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Art Saved Me From Myself • by Tara Wilson

Tara WilsonNo One Told Me I Could Be an Artist
Growing up, no one told me I could be an artist. Being that my parents were both highly educated professionals, I was given a very narrow definition of success. Doctor, lawyer, or business-banker were a few of the appropriate choices. All I knew was that I loved fashion and art. Because I lacked the ambition I thought I should have, I felt less than. Living in fear of being a disappointment, I went off to business school. I learned to conform and set career goals. Seeking refuge in the fine arts building, art saved me, but it was temporary.

Professionally, my life has been a bit of a winding road. I have always been drawn to art whether as an observer or a participant. I was thrilled when we were able to choose electives in school. I could choose art! I knew I had to grow up to do something serious but at least I could choose art along the way. Every elective slot was filled with time in the fine arts building.

That building became my sanctuary as I earned my Bachelors in Business Administration. I played in clay and paints and got messy. My new friends were all fine arts majors so time in the studio was the happiest place I had ever known. We laughed, complained about the “stupid” assignments we were given, and built our portfolios. I knew no one would see mine, but it was fun seeing a body of work come together. I could express myself and my vision without disappointing anyone. There was very little right or wrong in the fine arts building. I had never known that freedom.

At the end of my senior year at Campbell University, I had enough fine art credits to be an art major. And for just one day I was. It was a great day … almost. In the senior level classes, you assembled your entire body of work for a grade. We all left our work and after grading, one student was chosen to exhibit their work in the fine arts building. Without knowing I was a business major, they chose me. I was shocked, happy, and sad all at once. I felt as if I had somehow betrayed my friends that were real artists; after all I was just a business major taking art classes.

The day after I graduated, I went to the fine arts building to collect my pieces. It was all gone. The security guard said it had already been picked up. Inside I was devastated. He saw it on my face and asked if I wanted to report it to campus police. I said no and went home to finish packing. I was moving back to California to start my job as a store manager with a large big-box retailer. It was a huge opportunity for a kid right out of college. I walked away from that building thinking my art time was over and now it was time for business.

Overwhelmed & Lost
Fast forward past my first marriage, the birth of my daughter, and a return to school earning both my law degree and a Masters degree. I practiced law as an assistant district attorney with a heavy trial calendar full of murders, rapes, and drug charges. There was no time for art, but I did not notice because I never thought about art.

I left the district attorney’s office to marry the love of my life. Now I had my own law practice doing small business start-ups. My daughter was getting older, and I was the taxi, tutor, and all things mom. Still no art for me. I still had no idea I could have grown up to be an artist.

A few years later, the economy tanked, and no one was starting a small business. My workload evaporated. I had way too much free time. I was unhappy. I was used to being in demand. I equated being fully employed with a good professional job to success. I was no longer a success. So who the hell was I? Over-educated and basically unemployed summed it up nicely. By now, my daughter was in high school and had little use for her mom. She was a tough teenager, and it overwhelmed me, a person that was never overwhelmed. I felt empty and lost, but I soldiered on.

Just the Right Earrings
So how did I finally become an artist and the person I wanted to be? It all started with needing just the right earrings for a ball gown to wear to an event. I shopped and could not find a thing that worked. Then it occurred to me that I made earrings all the time as a kid. I headed to the local bead store and purchased all the supplies for me to make the perfect earrings. It was fun, and it reminded me how happy making something made me. I had shoved the joy of creating so far into the recesses of my mind it barely existed.

As I explored the new world of jewelry making, styles had changed a bit in 20 plus years, I discovered so many techniques and mediums I wanted to experience. I really wanted to learn to solder, but I was scared. This was a new emotion for me. I think in the past there had been no time to get scared of something. Somehow I convinced my sweet husband to take this soldering class with a bunch of girls at the bead store. He was really good at it, which was a little annoying. I spent many happy hours at my kitchen table practicing until I could make the solder flow just like I wanted it to. I was feeling less empty.

A friend suggested I sell my work, and I, of course, said she was crazy. Then on a trip to Walmart a fellow shopper bought the necklace I was wearing off my neck. She gave me fifty bucks for this silly soldered pendant necklace. Still, I thought it was a fluke.

My First Art Show
I blame Glitterfest for what came next! I attended a mixed-media art show to support a friend that made beautiful art dolls. I was not prepared for what was in that room. As I walked into the show, the chandeliers sparkled and danced dripping light all over the one- of-a-kind creations on display. I was so overwhelmed I had to go sit down and have a Diet Coke. As I wandered the show admiring the work of each artist, I felt joy, a kind I had forgotten.

Glitterfest was a juried show, which meant that all the applicants had to submit photos of their work and have them reviewed by judges to be accepted for the show. Being a crazy person, I decided I would apply for the next Glitterfest. First, I had to make and photograph something to submit. When I was accepted for the show, I panicked. I was filled with self-doubt. Would anyone buy the jewelry I was making?

Over the next few months, I made jewelry 15 hours a day. My hands hurt, and I was having a ball. Then I needed to set up my vendor table. It looked so boring with just the jewelry. I added vintage props and then began making small art pieces to fill the table and create a look. At the show, I sold darn near every piece of jewelry I had made and the little art pieces too.

I am happy in a way I did not know was possible. I now create full-time, and I love playing in my studio and all the hard work it takes to do a show or actually sell a piece of art. Part of finding my happiness required me to redefine success. I now feel like a success when I have achieved the goals I set for myself. I have learned to ignore the gentle and not-so-gentle inquiries from friends and family regarding my plans for getting a job. Some will never understand choosing to be artist as a career.

To learn more about Tara Wilson, visit


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