Discover Your Inner Artist

Bev Butkow in her Art Studio

Fulfillment is the cumulation of the little things – enjoying a great cup of coffee, having a meaningful conversation, making a mark on an artwork that is powerful, finishing a yoga class. It’s all the little things that add up to a life that feels happy and productive.

Bev Butkow

This is my interview with Artist Bev Butkow from South Africa, a part of my interview series for the book UNTHINKABLE.

Marcel Kuhn: How do you define success?
Bev Butkow: I think success is going to bed at night feeling like I’ve had a full, happy, productive, connected day. Success is when I’ve had a good laugh, one that takes my head out of the things that are occupying it and into the moment of pure joy.

Success is my ability to be good at enough of the things I hold important – this means achieving an acceptable balance between all the balls I juggle – being a wife, a mother, an accomplished artist with something relevant to contribute to the world, making a meaningful contribution to my South African community, a researcher. I used to admire perfection, but that requires a narrow focus and my life has a broad focus with many important areas.

Marcel Kuhn: How do you define fulfillment?
Bev Butkow: I have a need to constantly grow and develop. I try to do this on many different levels – in my ability to express myself through art, in my emotional reactions to situations, in my interactions with those both closely embedded in my life and the causal interactions, in my intellectual development, my physical achievements, my spiritual development. Fulfillment for me is when I see that I have progressed, even a little, in any of these areas.

Fulfillment is the cumulation of the little things – enjoying a great cup of coffee, having a meaningful conversation, making a mark on an artwork that is powerful, finishing a yoga class. It’s all the little things that add up to a life that feels happy and productive.

Marcel Kuhn: What is your vision / your dream (5-10 years)?

Bev Butkow: I want to make art that is meaningful, that in some way makes someone think about things differently, that sparks a conversation, which creates a connection, that makes people think … analyse … care.

My work is socially engaged.

My dream is to impact global audiences with my art and by my message.

Marcel Kuh: What are your core beliefs?

I believe in family and eternal love.
• I believe that hard work and consistency of effort pays off in the end.
• Justice, decency and kindness to all humanity.
• I believe in being an active and engaged citizen of the world.
• I believe in giving back and getting involved.
• I believe in life hereafter and that we will need to account for our deeds.
• We are all part of a connected whole, with every human connected to each other and the earth. Our physical body is a small part of who we are. Our spiritual body is much larger and more significant than we understand. That we have a guiding spirit that we need to connect with and when we do, our path becomes so much easier.
• You reap what you sew.

What are your core values?
• Hard work (most likely too hard – sometimes I think that I work too hard and not smart enough)
• Displaying ethics and integrity, honesty, respect to all
• Taking full responsibility for my actions and decisions
• Family, spending time with loved ones.
• Personal growth; investing in and developing myself always.
• And having fun, living life to the fullest. Taking moments of enjoyment and relishing in them.

Marcel Kuhn: What were your key decisions and key moments in your life?

Bev Butkow: Getting married at age 23 (3 days after writing my final accountancy exams). Clive is older than me and I knew he wouldn’t wait for me while I grew up. So, I got married young. And it was a great decision.

At age 35, accepting my failure in a senior leadership position in a job that wasn’t right for me and didn’t fit my family’s needs. Learning the lessons and moving on.
Having my 4th child – this meant giving up work, which I loved, and the independence it gave me. Learning to rely on, be dependent on my husband after a lifetime actively fighting for freedom. This was an important part of my development and led to me taking up art.

Taking the risk to becoming a full-time artist, at age 45, with no experience, training, networks, knowledge. Just a feeling deep in me that this is something I needed to try.
Deciding to return to university at age 49 to study art history – given my new career, I need to understand the theoretical context.

Marcel Kuhn: What are your references (people that inspired you) for your life and career?
Bev Butkow: My Bobba (my grandmother) from whom I learned open-mindedness, equality of treatment of all people, no matter color, race, sexual orientation etc.
My Zeida (grandfather) – hard work and family. Little else mattered to him.
My husband Clive, with whom I’ve built a family, a home, a life and two incredible careers.
My children, who challenge me daily to grow, to be a better version of myself, to put myself aside for their benefit. They teach me to be young again and to enjoy life, be free, laugh more, be a bit irresponsible. But also, that every one of my actions reflects on them, so I need to live my value and choose my actions and words carefully.
Many artists inspire me for having broken boundaries, pushed beyond, being honest and to personal and artistic growth.

Marcel Kuhn: What are your key strengths?
Bev Butkow: I was proud the other day when an artist I respect told me I’m brave. I think this comes from trying new things, being experimental in my approach to my art making. I am also incredibly focused, have a strong work ethic and am action-orientated, which means that I get lots done.
High energy levels.
I have tenacity, possibly even a stubbornness, and emotional resilience, meaning that I can take in criticism and implement improvements into my work.
My desire to continually improve makes me push myself.

Marcel Kuhn: What are your weaknesses?
Bev Butkow: My need for approval.
And not having enough confidence in my work.
I sometimes wonder if my switching between alternate media and artforms is a strength or weakness.

Marcel Kuhn: What are the questions you ask yourself on a daily basis?
Bev Butkow: How can I do this better?
How can I make art that says what I need to say in a stronger way?

I try to make three lists before going to sleep at night – listing all the synchronicities that happened in the day; making a list of all the things I am grateful for; and asking open-ended questions to help dredge up solutions.

Marcel Kuhn: What are your daily rituals, practices and tools?
As I wake up in the morning, in my half-conscious state, I do a mind dump and write down all the gems that have filtered through my consciousness. I keep a notebook next to my bed for this purpose.
I’m a strong believer in the early bird catching the worm, so I wake early – around 5 am – to do an hour’s work before taking the kids to school. Often this will involve clearing emails and make a prioritized to-do list for the day.
After the school drop-off, I have my morning coffee, an essential part of my early morning routine.
Every day is different, depending on my workload, studying requirements and meetings. In general, mornings are spent making art, afternoons with my two younger kids or doing home-related work and evenings studying.
I relax in a warm bath between 11 and 11.30 pm and then climb into bed, feeling like I deserve a good night’s sleep.
I like structure in my life. I have a regular once a week coffee date with my mom and sister, once a week dinner date with my hubby and Friday night Shabbat supper with the family.

I try to exercise 3 – 4 times a week.

What is the emotional state you are in most of the time?
Calm, happy, intense, focused

What were your biggest challenges in your career / your life?
• Finding balance
• Finding the time to put 100% effort into everything I chose to do
• Slowing down
• Making time for others in my rush
• Saying no to all the calls on my day
• Taking on too much

How did you overcome your biggest challenges?
When I started making art, I was overwhelmed by performance anxiety caused by the discrepancy between how I perceived my innate ability and the quality of my artworks. I had to start saying to myself that everything is for practice, not to produce an end-result, to reduce the anxiety. And I had to put aside my judgment and self-criticism and just work. And open up for feedback. Over a few years of hard work and practice, I felt that I had started making better quality artworks.

Showing my art in public for the first time was also a huge challenge. Coming to a TED talk by Brene Brown allowed me to name the emotion I was feeling as a vulnerability.

Creating Art

5 thoughts on “Discover Your Inner Artist

  1. I was curious rereading this, wondering how I would feel about my words and thoughts of a few years back… interesting to see how consistent my views are. Thanks for sharing Marcel!

    1. Thank you Bev for rereading the interview and for your comment. What we talked about are simple and big questions that go to the core of why we are on this earth. Thank you for your support. I appreciate it so much. Marcel

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