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The Long Messy Story

Updated: Jun 26, 2023

You might like the Elevator Pitch, but do you dare read the Long Messy Story? I am afraid I will come across as whiny, I am really a cheerful person, when you meet me.

I am sorry I talk a lot

I talk a lot, people have told me from a young age that I can be annoying or come across as arrogant, that people who talk a lot have little to say. Silence is golden and all that. I tried not to talk, or to talk less, but it takes a lot of energy for me to adjust and sometimes I just can’t control myself. Talking is such an essential part of my character that trying to control it, is like a left handed person trying to exclusively use their right hand. I talk less when I am intimidated or anxious, but it is not a state I prefer to be in. I get embarrassed and uncomfortable when I have to talk about my art and I start rambling. If we ever meet in person and you feel I am talking over you, you can kindly ask me if you can finish what you were saying. I really am interested in you. Please don’t be mean. It turns out I am neurodiverse. I even have an official diagnosis, but I prefer the term neurodiverse, because it explains that I deviate from the average person’s behavior, without putting me in a box with all these preconceptions attached to it.

What I did before

I always enjoyed drawing and painting. There are reasonably accomplished artists in my family and as a child I had many opportunities to play with different materials in the ateliers of my two aunts. My father discouraged my sister and me from going to art school. He had an art education, but he wished for us to study something with better job opportunities. I understand that, I hope my daughters don’t want to become artists and find pleasure in other, more lucrative interests. But if they do want to become artists, I will support them. My sister eventually studied interior design (at the art academy) and I went to study architecture in Delft. I thoroughly enjoyed my studies and my grades where mostly high. I loved developing architectural concepts that connected with human desires and feelings, without using empty philosophical phrases (but I do like philosophy) or difficult terms.

I finished my degree with a very good mark. I thought that if I worked well I was going to be a great architect. Although I initially wanted to do a PhD, I was afraid to apply for one and I didn’t know how to. I was too shy and insecure to go to a professor and ask for guidance and advice. The architecture practice turned out not to be for me. I was too intimidated by my superiors and became blocked whenever I had the opportunity to design something. I didn’t dare to apply at the famous offices like OMA or Mecanoo, because I knew I couldn’t work that many hours. My brain needs more rest than average. To get more control I became a freelancer and I tried to find joy in other ways. I started organizing architecture tours on the side, which was fun, but also too exhausting. When I had my first daughter and the financial crisis of 2009 hit, I got less assignments and I wanted a more creative career. I had always had an interest in glass and wanted to design contemporary art windows for contemporary architecture. Because there is no glass art degree in the Netherlands, I decided to follow a private education by a well-connected glass artists from Germany.

Glass is my medium

I do love glass. I hate it when people ask me why I work with glass. “Why don’t you just paint?” they say. I do enjoy painting as well. Glass is my medium, I see so much in glass. And nobody asks a painter why he uses paint. They don’t say “Why don’t you just take a photo?”

I want to evolve

However lovely glass is, it is a difficult, expensive and slow medium, but I can’t let it go. The niche for contemporary architectural windows is very small and I hated having to spend more than half of my time acquiring new commissions. I wanted to break free and make my own work. For a couple of years I was searching and investigating who and what I am as an artist. I felt lost and confused. I deeply love abstract art, and always wanted to be an abstract artist, but I am much more comfortable making figurative art. As an ex-architect I feel a desire to make large sculptural works, but anxiety and lack of funds and space have so far prevented me from doing so. I decided to go back to basic by making portraits and see how I evolve from there.

I also struggled finding the stories I wanted to tell. I am interested in too many things, so I have a lot of ideas constantly. First, I wanted to tell other people’s stories, because I thought nobody would be interested in mine. However, I am often too shy or uncomfortable to ask strangers to model for me. I used stories from the news and pictures I made during my travels as inspiration. There was a lot of distance between me and my subjects. I don’t know if that was a bad thing, it probably was. During lockdown I turned inward. Making self-portraits has taught me a lot about me, but it also made me curious about how I became me. That’s when I started to look at my family, especially the women. I started to dive deep into my matrilineal family tree and the stories I found there triggered my interest in feminism and women’s history. Specifically the role motherhood plays in the life of women. I started reading and researching more and more about mothers in Dutch and European history. I am not sure which way I will go from here. As always, I have many ideas. I have an interest in the history of mothers in other parts of the world, I would like to make work about contemporary motherhood and abortion, or about unconventional parenthood.

The history of the common women

For the current project I have been researching the lives of common women from the 16th until the 20th century, used references to historical artworks and events and handwritten documents. Family members were kind enough to pose for me and give me their opinion on these women’s lives. My current work is figurative and a bit kitschy, but it shows what I wanted to show. And it has started leading me to more daring ideas.

My fear of the Rules

But how to get noticed? Having a minimalist website, with a short elevator pitch is what I assume is expected from a Real Accomplished Artist. I thought artists where supposed to be non-conformist, but it turns out there are a lot of characteristics Real Artists are supposed to conform to. I don’t think I tick a lot of the boxes. I know that most of the tips I have gotten are coming from nice people, who mean well and I try to learn as much as possible. I don’t need to become a huge success. I just want some recognition and interest, places to exhibit and perhaps some funding. But this whole art world wears me down sometimes and the advice professionals in the art world have given me over the years is often contradictory:

1. don’t tell about the meaning of your art. It should be evident or we want to give it our own meaning. But you need to have a good story behind your art, otherwise you are superficial.

2. Your art should express your story and be unique, but it needs to be pretty enough to sell or ‘en vogue’ and fit other art movements of this age or we won’t like it.

3. be confident, but modest, don’t come across as arrogant (except when you are a man).

4. We only like portraits when they are of pretty women.

5. have an art degree or you are just a woman – or worse: a mother - with a hobby (except when you are a man, then you are an autodidact)

6. When you are trying to break through you need to be young and pretty, or we will consider you a middle aged mother with a hobby (except when you are a man)

7. Come to events and make sure we know you, but don’t bother us, because we get harassed too much.

8. Use social media, make sure we find you, but don’t be too commercial, that’s tacky.

9. If you have been an architect before, we like it, but only if you make minimalist, modernist, abstract art, or if you are a man.

I am sure I have heard more and different advice, but well, you get the idea.

I should get out there, because it helps me develop my skills. But I feel embarrassed and not good enough. Sometimes I dare to take a bold move and it pays off, but the rejections can be painful and it takes time to recover.

Moving on

I might not be a good artist, or one that ticks any of the boxes, but I can’t stop either. It gives me enormous pleasure and a sense of accomplishment. However, I do want to exhibit my work more. Not so much for sales (although it would be nice) or for some narcissistic reason. My work is just meant to be seen by others, like an actor wants people to see them perform and an author wants their book to be read.

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