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  • Writer's pictureAnn Marie Coolick

Advice to my Younger Self

Someone recently asked me: "if you could tell your younger self one piece of advice, what would it be?" This sparked the idea that some of you may be going down the same path I went down years ago as a young artist struggling to find my way. Behind the pretty pictures were years of rejection letters and uncertainty. Perhaps it would help someone if I shared my story.

I graduated from college with degrees in both art and marketing, but after being told hundreds of times that I couldn't make a living as an artist, I grudgingly applied to law school. If being an artist wouldn't garner any respect, surely being a lawyer would. Without giving much thought to it, I applied to four schools. I got into one that was 1,000 miles from my home and I turned it down. It wasn't for me. I moved back in with my parents and painted in their basement while taking the train into DC once a week to teach an after school arts program. I worked a few days a week for a small marketing firm and also substitute taught for local schools. I quickly learned not to answer the phone at 6:30am when the school system called so I could instead spend my mornings painting. I was 23, living at home, and hanging out with friends who had "normal" jobs. I felt a bit lost.

I applied to get my Master of Fine Arts. It was a big dream. I was turned down from every single school. Seven maybe. Did my work suck? Did I not have it in me? Was I not as good as the other artists getting chosen to live out their dream? Damn these art schools for crushing our souls! Nevertheless, I continued painting. I was an artist struggling to start out and find recognition in DC, an area where galleries and opportunities were limited and the artist lifestyle was not encouraged. I showed my work at coffee shops in the city and sold paintings to friends and neighbors. Finally at 24 I gave in and got a "normal", well-paying job. Nevertheless, I continued painting.

I had finally built my portfolio into a cohesive body of work and in 2004 I was awarded a studio residency at the Arlington Arts Center. I kept painting. I worked at my "other" job during the day, went to the gym, picked up takeout, then went to the studio at night. I kept building my resume, applying to shows, volunteering at galleries, and making connections. Then BOOM, a solo show at the Center for the Arts in Manassas in 2009. It was a slow rolling snowball into more opportunities as an artist.

Being an artist takes time. It takes commitment. It takes the ability to tune out the outside world when you hear that you can't do it. Even now I have to remind myself that I am a professional artist. I'm used to the looks of confusion when I explain that I'm an artist and it doesn't upset me anymore. If you are living in your parents' basement, showing at coffee shops, waiting tables, or doing whatever it is that you have to do, just remember that it's just part of the game, not the end game. Always be honest with yourself and create work that is true to you. Find inspiration in other's work, but never copy. Being an artist takes the ability to handle ups and downs while remaining focused on creating and not losing hope regardless of outside forces.

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