Interview with artist Manette Fairmont

Manette Fairmont is a national award-winning artist whose main medium is watercolor, though she also uses other medium. In the interview, Manette shares insights into how she overcame limitations to become an artist, her concept of true and inclusive art, her understanding of the complete and individual nature of artists (not needing to be artificially or sensually stimulated), and the role that inspiration from the Bible played in her success.

You have your own art gallery, and you are an accomplished and nationally recognized artist. What has brought you to where you are today?
The main idea, which I learned in my college education, was the sense that I am unlimited. Whatever we need to do we can do because God directs us. I began college as a business major. With the help of my professors, I realized there was nothing wrong with incorporating creativity into my life as well as principled business practices.

Did you always want to be an artist?
Yes, but I was told early in my life by a woman crafts artist that I had no artistic ability. As a child, I didn't realize the context of her comment.

In the end you weren't dissuaded by her comment, but how did you deal with her negativity when you were young?
I pulled away from the arts and did nothing with them in high school, even though early on I had teachers who commented on my creativity. I decided I'd be a communication major, a news reporter. I got accepted into several universities (all of which had good art schools). But the one I attended (Principia College) didn't have a communications department, so I decided to major in business. But my love of art was still there, so I took Art 101. It was one of my toughest classes. I struggled the first half of the semester, but wonderful things started happening the second half. My professors told me I could be a combination of things. It was all right to be well-rounded. So I minored in business and majored in art.

Your business background has helped you, hasn't it?
Definitely! I do my own bookkeeping and marketing and save a lot of overhead costs. My business background helped me develop myself personally to do sales. One of the most difficult things for artists is to promote themselves.

When did you learn to promote yourself?
After college when I took a job at a fine art gallery where I was selling art. Interestingly, I had applied to a really well-known art gallery but was not hired there and never knew why. Two years ago, the man who owned that fine art gallery wanted to buy my current gallery. He told me he hadn't hired me because I was an artist, and artists can't sell art very well. I was challenged with a lot of stereotypes. He had so much respect for my ability to do both. Learning to be a multi-tasker was a big thing for me and allowed me to go into business for myself.

What challenges have you faced along the way, and how have you used the Bible to help you?
The issues of talent and competition are enormous in the arts. People attach limits to artists. Art might be fulfilling in terms of being creative, but it may not meet the mortgage payments. My study of the Bible encouraged me. Proverbs talks about womanhood: "Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies" (Prov. 31:10). The passages that follow enabled me to see my own value as an individual. I realized that the art I wanted to express didn't compete with anyone. When I went forward with that thought, I was able to follow what I wanted to do.

Jesus' story about the talents (Matt 25:14-29) was also inspirational. We must use what we have been given. If we bury our talents, we lose them. So, I looked at my own house, my own abilities to run a business and be creative. As a result, the gallery idea blossomed and grew and became successful. I could bless others by owning and running a gallery.

Did you start the gallery because you wanted to bless others?
Well, yes. The idea for the gallery came from a concept of inclusion, not competition. There are a lot of different expressions of art, and there are different tastes for all types of art. I wanted to meet the needs of the people in our community by providing them with a variety of artistic expression. I've found that the art in my gallery really isn't in competition. There's room for all of it. It's all about sharing, not withholding. And that's the lesson with the talents. The ones who withhold are impoverished. The ones who give of the light are blessed and enriched. We glow with spiritual talents, and whoever comes into our experience is blessed by it. That's how the gallery came into being. I wanted an inclusive gallery, not an exclusive one. The audience and the artists are one.

How did the passage from Proverbs on womanhood help you break through stereotypes?
These verses value womanhood. They value the woman who is able-minded; who takes care of her family; who is able to work "willingly with her hands" (Prov. 31:13); who "perceiveth that her merchandise is good" (18); who "maketh fine linen, and selleth it" (24); who is not idle; who can multitask. One can be creative and productive at the same time, expressing the Fathering and Mothering qualities of God. The blessings such a woman brings to herself and to her family are wonderful: "Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her" (28). Her business is profitable.

We often feel that we have to be different, someone else even, to be successful. As women, we sometimes feel we would be more successful if we were men. But we don't have to be anyone else but ourselves. And we don't have to worry about what we're going to do with our lives, or where we're going, or what others think about us. We just have to accept who we are and what God has given us right now. Even though it may seem that we have very little, what God has given us is enough for a lifetime. Everything I was when I was two or in the fifth grade -- my desire to be creative -- is right here right now. When we accept all the good that is who we truly are, all the stuff that's not so good will melt away as we grow spiritually.

A job is merely a vehicle for expressing God's qualities -- the ones we're given. Psalms has a beautiful passage about the beauty of the lord:

Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God hath shined.
                                                                               (Ps. 50:2)

We express that beauty, whether or not it's in art, business, teaching -- you name it.

Can you explain more about the "oneness" of which you spoke?
Oneness is symbolized by light reflecting light; the light bounces back and forth. The light itself doesn't change, but the activity changes. The one divine Intelligence who created the art also created the observer to respond to it. Those who walk into a gallery and look at the art are really seeing the same "Mind" that expressed the art. It's the one divine Intelligence that made the artwork; and it's the One Intelligence that is looking at the artwork. It's a reflection back and forth.

And by One Intelligence do you mean God?
Yes, God. And understanding the oneness of the creator and creation eliminates competition. It takes all different types of art to express the One Intelligence, and you need all different types of viewers. This oneness is really what it means to be an individual. The word "individual" means not to be divided, to be whole, to be one, complete. So to be an individual you don't have to be deviant. "Deviate" means divided.

That's an incredible perspective -- if you are trying to deviate and be separate, you are not expressing individuality. Yet, it seems that many people, artists in particular, work hard to separate themselves, to be different. What do you think?
Really, to be a true artist, you have to be whole and complete in your own identity, not deviant -- feeble, unhealthy, narcissistic. Art is not narcissistic, self-centered, in its truest sense, even though the world would project that. You don't have to be self-centered or high on drugs or have chemical help to get you into sensual experience. It's not true that sensuality helps you get in touch with the creative force. People who use drugs find that out; they create artificial and superficial art. And the people who use drugs self-destruct. Success isn't about money. That's superficial. Success is about letting your light shine, as Jesus said in his Sermon on the Mount:

Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.
                                                                           (Matt. 5:16)

When you get high on something superficial, you're enveloping or growing inward; there's no progress. In order to be truly creative, you can't play God. It's humbling to be creative. When you're humble, when you align yourself with divine unfoldment, you have a greater audience. You touch more hearts, souls, feelings when your art comes from God than when you're seeking your own glory or feeding your own ego. Your art expression becomes more amplified when you're connected with God.

Why? Why is your creative expression more expansive when you're in tune with God?

  • Because the artist and the observer are one -- connected by God, or what I like to think of as the one "Mind." The divine Mind has a bigger audience than a little human mind.
  • Because you're listening to a universal intelligence who knows all his identities. God knows what people need. When the artist has tapped into that, she or he is going to know what to produce or give.
  • Because God's in control of it all. That's why! But if you think it's you personally doing the work, then you don't have the easiest access to that audience.

Manette Fairmont is a national award-winning artist whose main medium is watercolor, though she also uses other medium. In the interview, Manette shares insights into how she overcame limitations to become an artist, her concept of true and inclusive art, her understanding of the complete and individual nature of artists (not needing to be artificially or sensually stimulated), and the role that inspiration from the Bible played in her success.

Last month we discussed the fact that many people believe that in order to be successful and truly artistic, artists need to separate themselves -- be different, deviate from the norm, do drugs, become involved in the sensual experience. And yet, you explained that deviance is actually self-destructive. Van Gogh comes to mind. While he's a brilliant artist, he's portrayed as the suffering artist. He cut off his ear and had lots of struggles. How does Van Gogh fit your understanding of true artists?
Actually Van Gogh was a very unselfish artist. He was attuned to the right idea, but didn't have confidence in it. He tried to emulate other people, but he didn't like doing that. He was uncomfortable going against the divine grain. He couldn't paint any other way. But when Van Gogh put his art out there, he was criticized. Gauguin, a friend and mentor with whom Van Gogh painted for a while, realized that Van Gogh was talented. Gauguin's jealousy and criticism were abusive. Gauguin told Van Gough that he had no talent. He told him that his yellow chair that's so famous now was trite and trivial. This pained Van Gogh, and he got so depressed that he cut off his ear. Van Gogh listened to Gauguin rather than listening to the beauty which inspired him.

You seem to have endured a little bit of this same critical treatment when you were young, but you have come out on top. What made the difference, do you think?
I had a choice (so did Van Gogh) of whether or not to accept what someone else said about who I was or what I could do. Unlike Van Gogh, I chose to see myself as God saw me. I learned I wasn't limited to the opinions of other people. Van Gogh didn't trust his vision. Yes, just because someone expresses God's art does not mean that he or she will become an instantaneous success. Sometimes it's a struggle, and you need to have the faith and commitment to be true to the goodness within you. That's what Jesus was teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus said, "Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted" (Matt. 5:4). Van Gogh must have forgotten that. He was a good Catholic, and he was "poor in spirit" (Matt. 5:3). The Beatitudes protect your thought from the abuse of human opinion.

Not everyone has loved my work; I have been criticized a lot. But my work has had broad access to the world. To be creative means to push the paradigm. Creative people move beyond the senses of the moment. They're pioneers. There's a certain amount of courage that goes along with paradigm breaking -- the courage to do things right even though it doesn't appear to meet with everyone's expectations, the courage to follow God's path.

Can you share how courage has helped you in your path?
Sure. In college, I made a choice to change from a business major, which was safe ground, to an art major, which appeared to be very foolish. This required a great deal of courage since the prevalent opinion is that it's hard to make a living as an artist. But having the courage to follow God's path yields huge blessings, even though at times that path may seem unsuccessful. If you break through the "illusion" of what other people think of you -- all their opinions which really don't say any truth about you -- you find all kinds of amazing jobs, resources, income, supplies. You find a more satisfying sense of yourself and life. This feeling of satisfaction multiplies and magnifies, and you're put in a position to bless others.

Are there any particular incidents that stand out as significant?
Yes, I've had so many. In my senior year of college, I ended up getting the Studio Art award for my graduating class. I was so surprised, as there were so many talented and accomplished artists in my classes. I had not pursued the award. I didn't paint to get the award. The award was given to the person who had also made the most progress. I had worked hard, coming from zero because I hadn't touched art since I gave it up as a freshman in high school. And for the first year or two in college, my artwork was pretty pathetic in the scale of the world. But in the last two years, creativity and art were just pouring out of me -- I couldn't help but express myself through my art. The award was evidence that I had broken through limitations and could be creative. Just last year, I won third place in the nation for watercolor. There were 20,000 entries. 80 made it into the show.

And you got third place?!
Yes, and I've won 20 national awards. I'm just thrilled to be in the game. I've also done interviews for magazines. I've accomplished more of my dreams than I ever thought I could. I'm doing all this while I'm running my gallery. I find that it doesn't take me that long to come out with paintings that win awards. I've learned that time has little to do with creativity and expression. When you're divinely inspired, you leap over limitations. It's good to keep working, of course, and I'm doing artwork all the time.

You have certainly "leapt over limitations."
I learned how to. The woman who told me originally years ago that I wasn't very good in art told me she could not believe how successful I was. Her children told me that she was rather embarrassed that she had told me that I didn't have any talent.

Sometimes where God places us isn't where other people place us. We each have our own individual path. We need all different types of artists. What you do doesn't determine who you are. The world needs Broadway producers, school teachers, plaque painters, and watercolorists. God places you where you need to be to bless the most people.

The woman apologized for putting a limitation on me. But I didn't let her reject me. When you don't allow someone to have control over your destiny, your path in life, you have eliminated rejection. Rejection becomes non-existent.

What do you mean, "rejection becomes non-existent"?
WE do the accepting or rejecting. WE put limits on OURSELVES by accepting the lies that others say about us. These lies about our abilities come in many guises, too, to snag us. I was told I'd never win a national award and I'd never run a gallery. I was told that I'd fail if I changed my style because it was too risky. Half-way through my career, I changed from painting landscapes and florals to painting more abstract, conceptual landscapes. My work now is all about design -- a quilt pattern pieced together to create a landscape image that's fun, happy, interesting, and colorful. It's a form of abstraction that I found I loved doing the most, as it was the most creative for me. This "risky" conceptual landscape art is why I received the 3rd place.

There comes a time when you have to find your own voice and be a unique artist in the world. You're looking to be your own individual self.

Now, how does finding your own voice relate to individuality and deviation?
To be an individual is to be a reflection of God, to be part of the light ray. A ray of sunlight has all these colors, and these colors have unique properties. All the light combined -- all the hues of color -- make white light, and that's the oneness of which I spoke. When you see light go through a prism, you see the individual colors. But the colors don't pull apart from each other. They are not separate from light. They are held by the energy of love, which holds all those hues together. Think of a leaf for a moment. Each leaf on a tree has its own unique composition. The leaf is a whole leaf, in and of itself, but it's also part of a whole. Everyone has his or her own unique properties and composition. Now let's come back to light. Everyone is a complete hue. But if you try to deviate from the oneness of light, from the oneness of God, your reflection becomes muted. You don't have the clarity necessary to make light. People often talk about artists going through a drought or being burnt out. I've never experienced that. I've never not had an idea. I think if you accept human limitation, you've dimmed your individuality. Sometimes my best inspirations come in the last hour.

Is there anything you'd like to tell young adults about art or life?

  • It's not about how you dress, how many tattoos you have, how many earrings you have. It's not about "image." None of that has anything to do with you being an artist.
  • Being artistic doesn't mean being rebellious. If you talk differently or dress differently, you're actually being more like most other people.
  • To truly be an artist means to find your true spiritual self, because that is the prism through which your talent and vision for art shines.
  • True artistry is not external. It's having the self-worth to realize that it's okay to understand that there is a God.
  • Without God, it's much more difficult to create and to be truly artistic on a deep level.
  • Don't look to other people and their opinions to define you. Human opinions and peer pressure do not define you. That's the herding mentality.
  • To try to be included in a group because you want acceptance from a group does not mean you're an individual.
  • People say you have to be talented to be an artist. That's not necessarily true. Talent only means you get it quicker.
  • You have to be willing to work at what you love. That's what determines your future success -- to stay with it and not give up.
  • You're not limited because of parentage or family dynamics. They have nothing to do with your future at being creative, artistic, and successful.
  • If it's in your heart, do it! Follow your heart as long as it blesses everyone involved and it's not just selfish.
  • It has to bless you, too.


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