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Exploring And Growing Through Change with Austin McDougal

Artist Austin McDougal shares how he has grown and changed through the COVID-19 pandemic

2020 has brought huge changes to many of our lives. For most of us, that change has been rather tragic, with jobs lost, opportunities taken away, overwhelming moments of stress, and just general upheaval in our lives. Despite all of this negativity though, there are still chances for us to learn and grow from all that has happened. One person who feels he has truly grown and become something better through these hardships is local artist Austin McDougal.

Austin has suffered many ups and downs this year. Since the last time he worked with us, he had moved into a new apartment and had his first-ever solo art show at the Chattanooga Theater Center not too long before then. When the pandemic first hit our area in March though, Austin quit his job as a server and also ended a 2 year-long relationship. This was followed by him becoming incredibly sick in June. While at times Austin says that he felt hopeless, he always tried to find good in the situation and used his time to better himself.

The past few months have become huge times for creation for Austin. Losing his job meant that he now had much more time to focus on his artwork. With all of the tragedy around him and so many emotions being let out by events affecting him, he was able to channel those feelings into his pieces to create some of his best works yet. Before this, Austin felt that he was in a creative rut and he blames that on the many toxic factors he had in his life that he hadn’t stopped to do anything about. The pandemic forced him to really step back and evaluate how he felt about his life in that moment, and this has propelled his artwork to a whole new level.

“This year ended a handful of toxic habits that have been holding me back for years,” Austin shared. “Those toxic things were holding me back from my higher self, my true creativity.”

Lately, the artwork that Austin has been creating has been a strong reflection of his emotions and feelings. Austin has been making an effort to make sure to focus on showing strong positive emotions through his art, as he doesn’t want to add more negativity to the world during this time. He has felt an explosion of ideas and is finding inspiration in all kinds of places now. Along with changes to his themes and subject matter, Austin has also made efforts to use higher quality materials in his artwork to do his creations more justice.

“I’ve been using heavy amounts of nature, cultural elements, fashion, patterns, and repetitions in my new work,” Austin said. “I can’t say if there is a particular theme, but I am just inspired by so much and if I come across a new idea, I’m going to do it.”

Austin hopes that this year won’t just be a moment of change and growth for him, but for the entire community. He thinks that this year is a way to dismantle unhealthy foundations for many artists and the art community as a whole. Whether it be power structures, toxic patterns, or hidden obstacles, he wants to see others rising up to become better versions of themselves.

“I am focused on developing more consistent work habits, improving my physical, mental and spiritual health, and staying on top of life. The pandemic should have taught all of us how unpredictable and fragile the future actually can be. We all need to be able to adapt to new paradigms. Overall though, the pandemic hasn’t changed my goals. If anything, it’s made me become a stronger person and artist.”