What I Saw When I Looked Back
Acceptance speech for the 2019 Lieutenant Governor’s Lifetime Achievement Award
Saskatchewan Arts Awards, November 4, 2019
Written and presented by Martha Cole 

I’d like to thank the Saskatchewan Arts Board, the Saskatchewan Craft Council and OSAC, CARFAC, and all the other local Arts Councils and Guilds that make up the supportive cultural environment in which we live. Also, Sabrina Cataldo of the Arts Board with whom I had many email exchanges over the last while.

I decided to be an artist at 14 and now I’m 74. That’s 60 years !!! In all that time I never thought of myself as having an art career – I’ve lived an artist’s life. I STILL DO, so it was a great surprise to get a Lifetime Achievement Award.

It’s a long view back. How DID this happen? What has have I learned? What has sustained me? This is what I want to talk to you about.

First, of course, you need MONEY.  

To quote Gandhi –

“Enough is enough, but enough is necessary.”   

I worked part-time as a clerk typist for 15 years to pay the bills. That freed up the rest of my time to make art. After that, I continued to teach workshops to stabilize the income.

  • I worked hard and spent a lot of time trying to figure out what I wanted to say.
  • I’m self taught in textiles so I needed to acquire practical skills to say it well.
  • Basically, I did it wrong until I learned to do it right.  I JUST KEPT WORKING.

From this vantage point, I can say ABSOLUTELY, that THERE IS NO PLAN and there never was!

I was in my 40’s before I realized that PERFECTIONISM was a BAD THING. I used to expect 120% of myself ALL the time. Now, at the end of every art work, I ask myself –

  • Is there anything else I can do to improve it?
  • Is it finished?

If it is finished, I rate it. My criterion now is 87%. (I know, the bar is still high). If it doesn’t measure up, it doesn’t leave the studio.

When a new work is finished, I shift my focus to its STRENGTHS, NOT WEAKNESSES.  I ask myself

  • What’s new?
  • What’s working?
  • What is worth exploring further?

I look at the work of other artists this way, too. When you turn off your Critical Evaluation button, you see and experience SO MUCH MORE!!!!

Over the years I have actively cultivated a wide circle of artists and friends with whom I can TALK ART. They are invaluable to me when I’m stuck and the ongoing exposure to new perspectives and ideas stimulates and enriches my art practice. These people are absolutely essential to my well being. A number of them are supporting me here tonight. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you.

As I’ve already said, THERE IS NO PLAN. This can lead to the darker side of being an artist. It has to do with the perception that MONEY & REPUTATION = SUCCESS.

Many artists just “give up” along the way. In the later years, the lack of financial security and recognition of the very real hard work we ALL do, can lead to major fears and deep bitterness. It is vitally important that each of us DEFINE SUCCESS on OUR OWN TERMS and celebrate our achievements – in personal and in our art practice.

Getting this award has made me pause and look back. I have been overwhelmed with GRATITUDE for the river of people who have supported me:

  • My parents
  • My partner, Heather Elliott,
  • Family, chosen family and friends
  • Those who organize exhibitions, workshops and lectures
  • Our publically funded galleries and the commercial ones, like the Assiniboia, who enable me to put my art work out into the world
  • Those you have purchased that art over the years
  • AND all those who showed up to my exhibitions & said nice things to me.

By looking back, I can now say that the greatest achievement of MY life has been that I have been able to MAKE ART CONTINUOUSLY all these years. This simply couldn’t have happened without ALL THIS SUPPORT!

I want to end with another Gandhi quote –

“Understand  that whatever you do is inconsequential 

AND understand, also, that

it is ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL that you do it !”

However You Can,

KEEP MAKING ART

OR

SUPPORTING ART MAKERS !!!

TOGETHER, we make the world a better place.

Photos:

Top: Martha Cole giving her acceptance speech for the Lieutenant Governor's Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2019 Saskatchewan Arts Awards.

Bottom: Martha Cole accepting her award from His Honour the Honourable Russ Mirasty, Lieutenant Governor of Saskatchewan.

Photos by Dave Stobbe