Artists’ careers can take many trajectories. In our conversations with working artists, we’ve asked: Can you point to any one decision you’ve made as an artist that has had the most impact on your career?
Joan Leegant, writer
Probably the smartest thing I did was to enroll in a master’s program in writing, a low-residency MFA at Vermont College, now the Vermont College of Fine Arts. I was 47 years old and had been writing for 7 or 8 years and needed a more rigorous way of dealing with what I was doing. The beauty of the low-residency model is that, other than going to the campus twice a year for 10-day residencies, you are basically on your own, writing a lot of fiction, but with a mentor, a serious working writer who becomes your dedicated reader. After 2 years of this, with 4 different mentors, you can learn a lot about yourself as a writer.
Patrick Gabridge, playwright, writer
In 1990, I was living near New York (in New Jersey), and decided to self-produce my first full-length play off-off Broadway. I partnered with a director to start a small theatre company to produce the show and rented a theatre for a weekend, helped find the cast, designed and built the set, all while in the midst of moving to Denver with my wife, Tracy. The production taught me as much about writing and producing, in the space of about 8 weeks, as I could have learned in graduate school (for less money). It also gave me the confidence to take similar leaps in the future.
Steven Bogart, playwright and director
Hmm, well I decided to stay in education (as a teacher) and that has had its ups and downs as I’ve struggled to find time for my own personal artistic endeavors. And I’ve wondered what a professional life in the theater would have meant, but at the same time, I have created some amazing and mind blowing theater with my students that I probably would not have been able to do professionally and pay my bills. I love creating with my students, and my work in education has really informed my approach and ideas about theater – what it is, and what it could be. Working with students keeps giving back to me in wonderful ways. I’m still connected with many of my alums and it has been personally and artistically rewarding. (Ed. note: Bogart recently left his full-time teaching position and now teaches part-time as he concentrates on his career as an artist.)
Huckleberry Delsignore, crochet artist
A little over a year ago I lost my job. Little did I know at the time, it was the best thing that could happen to me. My children were in school full time and I had only one thing I needed to focus on: making my art career happen. I crocheted as much as possible, kept my web site fresh and up to date, and did my best to let people know what I was up to. A good web site is an amazing resource these days. I guess the one decision was to take myself seriously as an artist and to work harder than I knew possible to make cool stuff happen.
Adam Schwartz, writer
To be the best father possible to my daughter. I adopted my daughter in 1996, and that happened to be the last year in which I published a story before my (2011) novel came out. I didn’t have much time to write between having a demanding teaching job and being fully involved in my daughter’s life. I’m reluctant to say, though, that it had a negative impact on my writing career. I’m sure that the experience of being a parent will enrich my writing for years to come.
Leslie Williams, poet
I wish I could say I made “decisions” in the sense of strategy, or even in being fully conscious about the work of poetry. The main thing for me has been sticking to it over the long haul, which is not really a choice, as anyone who writes poems knows – even in the dry spells there are little nagging lines and phrases in your head that call you back. For me it’s been crucial to find a group of serious working poets to meet with on a semi-regular basis. I was fortunate enough to stumble into the most magical summer group the first summer we moved here and that too has really sustained me.
Holly Lynton, photographer
When I was an undergraduate at Yale, I began taking classes in photography. Initially, I was into creative writing and thought I’d be a writer. Immediately hooked on photography, I found a natural ease in making ironic and humorous street photos, very much smitten with the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson. After a year, I hit a rut. This lasted for three semesters, and each semester I thought about giving up photography, but each semester I found one negative I wanted to print and reasoned that I couldn’t print it without darkroom access. I’d only have dark room access if I signed up for the next photography class, and so I did, and I persevered. In my last semester at Yale, I had a breakthrough in my work that thankfully moved me out of that rut… It’s those moments that add up and have impact.
Jamie Cat Callan, writer
A long time ago, I decided to let go of the debilitating idea of becoming an overnight sensation. I let go of the notion of the acclaimed debut novel. I no longer care about being the next new thing. Rather, I’ve embraced the idea that I can be that gal who has been quietly and consistently writing all along (since 1973) while raising a daughter, making a living, moving around, experiencing all the unexpected ups and downs of living a full life. The overnight sensation ship sailed long ago, but I am here and this is my journey.
Laura Harrington, playwright, writer
There’s one decision I’ve had to make several times that seems like it’s had the most impact. It’s a decision that’s often been made in very dark times. And that decision is simply to keep going, to keep writing.
What decision had the most impact on your career? Leave a comment and join the conversation.
Image: Daniel Ranalli, SNAIL DRAWING/DOUBLE LINE START (2007), snail drawing in sand, 20×28 in. Images from Daniel’s Snail Drawing series are included in Dance/Draw, the major fall exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Arts/Boston, running through January 16, 2012. Daniel is also participating in the ICA’s 75 Artists for the 75th exhibition, as well.