For artists, the amount of pressure to create something to one’s own standards can be overwhelming.
It can be easy to get lost in comparison to past pieces of work or to set future hopes so high that one gets paralyzed in the craft.
This is why I love the term “body of work.” It suggests that no one piece of art needs to stand alone and represent everything in its entirety (this idea was originally introduced to me by a Kelly Diels - a feminist culture maker worth checking out). Instead, an artist can know that they are making a collection over time.
This perspective removes pressure on any current piece to supersede previous pieces or achieve some predetermined expectation.
What matters is the work over time.
This perspective also treats each work with more respect and dignity.
As a stand alone piece, “Making it Through Chemotherapy” is not my proudest piece.
However, I understand how it came to be (witnessing my mother go through five years of chemotherapy) and why it was difficult (I was capturing the experiences of a deceased woman instead of my own). I can also appreciate what was excellent in the piece (I pushed myself artistically to improve my skills with painting backgrounds).
Within the context of a body of work, I see how the book fits and I’m glad I attempted it... even though there are many parts of my book it I'm not fond of.
A body of work also gives permission for lapses in time or fluctuations in medium.
Following my two illustrated books, others encouraged me to make more books, but I just didn’t have it in me. I went through a phase of painting large abstract paintings. This could have been misinterpreted as me abandoning my craft. Within a body of work though, the paintings are part of my body of work and seamlessly flow with where I was during that period of my life. I need not pigeonhole myself to one form of creativity.
This is probably why I am so drawn to art therapy. It honors what art can do for us in the present and is not fixated on the end product. Every medium can fuel another.
A body of work also gives merit to that which makes it to the public eye and that which does not.
My body of work began as a child, as I created stories and put them into books as gifts for my family members. Those pieces of work will probably never be seen by the public, and yet they are a part of my history and body of work.
As an adult, I have full discretion about my private body of work (journals, private art pieces, etc.) and my public body of work (this essay, my published books, etc.).
I am now expanding my public body of work by sharing paired essays and art daily. At first, I feared someone would read an essay and react with objections like, “But what about this?!” and, “You didn’t consider…” I now accept that a single essay cannot consider everything. A single essay cannot capture all of my values and unique viewpoints. However, a body of work can. If someone looks across my essays, they will have a greater understanding of me.
This is the value and freedom of a body of work.
So for now, I keep writing essays and releasing collage art because it is fun. Eventually, I am sure this period will fade out. There will be new projects and new creative endeavors. There will be more pieces conceived, and this period will just be part of my body of work.