Interview with the artist Jutta Bluehberger on the occasion of her birthday.
Why did you become an artist?
The artist had been in me for a long time – I became aware of this only in retrospect. But due to various circumstances, it did not surface. I have known the talent and inner longing since my childhood and youth. Unfortunately, there were too few role models or people at that time who would have helped me to pursue this further. So practical considerations took precedence and led to a technical education where the inner artist could not develop. The desire remained, but it was not satisfied until 20 years later when I took part in a watercolor painting course for adults.
At first, it was just a hobby for you. When did that change?
In 2012, several things came together: The year before I had my first exhibition and I unconsciously felt the desire to do more like that. At that time I lived and worked as a development worker in Mali (West Africa). A coup took place there in April 2012. I was just out of the country and did not experience the insecurity on the ground myself. But I suffered at a distance with my colleagues. For weeks the security situation went back and forth – once better, once worse.
At that time Mali was the only country where I had a home of my own. The coup took away my home. It was as if somebody pulled the rug out from under me. In addition, I had to move three times during the first few weeks in Austria and it cost me a lot of energy. It soon became clear to me that the many trips of the last few years (“life on three continents”) and various other stress factors took their toll and I had to radically cut back. The upheaval and all these other factors led me to rethink my lifestyle. I realized that I could no longer suppress my inner artist. It was an inner need and when I gave too little space for artistic activity, I neglected an important part of myself.
Where do you see the most important distinction between being a hobby artist and being a professional artist for yourself?
That’s exactly what a podcast with the Portuguese artist Ric Nagualero was all about. By the way, this helped me make the decision to no longer practice art just as a hobby: The hobby artist goes to the studio when he feels inspired, while the professional artist goes to the studio every day and practices art like a regular job. Before falling asleep, the hobby artist dreams that he will be discovered and become famous, while the professional artist thinks about how he could do an even better job the next day. All these points made me realize in which category I want to belong. Since then I have painted as much as possible every day. My mantra became, “When the muse comes, let her find me at work.” I also started looking for training opportunities. I knew that I still had a lot to learn technically. Until then I was self-taught.
How did this develop?
Since then I have seen myself as a professional artist. However, there were still a lot of ups and downs until I officially registered as an independent artist in 2018. I was still employed at that time but got permission to take a part-time educational leave to attend the art academy. When the educational leave was over and I worked again full-time in my job, there was little time for art. Then came the final spurt with my doctoral thesis (in intercultural studies), which I could only complete by investing myself fully and a lot of overtime. This also meant that a distance learning course in graphic design had to put on the backburner. Later I had to finish it under high pressure. After that, I needed a longer period of recovery and reorientation. During this time I became aware that art really is my new vocation and I can no longer neglect it. I started painting regularly again, looked for mentors, and began to make concrete plans on how to approach this.
What were the main obstacles in this development?
One obstacle is (unfortunately) again and again my fear of what others think. At the beginning of this development (2012), this was above all the fear that my friends could accuse me of being unfaithful to my vocation (in Africa). It was actually only God’s clear speaking that helped me overcome it. A similar fear is what others might say about a painting or painting detail and that they might criticise it if something is not realistic enough for them. Or that friends think I make a simple life for myself when I “paint a little picture from time to time”. Very few see how much time I spend in the studio or how many other tasks are necessary to work as a freelance artist. And then, of course, I am repeatedly confronted with the widespread myth that one cannot live on art. Nobody knows this from their own experience, but people nevertheless pass on this statement with great conviction.
Is it possible to live from art?
Nowadays it is easier than in the centuries before, due to the Internet. If you do it right, you can achieve a much wider reach. There are numerous online platforms that can help you. Of course, you also have to invest time and energy in it. No platform or website will bring you new customers automatically – in your sleep, so to speak. Even the platforms that promise artists a “passive income” only work if you yourself are sufficiently active in promoting it. Some artist colleagues say that they have to spend 50% of their time on self-marketing. Nothing comes from nothing. I have already learned a lot in this area from others, but I have not yet implemented all of it myself. The next few years will show what works for me.
What are your plans for the near future?
I’ve been looking for an apartment for quite some time and in connection with it, I’m looking for a studio. I should have moved out of my current apartment a long time ago and my current studio is too small. After that, I have to put down new roots and build up a new network of friends and customers. And depending on exactly where I land, this can take different forms. Depending on the size of the studio, I might be able to give painting classes.
This year I plan to publish again an art calendar for 2019 (after a two-year break). I am also working on several series of paintings suitable for exhibitions. The exhibition in Melk (Lower Austria) has been postponed several times and I hope to hold it soon. I also will look for strategic partners. For example, interior designers or interior decorators who need several paintings for larger buildings.