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Artist in the Office Interview: Michael Filan

May 24, 2010

Michael Filan is a painter,  instructor at The School of Visual Arts in the Graduate Art Education Department, and a coach at TAI, a company that helps clients find creative solutions to today’s business challenges.

When do you do your creative work?  Do you have any rituals, schedules, etc.?

My schedule at work is ideal for getting to the studio to paint; I paint mainly in the mornings. I have one ritual that helps me transition from my workday head into a creative head:  I sweep and clean up studio before I begin to paint.

Have you considered doing art full-time?  If not, why not?  If you have, why aren’t you doing it full-time?

I have considered doing art at different times of my life. I have not [pursued art full-time] because I prefer not to have the pressure on my creative life in order to make a living.

I also enjoy other sides of my personality and joy and pleasure out of the work experiences.

What are those ‘other sides’ of your personality?  Why/how does your jobs suit those parts?

When I first herd the term people person I thought that’s a great description of me. I am very curious about other people, love to ask questions and learn about people.

A look outside myself at others to help define myself and my life. I am outward directed [as a person].  Some people are very inner directed. The artist part of me is very inner directed and self-referential.

Why did you decide to go into teaching and art therapy?

I was a child of the sixties when young people considered doing service work as an obligation to ones country.  I see teaching as service work. To be a good teacher you need to see the work as a calling.  For me working with others creates a balance in creating art that is self-referential.  I also feel that the choices I have made to teach and do Art Therapy are very much part of my evolution as a person and an artist.

I know there was a time when you were working, but not doing art.  Can you talk about that struggle and what it was that made you finally pursue art?

I found that the artist part of me kept on talking to me to get back to painting.  I felt like a major part of myself was shut down.  I know that for me to feel whole and productive I need to be involved in the creative process.

What sort of things did you do in order to start doing art again?  Did you have to buy art supplies, schedule in art making in your day—how did you start doing it again and how did it feel?

The best solution to getting back to work [that I found] is to get my self into my studio. Once I stand in front of a canvas I can begin to work.  It’s really a head game with me. The very thing I need to reconnect and reenergize is the last thing my brain goes to, so I have to help myself and trick myself to getting into the studio.  The creation and creative process doesn’t care about sales [or a] show’s progress.

After a long day at work how the heck do you find time to do your painting?  What keeps you motivated?

At a point there is choice I must get back into studio and paint. I begin to paint pictures in my head and then back into the studio I go.   I begin to feel out of touch with myself [if I don’t go into the studio] and know that I need to get to the studio and just paint.

When I paint I feel autonomous because my decisions in the painting are all mine– nobody can make these decisions but me.  I like to bring all parts of me into play–that’s what painting does: it brings the child in me to meet the adult who makes intellectual and aesthetic decisions all together….  I love looking at my work in progress.

One of the things I learned from you is that being a professional artist isn’t just about doing the art, it’s about doing the business, contacting galleries, going to events, making contacts, etc.  When do you find time to fit that in with the art making?

I go into different modes sometimes I am very focused on the business aspect and then I will go into creative mode. [To help with this] I have hired an art assistant [and] she does all the things I hate: …editing, reminds me of due dates, helps me organize… Wish I could hire someone to go events for me; I still need to work on that one.

So many artists are gifted, but they really struggle with the business end of it.  What would you say to someone who HATES the business part of an art career?

One has to make a decision on what you want out of your career.  If you want to sell or develop a resume of shows you have to get over whatever stops you, [and/or] your fears and insecurities. Some artists choose not to be a business person and just do their art. It is a choice.

Sometimes as an artist it can be hard to not “be an artist” 24/7, but I find I can get burned out if I don’t enjoy other, often mindless stuff. Do you have anything you do outside of work that isn’t art related?

Love movies love to read love to exercise

Do you have any advice for creative types that have a day job?

Once again you have to look at what you want.  If you just want a basic salary and don’t mind doing a non creative job that’s great.  I seem to need to [be] creatively stimulated in everything I do.  I remind myself daily how grateful I am to have all that I do, and not dwell on what I don’t have or have not created for myself.

I [also] continue to reframe my being an artist of a certain age in a society that is so age phobic.  I understand on a very elemental level that my art making has no need to be famous or rich it just needs to be.

Any words of wisdom or favorite quotes you have received through the years?

Just play

Forgive and Forget

What goes around comes around

I’m just going to be happy

Thank you, Michael Filan!

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