vintage herman miller office chair, the one a bit cantilevered and covered in paint, thinking – this is my favorite part, when i’m stuck – because on the other side of this is “i got it.”

 

i’m just not so sure this time.

Reading next

a letter to my 15 year old self
what do i do?