Morgan wrote this letter to a college rowing student, requested by his Coach, to help the student with the struggle of art versus an education. (The names have been eliminated to protect their privacy.)
Dear Rowing Student,
This may seem a bit delayed, but I just returned from a weekend trip to the southern Washington coast to attempt to retrieve a painting on loan to a hospice there. By now Coach has told you I might write and detail some of my experiences getting to where I am. As you know, I rowed all my four years there, and was crew team captain three of those four years. While I didn't go to UCSD for the art school, and thought at one point I would become a doctor of some sort, I did check out the art classes offered there.
By that time, there were art history classes offered, which are pretty much the same everywhere (I've taken these in Florida State U., and Southern Oregon U.) and always enjoyed them. A perspective on who you are in the world, and how your vision has been shaped by the art and artists of previous years is always clarifying.
The art instruction classes that were offered at the time were dismal, and Coach indicates that this is still the case. I specifically DIDN'T go to college for art instruction as I wanted only to listen to my own "drummer", and get in touch with my own vision. I personally didn't want the pollution of being told I had painted or drawn something incorrectly; no one can do that in my opinion, they can only grow from perhaps a naive pencil to a stylized one. But your own "voice" will always come through. At the time, the "art school" there at UCSD was attempting to have computers draw random-shaped outlines, choose colors for them and "paint" them in, all by assigning random numbers and programs to the computers. Where is man's hand in that? That wasn't art to me, so I stayed clear of the artists there.
What I DID do was something you are doing, and something that will hone your sight and mind beyond anything that you've ever experienced before (I think, not knowing your past experiences), and that's row. The training and coordination that rowing and running instilled in me let my internal light turn on (sorry, left-over 70's jargon). Out on the water as the sun came up I heard and saw the world as it offers each day. The sweat and blisters taught me how to ignore pain and focus on a goal, one that I realized as the four college years progressed. I learned to tune out all the static and listen to my inner rhythm and put it down on paper and canvas, virtually ignoring the schools of painting that had come before. Only after I left UCSD did I read up on art styles and history, and discover what came before.
By graduation time, the Nixon years had the economy in a recession, and jobs were scarce. I just bartended, and painted in my spare time. I joined the San Diego Art Institute/Association, by being juried by them, and that's something you could do now if you're regularly creating artwork. I kept my prices way down, and occasionally sold pieces, scouring the various galleries around San Diego for outlets, and luckily was offered a one-man show in '76. I learned more about art from reading and volunteering on the hanging committee for the San Diego Art Assoc. (was in Balboa Park), and by looking at the art in the museum.
Immerse yourself in any art group, and you're bound to get something out of it. With the net, you can now go to virtually any museum and tour it, something that I think is great. I met a few artist's but really found that my friends were friends for who they were, not because they were artist's. For further exposure, I luckily had a father who was a professional photographer, and he showed me how to take slides of my work, and so I started mailing them off to various competitions and juried exhibits just for exposure.
It's true about the rejection adage: you'll be accepted once for every 5-10 rejections, but if you believe in your work, having heard it speak to you already (since you want art as a life), just keep keeping on. I worked to support my art and have the small fees to be reviewed for the various competitions that are held all around the state and country. (Check out ArtWeek magazine for these, or local associations) I really didn't want fame, or money (that still isn't coming that much!), but wanted to get my vision out there.
So, have I bored you enough to slug the computer screen? Well, here's some practical suggestions. If you love rowing like I did, and feel it honing your vision as well as your muscles, stick with it. As long as you can, and beyond college, too. Read about artist's that you admire. Most of our lives have been extremely simple and modest. (The very best book here is Letters To Theo, by Vincent VanGogh.) If you can get through it, read Vasari's Lives of the Artists, or Artist's on Art, published by Pantheon. When Christmas and birthdays come around, ask for art materials for gifts only. Volunteer in an art association and be prepared to see people at their worst, selfish and starving, but with talent and dedication. If Edgar Hatten is still in San Diego, look him up (art associations or phone book); he has a terrific vision and sense of color. Don't be afraid to dislike modern art, or even past art styles, and listen intently to what gives you a sense of awe. Imitate or copy that awe: you'll never get it "right", but that's what makes art long: the trying. Join an art association, even as a student, and do life drawing classes, or field classes for the experience and the fun of the outdoors, even if you're a modernist, you'll want to tame the human body and nature somewhat. Get a camera and start making snaps and slides of EVERY piece you create, and sign and date every piece too, even if you plan to work a bit on it in the future. (As an art restorer, my hobby, too many good works are left unsigned.) Keep a running catalog of each piece you create, noting it's title, date, medium, size, what you sold it for, and to whom and their address. These addresses will become a mailing list in the future.
This leads me to how I survive. Like I said, I have always worked to support my art. I've used my UCSD education a little (BA Pyschology, minor in Psychopharmacology), but mostly I found jobs that were fun and didn't drain me so much that I couldn't come home and paint. I didn't ever try to make art my vocation as that would have left me dry, not pent up with ideas.
After joining art associations, winning a few prizes, getting included in galleries and shows, then museum shows, I started hating the butt-kissing that had to be done. Art in the big world is often done as a business. Art by an artist can be marketed that way, but isn't done with that in mind. If your work requires frames, make them as simple as possible: a single strip of wood or metal, and let the buyers reframe to their taste.
Anyway, after sort of dropping out of the system and just painting, a friend suggested I throw a party, with food and drink, hang all my accumulated pieces on the walls in my house--inside and out--and price them, and have a one-day art "sale", which I did. This is where I've been for the last 12 years, doing these "parties", inviting friends and friends of friends, coworkers and bosses at my daytime job, and enjoying putting it out there. Now I do them in friends houses across the country. It's not much of a living, but it is a great life. But you can follow the existing art system, too, once you're in it, and really get the money end.
I hope some of this helps. When I was rowing and at UCSD, I followed my eyes and let them lead me to what astounded me. I stumbled, made some awful paintings and poems, but I always listened to that internal awe. Get the education and the art history, and stick it out for the diploma. There is no wrong art. The garbage bag floating in the movie American Beauty says that best. All the degree says is that you can be trained and you can concentrate, and any employer likes to know that upfront.
The really good art school is the one that exposes you to everything, lets you do anything and pushes you to try that you thought your talent couldn't tackle or conquer. Libraries, the NET, other artists, friends can be just as supportive. (Of course, if you're looking for instruction on different materials, like printing, metal, stone, then contact an artist working in the media you want to learn. Most artist's won't charge for instruction when they sense your genuine desire, but always buy your own materials.)
I'm always open for discussion, so ask specifics if you're so inclined. And I don't shy away from the personal side of questions either, so feel free. And listen to your awe.