Monday, February 16, 2009

The Unbearable Rightness Of Being Myself

I've been very withdrawn this week. This has been reflected in fewer entries here. When I'm unhappy or troubled, I clam up. I throw myself into work. But sometimes trying to ignore a problem, especially an emotional one, is a bad idea.
I spoke to my father a few days ago. Our conversations are rarely about my art or my career but he knows that I've been under a lot of financial pressure lately. Technical mistakes in my studio, which I've written about here before, have been costly in every respect: I have had to spend a great deal on new materials and at the same time, forego new income while I repair or repaint some large works. I've always prided myself on the quality of finish – and durability – of my enamel works and its important to me that no second-rate work finds itself into collectors' hands. No matter what it costs.
My father had called to offer me money. I turned it down. We have fallen out over money before. I've learned that, with him, there are always strings attached.
Having refused his help, our conversation soon degenerated into a fight. He told me what a failure I am and that I should have handled my career the way he had told me to. The trouble is, what he had told me, five years ago, was that I should give up art. This was after a widely reviewed and much-publicised show, Self Vs. Self, at a well-regarded gallery failed to return what I'd invested in it. He considered that a disaster.
My father judges my success by the amount of money in my account and the number of my own paintings that I hold. Instead, I've invested in expanding my studio, increasing the number of my assistants and producing my own exhibitions and events. I prefer that my work is on the walls of collectors rather than in my store-room. My father doesn't understand that paintings don't just go up or down in value on their own. Their value is directly related to the amount of work I put in. At this stage of my career, paintings stashed in a store room do nothing for me whereas paintings in collections build awareness and appreciation of my work.
Besides, I'm an artist, not a banker or stockbroker. Communication of my ideas is important to me. My father would regard this argument as ridiculous.
In the middle of our increasingly bitter exchange, I mentioned the high price my work achieved at auction, at Christies in London, in December last year, despite a worsening economic climate. My father told me that meant nothing. All that mattered, he said, was how much money I had in my hand. The huge gulf between our values was suddenly so stark that I didn't know what to say anymore. I told him, simply, that I was proud of what I'd accomplished – especially as I'd accomplished much of it alone. His rage amplified and he hung up.
Sadly, more and more, my relationship with my father has deteriorated as I have become my own person and made decisions that reflect who I am rather than who he thinks I should be. My father used to ask me why I was so quiet and didn't speak my mind. It was because when I did say what I thought, he didn't like it.
My father doesn't really like the person I am and I don't like the person he wants me to be. He can't accept me as I am but I can't pretend to be someone else. What I can do is accept the way things are between us and ignore what he says to – or about – me.
Which prompts me to admit the only untruth I have ever told in this blog. After the opening of my PORNO exhibition, last year, I wrote that my father told me he was proud of me. He didn't. He had looked pleased and I had really wanted him to say he was proud. In fact, all he told me was that his favourite exhibition was my first, ten years ago.
Now I feel foolish for inventing what I'd wanted so badly to be true. It's time for me to accept the reality that it isn't and move on.


Paul said...

True, denying reality is no solution.

And I'm sure you weren't writing to ask for ideas, however.

If one were interested in 'lubricating' their familial relationships I might suggest sticking more to the things you have in common than the differences. You know what subjects torque him and what subjects torque you. What subjects are some shade of neutral??

You are an artist, a communicator, maybe your next big challenge is communicating your love(?) for your father?

This advice and $1.85 will get you a cup of coffee.

Remember persistence triumphs.

Anonymous said...

i think your dad and my mother would get along really well...

Anonymous said...

I think your Dad needs to let it go.... control that is.

Tina Mammoser said...

Hazel, while it may be little consolation be assured that many of us who've never even met you (yet!) are proud of you and your dedication to your work and authenticity. Whenever I'm doubting my choices to not take every commercial opportunity offered, whenever I'm revarnishing for the third bloody time because the finish isn't right, I reread your blog posts and know that I'm doing what is right for me.

Anonymous said...

I think your father is worried about you Hazel and angry that he can't help. He gives his advice according to how he sees the world working and it is rejected. This makes him feel helpless, useless to you and he expresses this in anger at you. This is typical male reaction when he cannot tell you his feelings, that he adores you and fears for your welfare and ability to survive. You don't have the same priorities but there is much love there and in time it will get better between you. That is how it seems to me anyway.


Anonymous said...

Hazel--moving through and away from parental approval, and the pain it brings, are necessary for growth. that said, good for you for having the wherewithal to bring it up as i believe talking about it helps. good to not isolate yourself for too long--the chatter gets too loud!

good luck,
leigh wt

Phoinix said...

What Tina said goes for me too.

Keep in mind, when giving advice about families that not everyone has loving, healthy families. Many "parents" use their families and children to fuel their own needs - emotional, mental, physical, etc.
Maybe it's addiction, or mental illness or selfishness, or evil - the reasons for, and levels of, dysfunction are endless. They "give" specifically so they can say they are "owed". They manipulate, distort, and outright lie. They understand a child's need for approval, love and comfort and they *use* those needs to their own purposes. They are experts at "seeming." Often seeming to be normal doting parents.

No amount of wishing, communicating, or "fixing" will change the situation. They exist only to serve their own agendas and needs - being vulnerable towards them and reaching out, being persistent, just results in more harm and needless pain.

Anyway. Regardless of whether that applies here...

It's simply not possible to "fix" another human being without their own active participation. Family member or not. Sometimes you have to put a safe distance between yourself and them and wait until they fix themselves (if they ever do).

"Family" is open to redefinition anyway. Close-knit friends in many cases substitute for absent or harmful "blood" relatives.

Sarah Lacy said...

This is like reading about my own life.

I have an almost identical relationship with my own father. The more myself I am, the angrier he gets. His favourite thing to do is to tear apart my successes.

I get this. I really, really get this.

matt said...

Dear Hazel. I am a dad and I have kids. We become the actual roles and responsibilities that we have in life and forget who we are sometimes. Human beings need to be and not do. Relating in families? Maybe running a small country would be easier? Love expectations cripple some. sounds patronising I know, but be true to you. we love you and your work (which is also you); you are an artist, but you are you really as I see you. whats inspires me is that you express yourself so well. thanks for everything x
looking forward to seeing you again in your art

Fi said...

Hi Hazel,

I'm a freelance writer & playwright in England.

My dad and I were (he died some years ago) largely ships that pass in the night, partly because of differences in values ... we found it difficult to communicate in person or on the phone, but found that we could have a great relationship as pen pals ... just a thought ...

More thoughts evoke one of my favourite concepts, relating to Balls! As in just because somebody chucks a ball at you doesn't mean you have to catch it - other people's opinion of what you should be doing and being, even when it's your dad, is still just their ball ...

The resulting gain from creative works ... my first full-length play performed professionally at a large regional theatre brought me the economic income of 12 free tickets :-) The other types of income - promotional/exposure to my work, own professional development - oh, soooooo much learning by taking part in the rehearsals!, the massive injection of joy when sat in the audience and feeling and hearing their reaction to my work - bl*&y priceless.
Yep, we have to make an economic income to survive, but really it's not about the money, it's about the art!
I'd like humbly to amend the Andy Warhol quote below to make it: 'An artist is somebody who produces things that people don't {realise they} need to have'

This is my first visit to your blog, recommended by a painter friend of mine ... she and I are working on a collaborative project later in the year. We will get absolutely no money for it. It's going to be a fabulous experience that I wouldn't miss for the world!

Keep loving yourself honey, keep creating your art!


Anonymous said...

A man I knew who was a father once said to me that he didn't care so much for his own future. only that of his children. He wanted to see them happy.

Maybe sometimes he can't communicate that very well.

Many of us seem to be misunderstood and rub each other up the wrong way, when in fact we want the opposite.

S x

TorkianMan said...

After reading about your dad's anger and discontent towards your career path as an artist it seems that your dad loves you very much. Otherwise why would he get so emotional? His narrow minded views seem really oppressive and disheartening, everyone wants to be supported by their parents. I think much of it has to do with his ignorance about art and artistry. If he really understood what you do and why you do it he would see things differently and not be so harsh.

Anyways, while he may not be supportive (yet?) there are many of us here who are, so keep up the awesome work!

Surya said...


Its your life. You owe it to you to live it as you see fit, and make you r own mistakes.

Giesla said...

My father is the same way. My decision to become an artist rather than to choose to get a full time graphic design job with a "secure" income was a huge point of contention. Since then, I know he's been waiting to drop the "I told you so" but I will never let that happen.

He also offers to loan me money or buy me groceries and I always turn him down, knowing he keeps lists in his head and that there are strings attacheddoting. He offers help so he can tell others that he has offered help so he looks like the doting father he is in his own mind. While I do believe he loves me and when he says he's proud of me I know to a small extent that is true, I have to remember that for my sanity, distance in our relationship is better than being repeatedly disappointed.