“People think that being an artist and being a lawyer are exact opposites, one, a left brain activity, one a right brain activity,” says Liz Hoag. “I disagree.”
Liz Hoag completed her undergrad at Cornell and received her Bachelors of Fine Arts in Studio Art in 1983. She then earned her Masters of Fine Arts in Painting from Boston University in 1986. Thinking she had completed her “college life”, she moved to Maine started a screen printing business, mostly on fabric, t-shirts and such.
“My boyfriend quit his urchin diving business and grew the screen printing business with me two years later. However, things change. Our relationship ended in 1994, and in 1997 I sold out my share of the business to him, as well.”
At that point, Liz decided on another change and opted for law school at the University of Maine. She met her husband in 2002, earned her JD in 2003, clerked for a Justice on the law court and had twins in 2004, and soon after took a new job at Pine Tree Legal Assistance. We are fairly certain she took a few deep breaths in there as well.
When asked about her complete change in life work, this is often her answer:
“The biggest difference lies between the culture of art and the culture of law. Art is generally a friendly and even collaborative field. Law is neither,” says Hoag. “Law is designed to be adversarial. Someone wins and someone loses; end of story.”
The second twist in the story…in 2010, Liz quit law and went back to art.
“It took a while for the decision to gestate. Up until 2010, I didn’t have the courage or self-confidence to be an artist full-time. I had a husband. I had children. I had financial responsibilities,” says Hoag. She also had the problem many of women have, she felt like a fraud. “I never thought I was as good as others thought I was. So if I never really tried, I couldn’t fail, and people would still think I was good. There was no risk.”
However, with a fiftieth birthday coming up fast, Liz knew if she was going to do it, she had to do it soon. “I did my financial calculations. I had arguments with my husband. Then, I quit my job,” she says with a grin.
As an artist, one might not be as successful financially as another painter or might not have particular skills another has, but Hoag believes artists are not expected to face off against each other so that someone wins and someone loses.
“We find our places as artists. We change and grow and have open-ended possibilities,” says Hoag. She found after a few years of practicing law, she was just exhausted from spending her days arguing with other lawyers and always trying to “win”.
“There were certainly some good feelings that came with a win in court, but the feelings didn’t last. I worked with low-income residents of Maine and liked the idea of giving them quality legal representation, but in the end, I knew that I was better at something else, and I’d be happier doing that something else.”
The biggest difference between the two I think lies the culture of art and the culture of law. Art is generally a friendly and even collaborative field. Law is neither. Law is designed to be adversarial. Someone wins and someone loses; end of story. As an artist, I might not be as successful financially as another painter or I might not have particular skills another has, but we are not expected to face off against each other.
Having found success in both fields Liz feels there are more similarities than many understand.
“The thought processes of both professions require both sides of the brain. Of course, we think of art as being creative, but the fact is if I sit around in my studio and wait for inspiration to show up, I would never get anything done,” laughs Hoag. “An artist and a lawyer need to focus, have goals, and plans to achieve them.”
Hoag knows we all need to work through the days of “I just don’t want to do this”. We all have to learn and we have to be creative. Law is no different.
“On an average day, I was rewarded for NOT being creative – that’s what “precedent” is all about. The need to research and use what has gone before to help win a case,” says Hoag. “But then when a case with a novel issue comes, one that hasn’t been dealt with in Maine perhaps, this is when creativity is critical. I was able to take precedent and expand it. I loved giving the judge something new to think about,” says Hoag with a smile. “It’s rare and exciting working on a novel idea in law, but it does happen. So see, art and law both require hard work, critical thinking, and creativity.”
Law has also helped Hoag understand producing art is hard work like any other profession. It deserves respect and effort. “I still get comments about how being lucky, about being talented and the lovely comment ‘I wish I could quit my jobs and just do art’,” Hoag laughs. “Me too, I want to say, but I simply say Thank you. Yes, it’s great.’ and move on.”
Hoag knows it’s not that simple and being lucky or genetically talented didn’t get her where she is as a painter today. “Hard work, a lot of thought, and some middle-aged self-confidence got me here,” she says. “And I’m so glad I made the move. My possibilities are infinite.”
Click the links below for more about Liz Hoag.