“Don't pursue a career in the Arts unless you love the Arts truly, madly, deeply. And do not have any delusions about what awaits you both in educational settings, and in the job market. …If you think you're gonna get a break because you have a disability, think again. …You better be the best you can be at what you do, and do not allow yourself to use your disability as an excuse NOT to work continually and consistently towards total professionalism and high standards of quality.”
-- Jaehn Clare, professional theatre artist, from "A Career as an Artist Ain't an Easy Row to Hoe," keynote address for The Art of Employment: Careers in the Arts for People with Disabilities on March 25 & 26, 2002 at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis MN.
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Jonella Moore has been painting since she got an art kit for Christmas at age 10. (The materials were gone by February.) However when it came time to choose a profession, “I went to nursing school because I wanted to eat and not starve to death.” For twenty years she did full time, pressure filled nursing in intensive care and heart catheterization. “Art was always my stress reliever.” Moore describes her paintings, mostly landscapes, seascapes, wildlife, and nature scenes, as “realist in style, very traditional.” They were popular with doctors and colleagues at her job; She would bring a painting into work in the morning and it was sold by the end of the day.
Moore’s painting was to become a literal lifeline when her world fell apart in 2001. “I got hurt at work really bad. A heavy piece of equipment fell on me in the heart cath lab. It damaged the nerves in my shoulder and my neck. It caused this syndrome called Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy to start. So I’ve had chronic pain and I’ve had to retire from nursing.” After the accident she lost her husband of 23 years, most of her friends, her house, and then declared bankruptcy. She was overcome by depression. “I was lonely and half nuts. I lost everything.” She realized that, except for her children (a grown daughter and a son now at Indiana University), all she had was her art making. Moore's parents lived in Spencer, Indiana where she had grown up, and they urged her to move closer to them. In 2005 she moved from Iowa to Spencer. She told herself, “I’m just going to start painting a lot more.”
Despite debilitating pain, she’s been doing that 4 to 6 days a week ever since. Moore is now showing her work at Gallery North in Bloomington and the Owen County Historical Society. She was accepted into the 65th Annual Wabash Valley Juried Exhibition at the Swope Art Museum and has received commissions and prizes as well. Moore’s work will be featured in a pastel exhibit, along with David Owen, Anabel Hopkins, and Jeanne Iler, at Gallery North in October 2009. Although her first love is pastels, Moore is versatile in her mastery of a variety of media. She’s recently taken up oil painting again and is thrilled. She is also experimenting with portrait painting. Her favorite subjects are birds, seascapes, animals, and farm scenes chronicling the changing seasons.
Moore is not formally trained as an artist, although she credits a series of classes she took with artist Barb Prall, when she lived in Iowa, as making her more serious about her painting. “You need to develop this. You have some talent,” Prall told her student. They remain close friends today. Mostly, Moore taught herself by experimenting with materials, reading books, and studying the paintings of well-known artists.
A saavy internet user, Moore takes advantage of free online art lessons and inexpensive materials at websites such as Cheap Joe’s Art Stuff, Utrecht, and Jerry’s Artarama. SmartFlix, an online how-to video rental service is a favorite resource. “Every now and then when I want to know how to do something I can’t seem to get right, I’ll rent a video from them.” She shares her work and solicits advice from online communities at ACEO, an artist trading card site, Wetcanvas.com, and The Artist Network.
Moore credits several books with helping her learn the business aspects of art (see list below). She has incorporated herself as “Fine Art by Jonella Moore,” and is careful to keep separate records and receipts. An expert at mining free and inexpensive resources, she can find an image for virtually any subject from her extensive files of magazine photos. “I don’t copy it per se, but I use it as a drawing reference.” She also finds thousands of copyright-free images at www.morguefile.com. “You must be very careful legally not to 'copy' another’s work or photos unless they are copyright-free, if you intend to sell the work,” she cautions.
Moore frames her own work to save money. She picks up decorative pictures for $10 at Big Lots, removes the backing and glue and repurposes the wood frames. “I’ve bought some beautiful frames doing that.” She also buys frames at auctions and repaints or refinishes them. Masonite purchased at the hardware store is much cheaper than canvas and works very well for her.
Since her accident, she has a new relationship with her art. “It’s become more personal. Before I’d just paint something because I thought it was pretty. Now I want to be inspired. It has to be emotional for me.” The physical act of painting has changed too. Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy, also known as Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, is a chronic progressive neurological condition that affects skin, muscles, joints, and bones. Moore can’t hold a brush or stand for long periods, and has to keep her eyes moving. The pain is so severe she must take a lot of medication. But she doesn’t think about her discomfort once she’s engaged by the art-making process. As she paints and listens to music, “I’m thinking about the color and the blending, I’m thinking about the subject.” “It takes me away from the pain. Then when I’m done my neck and my back hurt really bad,” she laughs.
Moore’s disability keeps her from going to workshops, fairs, and other opportunities requiring travel of any distance. “Going to the grocery store just kills me.” She’s had successful experiences teaching art techniques and would love to do more if it weren’t so physically taxing for her. Similarly, her stint as President of the Owen County Art Guild was a difficult one. Nevertheless, she enters juried competitions 5 or 6 times a year. By word of mouth and by displaying her business cards at Gallery North, she’s gotten several commissions.
Dissatisfied with the amount of her work that she’s selling, Moore would like to create a website and is seeking other new venues to market her art. She will apply for an Individual Artist Grant from the Indiana Arts Commission next year, perhaps requesting funds to make fine art reproductions of her work. Transforming her garage into a studio is a larger item on her wish list, although prohibitive with Social Security and Workers’ Compensation as her primary sources of income. She intends to investigate how she might obtain assistance from Indiana's Vocational Rehabilitation Services.
Plans for the future include an extensive series of acrylic paintings based upon images from the Hubble Telescope. While those works will go in a more abstract direction, she’ll also be taking a pastel portrait class this summer as part of a goal to refine her portraiture skills.
Asked what advice she might offer others who have disabilities and are getting started in the arts, Moore says she understands thoughts such as “Here I am, I don’t have a job or anything. Why is somebody is going to take my paintings seriously?” She asserts, “Just because you have a disability, it doesn’t make you any less of an artist. If you have the soul of an artist, the eye of an artist, the drive, you can do anything you want to.” Moore is realistic about the effort required. “No one’s going to bring it to you and lay it at your feet. Nobody’s just going to hand it to you.”
“I hope people who read this article are inspired to go out there and start looking for resources and information. They can meet other artists online or in person and start to learn things that can help them. Just never give up.”
Go to Jonella Moore's ArtsWORK Directory Listing