Yesterday, Karen J. Jones of Boston, Massachusetts wrote, “I’m a self-confessed art flirt. When I see the work of others that I’m attracted to, I fall in love. I want to be that artist, I want to create that work, I want to live that life. I’m willing to give up my current style, all my materials and even my pets if I could just paint like that. It happens often. With the convenience of the Internet, I can fall in love more than once a day. I’m suffering from infatuation overload and it’s really getting to me. Can you help?”
Thanks, Karen. The condition you’re talking about is widespread. The good news is, if it’s like having an occasional drink, it’s fairly harmless. Out of control, it can ruin careers and bring artists to states of hopelessness and depression. Yours sounds like a serious case of Chronic Creative Promiscuity (CCP). You need to take the cure. I know of no organization catering to really outrageous flirts like you. I’ll take the case.
The reason you compulsively accept the paths of others is you don’t have confidence in your own path. If you ever had a path, you need to find it again by quitting cold turkey. You need to choose a day to begin a new life of media celibacy. Explore your own creative wanderings and drag stuff up from your fantasy bank. Be assured that you have enough talent and character to pull it off.
Your case is particularly serious because you want to be in someone else’s shoes. You’ll even sacrifice your pets. You need to fully understand that you are your own person. To be satisfied in our game, you need to own your style and your direction. Put a sign on your studio wall: “I shalt not covet the work of others.” You’ve had enough of playing the field. You now need to look within.
Permit yourself only occasional dalliance in your new world of media chastity. Abstain for a day and you can abstain for a week. The rest will be history. More great careers have been built on habit modification than this world dreams of.
PS: “Be careful that you do not write or paint anything that is not your own, that you don’t know in your own soul.” (Emily Carr)
Esoterica: The main joy in art, apart from acquired proficiency, is to get the understanding that you are truly special and unique. This understanding is a defense against all setbacks or misgivings. In the words of Emily Carr, “If you’re going to lick the icing off somebody else’s cake, you won’t be nourished and it won’t do you any good.” It’s true, artists need to see themselves as pioneers, and when they possess their own uniqueness, they thrive.
“They copied all they could follow,
but they couldn’t copy my mind,
so I left them sweating and stealing
a year and a half behind.” (Rudyard Kipling)
Faithful to first love
by Diane Overmyer, Goshen, IN, USA
I can relate to what Karen goes through, only I experience that feeling even more intensely when I have seen someone’s work in person where it is nicely displayed in a gallery or museum. I get totally excited sometimes, just thinking about how much fun it would be to try a new technique or to totally change my current style (and I have painted in several different styles over the course of my career). To me the cure is going back to my studio or even into one of the galleries that carries my work and taking a good hard look at it. It normally doesn’t take much time for me to realize that I need to stay faithful to my “first love” and keep plodding on. And often, just like in marriage, before I know it, I am once again totally infatuated with my own processes and soaring high!
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Walk a mile in their shoes
by Louise Francke, NC, USA
Our early years make us who we are. Those broken homes, the nightmares, the parents who are unstable, abuse or threaten us. Some children survive by escaping into a dreamland where all is smothered in new fallen snow to hide the ugly scarred landscape in their mind. We are who we are — we do what we do — not because we wish it but because it makes us more stable human beings and it brings us joy. Before you wish to be someone else, walk in their shoes along their life’s paths. To those who have survived, give them their hard won credits and don’t envy them for they have bared their souls to you.
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Personal path feels best
by Ron Gang, Kibbutz Urim, Israel
I would say that this ailment is cured over time — the more you keep on keeping on your own thing, deepening and broadening it, it grows, and the less other people’s work has the pull on you to imitate them. I don’t know if it is ever completely cured, as every once in awhile something will really knock my pants off it, and there will be a temptation to go there. Still, the last time it happened, I found it wore off in a day as the temporary attraction faded and again felt good with where I was going in my own path. After 30 years of painting, this doesn’t keep me from admiring really good artists.
Flirting can be a good thing
by Warren Criswell, Benton, AR, USA
The trouble with this approach is it’s not that easy to find your true self. It’s like trying to go to sleep or to sneeze — you can’t do it deliberately. Back in the ’60s and ’70s I wanted my art to be uniquely mine. Still believing that art progressed, like science, I saw that Modernism was a succession of eliminations. Verisimilitude, line, color, form, subject matter — anything that could be identified as essential to art could then be eliminated. To be unique, which I saw as the goal of the artist, I thought I had to find something to eliminate that no one else had thought of yet, something which could only be done by my “true self,” if only I could find it. Then along came Sol LeWitt who eliminated the art object itself! — replacing it with a set of instructions. It seemed to me that Conceptualism Modernism had reached its goal and was over.
It was like a great weight had been lifted off me and I gave up on uniqueness. I had always loved Titian, Rembrandt, Caravaggio, all that great chiaroscuro which I much preferred to the shadowless, Alexkatzification of light, as I called it, which had been evolving since Cezanne. I felt free to plunge into that arcane method of painting and blatantly imitate the methods and styles of the Old Masters. I probably wouldn’t have given up my pets like Karen, but I was very much into those artists and forgot about the search for my “true self.”
It was only then that people started to say that my work was unique! The point is, if you are a true artist and not a copyist, no matter how much you covet the work of others, what you produce is going to be uniquely yours. You may think you’re licking the icing off somebody else’s cake, but then it may turn out to be your own cake after all. I don’t think you can consciously find or invent yourself. I think it has to ambush you when you’ve stopped looking for it.
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One-man group show
by Greg Freedman, New Westminster, BC, Canada
I think I suffered from the same condition as Karen J. Jones. Peter Ohler, the noted Canadian art dealer, once told me he liked my work but he thought my exhibition looked like a group show. My problem seemed to stem from my need to compete rather than any love-struck admiration as Karen’s does. I would see a piece by another more successful artist and think, I can do that — and I can do it better. I wouldn’t copy that artist’s work but I would find his (they were always male) composition technique, themes, colour choices or subject matter creeping into my work. Of course the resulting paintings were seldom successful because the motive for making them was false. They didn’t come from within but from some insecure place of self-doubt that valued what others achieved more than what I could achieve on my own. Peter helped me start to get beyond that insecurity (and became my dealer) by asking me, “Who are YOU?” He encouraged me to search my background for subject matter, insight and emotional connection that no one else could bring to the easel but me.
I am still a one-man group show but now it is because I am fascinated by several genres and refuse to restrict myself to the pursuit of any one exclusively. I still like to dabble in the mystery of it all and hope that will help me to avoid the pitfalls of expertise and keep my work fresh and lively.
Media celibacy good prescription
by Mary Susan Vaughn, Charlotte, NC, USA
I am relieved to discover that I am not the only creative with confidence issues, and now that you have identified the condition as CCP, I feel better already. Your suggestion is spot-on — to begin a new life of media celibacy. I, too, look at other’s artwork for inspiration, only to hear this voice in my head telling me that my work is terrible or not good enough. I, too, wanted to be that artist who was so talented, popular, teaching workshops, having exhibitions, and winning competitions. In many ways, I recognize that much of an artist’s popularity can be attributed to marketing and participation in the visual arts community — getting the work out there. “That” is definitely my problem — a lack of marketing and involvement in the visual arts community has left me feeling inadequate as an artist and wishing I was “this artist” or “that artist” or some other artist than the one that is “me.” Maybe now, thanks to Karen’s asking for help, I can now focus on what is in my soul, rather than trying to copy another artist’s style or work.
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Mastery avoids dalliance and confusion
by oliver, TX, USA
Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche had a theory over man that is highly complex and a subject of much debate and study, but very simplistically that you should master something and then choose to master something else (presumptively greater) and then do it again.
In the context of this person’s comment, I question whether she is taking the time to master any of these alternative styles or media. If not, she is just dallying and perhaps confusing her audience (galleries and etc, too). If she has truly mastered and said everything she has to say in any one of them, perhaps it is time to move on to new goals, new media, new subjects, new styles. Without change and growth the artist can become a “one trick” pony.
Many artists, while known for one media or phase, make significant works in other media. Think about Picasso. Many/Most think of him and cubism — but he was a master sculptor, could draw and realistically paint and had his other phases — e.g. his blue period, rose period, African influenced period — in many cases one media or one “period” feeding the others or next periods.
Do something, learn it, master it, push it to your/its limits and then do something new, learn it master it, fuse it with what you have already mastered, push it to your/its limits and start something new — or maybe time away has given you new insights on something you have already done.
Don’t dally — dig and work it — but don’t get stuck in a rut or repeat yourself.
Energy best spent on own vision
by Linda Saccoccio, Santa Barbara, CA, USA
I always feel a vastness when I find what I am discovering and articulating reflected back precisely in the world around me, as it is in this letter.
Yesterday, I spoke with a person from the Artist Conference Network group that was formed almost 3 months ago. We are mutually coaching each other. I spoke to her about how I am filling my own shoes now and feeling good in those shoes. I am standing in the world ready to be the unique person that I am and the world is responding in a new way that is opening up opportunities. Like Karen, I, too, used to become impassioned by other people’s creativity and brilliance. I, too, wanted to be them in all their magnificent expression whether it be a chanter, an acrobat, a writer or a visual artist. To a degree, I was hiding in their shadow willing to help uplift them, using precious energy that left me neglecting my own visions. As I am preparing for a solo exhibition that I have orchestrated, having a scholar present to speak on the subject of the paintings and having Indian music to set the mood of the Chakra paintings, I have shifted. I can say that your statement rings true: by identifying unhealthy habits and views, their power over me has been dispelled, allowing me to be the artist I am exuberantly.
Stop flirting, be honest
by Claudio Ghirardo, Mississauga, ON, Canada
I do wholeheartedly agree with you in finding confidence in your own work and not be in someone else’s shoes. Frank Frazetta, a well known fantasy illustrator and considered by many to be the best, once said that to be an artist you need to follow your own way. If you copy someone else, you are a mechanic. However, if you find attraction to the works of others, I see no reason to try that “style” yourself and see what happens. They said Picasso found inspiration in the works of others but he tended to put his own spin on it and Pissarro left impressionism for a while taking up pointillism. When he went back to Impressionism, he came up with a unique combination which was considered to be some of his strongest work. My suggestion is, don’t leave the work you are doing but experiment with the works you see and try them out but don’t lose yourself in it. I once met an up-and-coming cartoonist who imitated his hero so well everyone thought the work was done by the cartoonist he loved. Having heard that so many times, the young talent destroyed all of his work because he was distraught that it wasn’t his “style,” it was someone else’s and I haven’t since him since. Try the works of others and learn what you can from them but make it your own in the end or, as someone once said to me, “Stop flirting with me and be honest!”
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In search of The Time Traveler
by Beverly Galante, Austin, TX, USA
I am enjoying your twice-a-week letters and have loved reading these now for a few years. I’ve just recently returned to painting after years and absolutely too many years of doing stained glass window commissions. Phew — I’m tired. But I find that I am really fired up about painting again. I create from my mind almost solely now. It is so much fun and so delightful and my heart sings. However… I find that I am frightened that people won’t like it and that I won’t be accepted back into the world of art. But — just recently I was juried into a regional show, juried by a curator of our local prestigious museum and I danced for joy! Someone liked my work! Then this week I went to see an exhibit where three of my works were supposed to be and one was missing. My heart sunk. Someone… one of my peers perhaps, didn’t like it enough to hang it where it would be seen by exhibit goers. I’ve asked where it was hung and nobody knows. I’m investigating, but I’m almost certain it wasn’t stolen. There is someone there day and night to keep watch. I am sending you a picture. It’s called The Time Traveler and I’ve used acrylics and laser photos. Now, I’ve almost gotten off the track of what I wanted to say. Hmmm. Oh well, you know these artists.
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Enjoy the past comments below for Art flirt…
Featured Workshop: Michael Chesley Johnson
The Voice of the Turtle is Heard 4
oil painting, 18 x 24 inches
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