I don't suppose there's a person alive beyond the age of six that hasn't gone through some manifestation of an identity crisis. "Who am I?" and "What am I?" probably stand to be two of the oldest questions known to mankind. And I suppose, if we take time to think about it, these questions, even occasional identity crises are probably healthy. They indicates change at least, if not growth in one's character and personality. Of course they tend to occur at the worst possible moments--when we start school, when we FINISH school, when we fall in love, when we marry, when we start a career, or finish one, and when we are suddenly faced with changes in our lives beyond our control. I dare say artists no less, and probably a great deal MORE, than others find themselves trying to cope with who and what they are. Of course artists have their artwork with which to express their identities but such means presupposes success or at least progress in resolving these two questions. Fortunately, art is both a means and an end in coming to grips with our own self-concepts.
It's no secret that WHO an artist is, comes very closely tied up with WHAT he or she is. For the young artists, such questions are very mercurial. The answers change weekly, almost daily for some. For better or worse however, as the artists ages, he or she finds answers to these questions that are satisfying to the ego and the career. However, all too often, they may become TOO satisfying, as the work begins to sell, the money begins to roll in (and OUT) and the artist's reputation begins to gel. Here's where a problem sometimes arises. The LACK of an identity crisis. The pathway to success becomes a rut. Neither the artist nor his work changes much, perhaps for YEARS, until some unexpected event or serendipitous revelation jogs that artist so severely he or she gets bounced high into the air and DOESN'T come down very gracefully. The artist peers over the edge and realizes for the first time how deep the rut is; and looking down the length of it, gets a glimpse of where it's going. It's time for a catharsis.
Suddenly the artist is faced with a new question--WHY? If, all along, he or she has been painting for money, and especially if they've acquired some substantial amount, then that "why" begins to seem hollow and demeaning. If the artist has painted mostly for the approval of others, that too can seem suddenly very trivial. Even those who have painted most of their lives merely for their own personal satisfaction may be forced to realize that in doing so they've been very masturbatory in their approach to art. They've ended up with a body of work that means little to anyone but themselves. And sometimes, this catharsis (call it a mid-life crisis if you like) even effects HOW the artist paints--the abstractionist seeing his or her work as too self-indulgent, the realist suddenly realizing that there's more to art than depicting. The key here is introspection. Ponder how YOU have changed, then compare that change to how your ART has changed. If the gap is wide, it's the art that must give ground. Ponder where YOU want to go then redirect your ART to take you there. Better still, do this often, it makes the ride less bumpy.