vendredi 3 mai 2013

Of art and being a scientist

[Note : ce billet sera uniquement en anglais, désolée pour cette fois !]

 Hello everyone,

I have been meaning to write this blog post for a while, but did not really know where to start or how to it would come out.

Although I do not talk very often about anything other than my art stuff here, I have mentionned before that I am a scientist. I defended my PhD last fall, and am currently a postdoc in a major research institution in the UK that shall remain unnamed... :)

The few times when I have talked about this, either on Facebook or DeviantArt, I was amazed to see all the enthusiastic comments from science students, scientists and science enthusiasts all around. I also received quite a high amount of mail with questions about being both an artist and a scientist, and balancing both an art and a science career.

I personally find it unsurprising that so many scientific-minded people are also artists - the qualities you need to be a good scientist include creativity, thinking outside of the box, dedication and patience, which can also easily be channeled by slapping paint on a canvas.

However, I feel like a little reality check is in order.
I personnally do not consider myself as balancing a career in art and a career in science.
I consider myself a scientist, and a hobbyist artist during my free time.
And as much as I would like to tell you that it is entirely doable to do both at the same time - I am afraid that I, at least, find it to be impossible.

I am sorry if I sound like dampening some spirits here... Let's face it: both careers in art and careers in science are not 9-5, 5-days-a-week jobs. They're both extremely time- and energy-consuming jobs. You know it, I know it, we've all known it from the minute we started our PhDs. Even if you are extremely good at multitasking and managing your time, it is very difficult to keep another high-level activity while doing your PhD and beyond... especially two activities that are both creative and in many ways painstakingly similar, and drain on the same source of energy.
Bluefooted, who has a career trajectory fairly similar to mine (and happens to be one of my favourite artists out there - go figure!), wrote an excellent blog post about this quite a while ago that I agree with 100%.

I kept my art activity at a reasonably high level of productivity until my final year of PhD, but let's be honest: for the past couple of years, I have had very little time (and energy) to draw.
Now: thats is completely fine with me. I never seriously considered a career in art: I hate hate hate with a passion drawing on a schedule, working on commissioned art, and I have a lot of trouble staying focused on any kind of long-term art project. I draw when I feel like it - and I draw whatever I like. I have absolutely no pressure to do stuff that people like, no pressure to sell and make money, because I have a job that pays the bills, and I happen to be passionate about that job - I actually consider myself a very lucky person. I can experiment with new stuff whenever I feel like it. Damn, if I wished to become a Twilight fanartist and dedicate the rest of my drawing life to glittery portraits of Edward Cullen, I could (NB: this is not going to happen).

There are, of course, downsides to this. Of course, I wish I had more free time to draw (or maybe more free time - period!). It is sometimes extremely frustrating to see all your artist friends honing their skills and improving their art and producing amazing artwork several times a week, when you are stuck to drawing a handful of pictures a year. I feel like my art does not improve as fast as I wish it did, for lack of time to spend on acquiring new art skills. Also, as a hobbyist, you cannot expect to receive the same amount of feedback, coverage and opportunities as professional artists (although again I think myself very lucky here - I feel I receive almost obscene amounts of love considering how little active I am on the art scene! :) ). And that is fair - professional artists spend a lot of time making contacts, promoting their work: that is part of the job. But I cannot deny it is frustrating, sometimes, to see you artist friends making projects together, setting up shows and books and going to dinners and conventions and book signings, while you are miserably trying to save four hours in a row to finish that painting that has been lying around for weeks.

But if I had to do it all over again? I would still choose science.
I am sorry if this blog post sounds a little ranty, or dispiriting: I just felt slightly uncomfortable with the idea that I was, unwillingly, giving off the impression that being both an artist and a scientist is easy as pie. It is not. It is not impossible either - but it is difficult, and it is something you want to consider if you are planning a career in science while keeping your art activity alive. It takes to question what you really like, what is really important to you and what is not - and it does take to let go a little bit of the pride and ego-stroking that we all get from showing our art online. But that is not necessarily a bad thing in the end. :)

4 commentaires:

  1. Well said! I know precisely what you are talking about. As a matter of fact, I completely stopped drawing during the years of graduate school...not that I drew much during pharmacy school either...I was able to pick up paper and pencil only after I finished studying and started working. I am definitely not as gifted an artist (hobbyist or not) as you or Bluefooted, but I can completely relate to your experience. Multitasking in these two areas is very very hard and you have to pick where to put your strongest effort....Plus, wait until you have children!!!!! ;)

  2. Ahah, yeah - I have no idea how I'll manage when I have children! I am not sure I want to think about it, actually. XD
    It's good to know you found it became slightly quieter afterwards, though. My feeling is that once you make it out of the struggle for a decent, permanent job - you're sightly better off, and it is easier to get back to your hobbies. (Well, that's what keeps me going anyway - please don't burst my bubble...!)

  3. Very interesting Kmye! I had a similar sort of situation. I was in school, studying archaeology (a big passion of mine), but I had no time to make an illustrations or paintings... which left me feeling a sort of emptiness. I found school interesting, but all I wanted to do was draw draw draw! I ended up realizing that my bigger passion was for art, and that I wanted to actually become a full time artist. It was quite a shocking moment to me, because I had never thought of myself as an 'artist' just a hobbyist. But once I realized I was going to pursue art full time, I was like.. Omg! I'm an 'artist'! It sounds silly, but I was surprised at the idea :P

    The important thing is that your pursue what makes you happiest, and if that is science, then good for you! It's a big thing to know what career you want to go into (it took me a while to figure it out lol). When I'm older, I'd like to pursue archaology at a student/hobbyist level, and volunteer to help out on digs. And to me, that's fine, as long as I can make art full time hehe! :)

    - Sasha

  4. Sasha > Yes, exactly as you said! It's not like my personal choice would be the good one for everyone, not at all. It's about being realistic about whether you can do both, and if not, choosing the pathway that is most important to you, the one that you feel up to walking on an everyday basis. :)