Last week I had lunch with two of my absolute favorite professors from college. They’re both extremely accomplished artists in their own right, and any time we’re in the same room I’m desperate for their approval.
Willie Sutton (right) is a photographer who shown his work in countless galleries, was featured in National Geographic, and was recently awarded the Guggenheim Fellowship (no big deal). View his work and learn more about him here.
Eugene Stewart (left) is slightly more elusive but also one of the most interesting people I know. He’s a printmaker who I credit for inspiring me to explore my passion. You can view his work here, however the fact that his site is limited in content and currently “under construction” sums him up very neatly.
Both men sort-of happened into their careers at Regis, from what I understand. Which is not to understate their talent or hard work, but does speak volumes about the job market’s devolution. They have been professors forever, but are first and foremost artists.
I’ve been having lunch with Gene ever since I met him in 2010. Willie, however, is harder to pin down which made his presence at lunch all the more surprising and kind of hilarious. They both have a very dry sense of humor and banter back and forth through most of the meal which provides endless entertainment for myself and also reminds me of how I interact with my close friends. Despite their distinguished titles and dress, their immaturity towards one another reminds me that though boys grow up into men physically, mentally some will always remain boys. And that is certainly not an insult; in many ways I believe having a young spirt nurtures and is almost necessary to the artistic lifestyle.
Which bring me to my next point: twenty-somethings are in a very similar position as retiring professionals. Hear me out. Gene and Willie discussed Gene’s upcoming retirement, and it’s a conversation much like I have pretty regularly. They talk about what he wants to do with his life, his passions, continuing his education, new experiences he wants to have and who he wants to become. Being someone who struggles with all of these points daily I’m both relieved and horrified to learn these are not questions that are answered through a long fulfilling career.
Recently a fellow twenty-something made a point that has stuck with me for the past few weeks: she said “Don’t mistake having a career with having a life.”
Eventually the two of them were able to break away from their boys club meeting, and we talked about me. My life, my career, an upcoming show they are mentoring me through. When I brought up feeling lost in Denver and wanting to make a new start in San Francisco, despite not exactly having any job prospects – they were both thrilled. This isn’t exactly the reaction I’ve received from other responsible adults in my life, and it was a nice change of pace. I’m not discounting the fact that they come from a totally different time, nor how male privilege has benefited them through the years (as I’ve mentioned, the ratio of male to female artists featured in galleries is dumbfounding). And I am certainly not under any illusions that things will just fall into place for me the way the two of them seem to think they will. But from the standpoint of Gene and myself being in very similar positions; forging new roads and finding ourselves, it’s encouraging to have their approval, if only just this one time.
Eventually, Willie excused himself to go and meet with the mayor (or something ridiculous like that), and Gene and I chatted a bit more about the art show I’m cohosting with another Regis alumni. We hugged goodbye, and I went home.
I’ve thought a lot about everything that was said in our meeting. And I’ve realized my vision of the future has changed. I’m less insecure about my career; one way or another I will find a way to make a living. But first and foremost, I am an artist.