Reflections

Written by Catherine Harlow

Edited by Kathryn Cooperman

Featured Image by Catherine Harlow


The end of a year is always a time for reflection, and this year is no exception.  Arguably, this year has caused many of us to reflect on our lives more often than we normally otherwise would. It is important to take the time to take stock of where we are and where we have been. This allows us to see our own growth and do our best to direct our path forward.

We can all agree that this year has caused a lot of mental strain. To do our part to keep ourselves, our loved ones, and our community safe, we have had to isolate as much as we are able. I am extremely fortunate that I have been able to take classes and start new work from the comfort and safety of my home. I am very grateful that I have had these opportunities to keep me very busy, because although I am an introvert and enjoy time to myself, staying home for months without anything to do would have been much more difficult than this year has already been.

But enough about 2020. I thought it would be interesting to reflect further back.  Back to when I was still fresh out of college. In many ways, I still feel like I am a recent graduate, but there is no denying that time feels like it moves more quickly each year.  Reading one of my posts from 2016 for the first time since I wrote it was a great reminder that even though it does not feel like it, a lot has happened between now and then. And yet, many of my feelings still remain the same.

In that post, I was anxious about how one gets to be defined as an artist. Is it the consistent production of work? Or is it how one self-identifies? At that time, I was struggling with the transition from art student to working a full-time job in a non-creative field. As an art student for many years, I was used to constantly creating art. Suddenly not having the time or mental energy to be productive artistically made me feel like I was not committed enough to art to make the time to create, and thus could no longer be considered an artist. In the past, I was told that real artists must make something every day.

I was not doing that, so I felt like I was failing to fulfill my identity as an artist. To be honest, I still struggle a lot with setting aside time to paint, and have not physically painted in a while. But since that post, and as various live events, whether stressful, negative, or positive, have cropped up, I have come to believe that being an artist has to take many different forms and cannot neatly correlate with the output of work.

Since that post in 2016, I have experienced more personally dark times than I had before then, and I can say that the idea of the tortured artist furiously making brilliant work in the height of their mental and emotional distress is a complete and utter nonsense myth. At least it is for me, and I have to believe that that myth rose from the exception, not the norm. Just because artists and other creative people enjoy their craft, it does not mean that it is not work and that it does not take thought and energy.

I still struggle with finding the energy and time I need for my painting practice, and so I have continued to grapple with the same feelings that I experienced in 2016. I felt like I might not be able to call myself an artist anymore because I had barely produced any art. I am pleased to say that now that I have started work in a creative field as a User Interface/User Experience Designer (UI/UX Designer), I no longer feel that crisis of identity and accompanying void in my life when I am not flexing my creative muscles. I still need to build balance between my job, my health, and my independent creative endeavors (I still miss painting so much), but that will come with time. As a UI/UX Designer, I am excited to be using my brain, my empathy, and my creative and visual abilities in so many ways. It is fulfilling to me in a new way, and I am very much enjoying the journey so far.

         At the end of my post from 2016, I concluded that being an artist is a core part of who I am, that I need to paint for my well-being, and that I need to pursue art as my future.  I still believe I am right about that. However, my journey has taken a different shape than I imagined then. Yet I am genuinely excited about being at the beginning of this new path. Life takes different twists and turns that we do not expect, but I am glad that some are for the best. Sometimes what is actually in store for us is better than what we could envision for ourselves. That is a sentiment I must hold on to, especially in the wake of 2020. So, here’s to a better new year!

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