One Year Out
This blog has largely been dedicated to art - art that I have observed, created, been inspired by, and anything that I have truly connected with. It has been a cataloguing of my artistic life. I rarely include much writing in my posts, as I am not a writer, but a visual person. Nevertheless, I’d like to take a moment to reflect on the role of art in the past year of my life, particularly because it has proved to be one of the larger players and influenced some of my biggest decisions.
It has been a year since I graduated from Skidmore College with my BS in Music and Studio Art and set out to start my life post-grad...and it has been a year that went very differently than I thought it might, to say the least. My expectations of my first year out of college mostly revolved around a hazy idea that it would be difficult, money would be tight, friends would be far away, and I wouldn't have to write essays anymore. My ideas all partially came true, but very differently than I imagined, plus a handful of unexpected challenges.
A few weeks before graduation I had already started both jobs I would have post-grad, one as an unpaid intern for Emma Dodge Hanson, the other as a host at a classy restaurant in Saratoga Springs. Between the two jobs, I was already working full time before I graduated from college, and last summer turned into an insane time for me.
I found both jobs very stressful, and somehow I was not making any money and running myself ragged in the process. As track season was hitting its stride, I was actually getting quite a bit better at my job as a host, which meant that I was being handed more and more responsibility and sometimes would be the head host. To give you an idea of what that actually means: you organize where everyone in the restaurant is going to sit from both reservations, walk ins, and an extensive wait list, plus any takeout, plus talking to everyone with a very big smile, and sending people around the restaurant to accomplish tasks so the night runs smoothly. Picture it like an extremely highest stress game, but you are only allowed to have 5-15 seconds to make any decisions, absolutely no time to eat (one chewy bar would often be the only thing I had time to eat) and somehow you still need to be very nice to everyone and accommodate totally unreasonable requests and people. Somehow, I actually became good at this job. I gained a lot of truly valuable skills, the best of which are how to interact with a massive number of people, make them trust you in a number of seconds, how to handle insanely stressful situations, and how to leave that stress at work.
But in the process of becoming a good host, I lost touch with most of my friends (as I was working nights and weekends, often until 2am), largely stopped making art, and was constantly thinking about floor plans. The job required so much energy in order to perform well, and I didn’t have any left over to put into the things that I love. What little energy I did have left, I put into the internship and doing a few photoshoots here and there - but they felt forced. I was still creating art, but it all came from an obligatory place, rather than inspiration.
But by the time the fall rolled around, the internship was picking back up, and I was completely burnt out. Originally starting as an intern, Emma promoted me to the position of Studio Manager, which meant much longer hours, training three interns, organizing and running the office, meeting with clients, much more responsibility and (!!!!!!!!) getting paid.
Around this time I started what has become my current photography series, Anisocoria. It really all started with two images, “Carpetland” and “Self Portrait at Carpetland.” I originally created these images by thinking up a character who had been working at a company (Carpetland) for so many years that it had stripped them of their passions and all that was left was the uniform. It didn’t take me too long to figure out that these two photos were how I felt about my life at the time - I had been putting all my energy into the restaurant or work for the internship (usually totaling around 50+ hrs per week), and I had let my passion sit on the back burner for so long that I felt I could no longer call myself an artist.
Within 48 hours of being notified that I would be paid minimally at my internship, I was considering leaving my job at the restaurant. It's the only job I've ever quit, and it was very strange to do so. I was well liked, good at my job, and had a fair amount of responsibility - but was it how I should be spending my time?
This has been one of the questions I have continued to ask myself again and again in this first year out. I would continuously find myself working too much, and not spending enough time with friends - or having too much fun and not pondering the questions of life - or spending too much time on business and not enough time on art - choosing spending all of my money on photography supplies instead of good food - reading books and watching great movies but not cultivating relationships.
But by asking myself how I wanted to spend my time, it clarified what I should be doing, and prompted me to decide to change the way I lived. I decided to take a leap of faith, and quit my job at the restaurant, even though the money I would get from my position as Studio Manager would not cover all my monthly bills. I would just have to find a way to make things work.
It was difficult and terrifying, but I did it. I worked as a Studio Manager, supplemented with house sitting and other random jobs, started advertising myself as a freelance photographer, and was making art every week for a photography series. And it actually worked; I was basically breaking even. I was still working all the time, but I was my investing in my own life and art. At one point, around when I figured out I would have to pay taxes on my profits, I realized I had been running my own business, and I applied to be the sole proprietor of Julia Luckett Photography. Without planning to, I had become a full time artist.
All through this, I have been regularly (literally weekly) working on a self reflective photography series, which I have been posting some of on this blog. My boss, Emma, has been critiquing the series, and I’ve found it has been one of the most valuable experiences I've had in this first year out. Through creating the series, I have watched my images and myself change in the process. In fact, creating the series has been one of the only things that has been a constant in my life in the past year. In order to create good art, I have pushed my boundaries concerning what I thought I could create, ask of models/friends, a willingness to create images that were controversial, and trying new methods for research and how to create images. A big part of my ability to create this series has also been from the absolute constant pressure from Emma to continue making art - and having that person pushing me has been completely invaluable. Along with Emma's critiques, I also asked my old photography professor and his wife, Robert and Shana ParkeHarrison, for critiques and suggestions as well as attending open critiques in the area and The Woodstock Center for Photography. At the moment, I’m still working on the series, and I hope to complete it by the end of the summer.
When thinking back on the last year of my life, the role of art has been a huge influence in shaping its path. Art prompted me to change how I spent my time and what I invest in. The creation of a self reflective series kept me honest with myself, and has lead me down a road I feel strongly about. I figure if I keep working hard and with honesty, this should lead me to somewhere where I’d like to be.
In the last year I’ve worked too many hours, had five different jobs (I counted), two showings of my work, ate just enough chocolate, drank not enough wine, traveled to NYC, Boston, Culebra (PR), made bad art, made good art, and shot around 120 photoshoots. Currently, I’ve just moved from Saratoga Springs to South Hero, Vermont (Burlington area) with my boyfriend, Nick. I will be starting a new job with Andy Duback, as his Studio Manager, as well as continuing to work freelance, and create art.
I wanted to share my story of this first year out, because it went so differently than I thought it would, but turned out better than I could have hoped. There were several times this year when I felt I was stuck in a bad place and that was impossible to get out of, but then I found a way to change it. My priorities fluctuated and changed and were challenged, and I don’t know exactly where I am going, but I know how I should be spending my time - and for me, that’s making art. I made big, risky changes in my life so that I could make art, and it was worth it, 100%. I wanted to share my story because it’s hard to invest in yourself and the type of art you are good at (whether it be photography or making music or a librarian or a mechanic), but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.
For those who are just starting post grad life, or who are finding themselves lost in life after college, I wanted to share my story of how I went about following my passion and having it be a huge role in my life. Being an artist is not unattainable, and the easiest way to make it attainable is in the simple act of making art, and changing the things in your life that are stopping you from doing so. It could be a job, it could be in your own head, but don’t be afraid to make changes so that you make the art that only you can make.
I also recently watched the video of Neil Gaiman’s commencement speech at the University of the Arts, and I found his comments on his path he’s followed and making art helpful, and you should watch the video if you have 20 minutes.
I would love to hear about the choices you’ve made so far and how you feel about making art, and please feel free to leave me a comment.