For some reason or another, lately I seemed to have regressed to listening to songs that were favourites of mine when I was a child (a time when I was usually found finger painting or sticking glitter to things with too much PVA glue- I can’t say much has changed). Of course, the ever popular Disney featured pretty much exclusively in that little play list, which got me thinking about one story in particular- Alice In Wonderland.
I think that in a lot of ways Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland has a surprising relevance to how it feels to be an aspiring artist. I should know, I am one.
By this I do not mean that aspiring artists typically have the strange misfortune of literally falling down large and mysterious rabbit holes into fantasy worlds populated by hilarious anthropomorphic creatures. That would be highly inconvenient. I just mean that I can really relate to many of the popular quotes and themes from the story, and I would not be surprised if others shared my associations (aspiring artist or not).
WHY DO I THINK THIS?
Here’s a few of my favourite quotes, with a little explanation as to what they mean for an aspiring artist.
“Alice came to a fork in the road. ‘Which road do I take?’ she asked.
‘Where do you want to go?’ responded the Cheshire Cat.
‘I don’t know,’ Alice answered.
‘Then,’ said the Cat, ‘it doesn’t matter.”
– Lewis Carroll
“If you don’t know where you are going any road can take you there”
– Lewis Carroll
I have struggled mentally with this sort of scenario quite a lot over the last few years (and since I’m only 24 years old I would imagine it’s not unlikely that it will reoccur). I have always had a strong love of art, and always known I wanted to pursue it as a career. But I have also always known that art is not a career that is easy to pursue. So when I was 18 years old, and writing my applications to Universities to study art, a ‘sensible voice’ in my head told me to take a different path just to be safe (in this example, I like to personify that voice as the Mad Hatter). I didn’t know where I wanted to go in life that wouldn’t lead me to art. So like Alice, I just chose one of the options available to me to see where it would lead. I chose Psychology, and spent 3 years studying it at Exeter. But the path has lead me right back to chasing art. Funny that.
In the end, I guess it doesn’t matter what path you chose then, as an artist you are always going to inevitably scramble back to the one you always wanted to travel. I don’t doubt that this feeling isn’t unique to aspiring artists, but to everyone who has a dream in life.
“My dear, here we must run as fast as we can, just to stay in place. And if you wish to go anywhere you must run twice as fast as that.”
― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
It’s notoriously hard for most of us to make a living as an artist. It’s also equally difficult to establish yourself as a full time artist with no other means of supporting yourself. As an aspiring artist with a full time day job I can fully relate to this idea of nothing worth having in life comes easy. But it can be mentally exhausting at times to feel like you are running at 100 miles per hour trying to fit all the things you want to get done into the small window of time you have to dedicate to your art. But you can’t argue with the optimistic yet frank message behind this quote. If you think you are trying, try harder. Then you will get somewhere…one step at a time.
“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.
“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat “We’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”
“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.
“You must be,” said the Cat, or you wouldn’t have come here.”
Pursuing an art career is a gamble, you’ve got to be mad to want one right? No guaranteed income each month, the pressure to keep painting things that people will continue to like, the joy of figuring out tax returns and setting up your own pension, critics of your work, artists block, the perception of ‘the starving artist’ etc etc …But what is life without a little challenge?! And anyway, half of those worries come with lots of other jobs too!
LAST BUT NOT LEAST
“Take some more tea,” the March Hare said to Alice, very earnestly.
“I’ve had nothing yet,” Alice replied in an offended tone, “so I can’t take more.”
“You mean you can’t take less,” said the Hatter: “it’s very easy to take more than nothing.”
I didn’t think about the underlying message in this quote, other than all the energy expended painting requires A LOT of tea. As simple as that.