Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Op-Ed by Jane Tam

Elain, 2007 by Jane Tam

I accept being young, a recent BFA graduate, and naive about the art photography world. I have a long way to go before anything I consider "success" goes according to plan. You can say I'm the pessimistic type of person. When I was 5, I wished I was 15, then 18, then 21, and 22 and out of academia. Now that I am 22, I wish I were 5 and free from real world responsibilities sometimes. This is what happens when I am thrown into the "real world" and entered a free fall, with no boundaries and no guidance as to what the next step is.

I am a photographer and an artist. I want my work to be seen by people who appreciate art and those who are not so accustomed to it. I want it in galleries, museums, houses, streets, libraries, cities, suburbs, and practically anywhere. I want it to be questioned and talked about; create a dialogue. Most importantly, I enjoy the process of trial and error in creating work rather than figuring out what to do with it after it's "done." I'm an artist first and a business/public relations person second, or maybe third or fourth in my line of duties.

After all that talk about being an artist, I was confronted with a logistical question of where will this money come from to help me. I come from an immigrant family of blue-collar workers. Although I am the youngest, I don't act out like a spoil brat and asks for daddy's money. Somehow I always knew I had a responsibility to help the family whenever and however needed. When someone in this circle had an health scare, I chose not to celebrate graduation with my friends in Syracuse. It always seemed my family came first.

Grandmother by Jane Tam

So when I moved back home from college, I thought the next step was to find a job. I didn't want to just live at home and make "art" without supporting myself or the family. So I applied for photo-assistant jobs, digital editing jobs, darkroom lab jobs, retouching, dog walking, administrative assistant, English teacher in Korea, almost anything. I landed a fashion retouching job as an apprentice within 2.5 months of looking. In this economic climate, I was darn lucky. I sometimes can't believe I work full time amongst friends and fellow graduates who still can't find a suitable paying job. I get paid and it's great. With my income, I can support my art-making, while many other 22 year olds are out spending their income (or sometimes lack of income even) on constant socializing.

But where did the motivation go? I was about to blame the lack of time, but it's more of an excuse of being lazy. Motivation is different. In an art school environment, I was surrounded by many different genres of art, from illustration to ceramics to sculpture to painting. Ideas would be bouncing off the walls. Now I feel like a drone, work 9-5, dead tired and go home, and bum in front of the tv or computer til bedtime. The motivating community isn't 24/7 anymore. I realized, it's a lot tougher to be a committed artist. I knew I wasn't going to be one of those people who go to art school, then work as secretary and not make art. I wasn't going to stop. I wanted to work again. This took probably the whole Summer and most of Fall to make myself commit again.

If I don't have the physical community, I'll try to find it and just be patient. The world isn't going to hand me a lump sum of answers so I know I have a lot of growing up to do. I had to bring back the competitive spirit and remember why I chose to be an artist. I am back to shooting during my spare time, mainly weekends, and during nights that I come home from work, I brainstorm ideas. I won't say I haven't slacked off a day or two, I'm human. I make my own deadlines. So far the images I have shot are not what I expected or want, so it's back to trial and error. It's a work in progress. If my work is good, people will eventually come see it.

Jane Tam is an artist, daughter, and "juggler" currently living in Brooklyn whilst working full time in Manhattan.


Unknown said...

Oi, adult life sucks. I don't want to grow up. I want to draw with crayon on the walls and wear pastel Osh Kosh overalls.

But, really, I don't think we should have to live by anyone else's standards but our own. To hell with what everyone else considers "success". If you can work and make money and still make art, you've made it pretty far.

Anonymous said...

You do your artwork because you have to, or else you die inside, to justify your existence. The years after art school were full of hope and expectations. But life intruded and forced me to give up photography for some years. It was the most self-destructive and saddest period of my life. Although work and family took a lot of energy and I made money I was empty inside. Now I'm back to being creative and making photographs again, but it has cost me income, a marriage and any hope for a lucrative future. I am much happier and I don't regret my decisions. RPK

Meg Ray said...

Good lord adult life sucks... but I guess it's all a learning experience.

I was talking to this guy the other day who said that the measurement of "success" in photography, be it artistly or commercially, is determined on if you get paid or not.

Thought it was an interesting juxtaposition to my understanding of the SU professors thought's on "success". Just throwing it out there...

Anonymous said...

I don't consider making money from art success. It sure is a plus because money does some times make things easier. What I'm getting to in this post is that it is art-making and commitment that is important. Whether you get paid for it or not, it's not my priority right now.

Working at my full time job right now is financially supporting my art, which is just my reality.

We're in a fishbowl in school. Success was getting projects done on time for most students. Professors had their own lives of promoting their work. But I don't think they necessarily believe what they do is every artist's meaning of "success."


Miss tam,


<3 this post.

Family has always been more important to me too. Even though I just realized how poor we were, ive always had a feeling of obligation to helping them or being there for them when necessary.

actually, its one of the main reasons why i never applied to art college. they cant afford to support me, and i couldnt afford to support myself. I wasnt even going to go to college.

and now, 5 years after we graduated from high school majoring in art, 9 years after we graduated from jhs majoring in art, here we are. we're both working full time. we're both drained at the end of the day. but you are still immersed in the field, you still get to touch the work you love doing. I, am a secretary. :)

I forgot how to make art. im glad you're still in the grind. Keep on keepin' on, fat rabbit.


Mel Trittin said...

I have the good fortune to have collected three pieces of Jane Tam's work. I treasure them. I have no doubt whatsoever about her talent/skill/gift, for the object as well as the concept. The rest is up to Jane and her willingness and ability to persevere through all the reasons why not to continue to make art, for the one reason why. Because she has something unique to communicate.