The other night I was hobnobbing with some of my fellow wizards. As usual we were looking for any of the art genes that might hang out in our collective DNA. This time we were wondering just how our feelings of being in control might affect our growth, success and personal happiness.
When an artist looks back she often discovers that what drew her into art in the first place was a need to simply have her way with something — anything. This need, we concluded, is not necessarily common in the greater population — like worker bees they may simply follow cooperative and socialized patterns. Then Joe Blodgett pointed out that many of us don’t like the idea of letting someone else control how much we can make. “This may go for both love and money,” he said. It seems that so many of us have always had the idea that “it’s up to me.” It came as a shock to some of us, but it seems that there’s a correlation between entrepreneurship and creativity. “These artists like to be very much in charge of both their canvas and their bank balance,” said Mary Smart. “I’m not saying it’s nice,” I said, “but consider Picasso — he never stopped thinking about money.” As always with “the Queen-Bee Syndrome” there’s a sense of entitlement. “As Salvador Dali said,” I said, “I’m not an artist, I’m a manufacturer of wealth.”
But even though it may be up to you there can be an ongoing disappointment that your honey is not as good as it could be. And there’s no passing the buck. One of us observed that how an artist might see and feel about his own performance is at the root of a great deal of the grumpiness and prickly defense that artists put out.
Together with this understanding is the idea that artists need constantly to be in the fight against uniformity and conformity. As Glen Van Ekeren noted, “Creative people exhibit a continuous discontent with uniformity.” Taking control implies building your own fortress and fortifying your own building. It’s not easy. John Hall said, “I want to be different. Just like all the other different people I want to be like. I want to be just like all the different people and assert my individuality along with others who are different like me.” By being different we can grab the thin brass rail of control. Then Joe said, “That puts contentment at risk, but that’s when the good life begins.”
PS: “The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. To be your own man is a hard business. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.” (Rudyard Kipling)
Esoterica: Control of self is the basis of control of destiny. Attitude and aptitude coupled together with fine-tuned and often reformed habits are the builders of creative joy. Someone quoted Mark Victor Hansen: “Put your future in good hands — your own.” Looking through our stingers, we all agreed to tune in, turn on, and take over.
The market as supervisor
by Luc Poitras, Montreal, PQ, Canada
I now wish to control my time, my productivity, and my acuity to the market so that I can earn a modest living without having to report to a supervisor. You could say that the market is my supervisor, albeit a quiet one! That’s okay with me. If I don’t make money, it doesn’t mean I’m a bad artist; it just means I’m not catering to my market. This independence might be good for the ego, but it’s catastrophic on the line of credit and my id won’t be too happy either! None of us are really independent of the market if we want to earn a living with our art. What’s important is that we use our ego to get better at doing what we do best, and then make an effort to recognize the wants of our market and make our place in it.
An artist who channels
by Denise Laurin, Chicago, IL, USA
Talk about an “Aha!” moment. It is always reaffirming to know I am part of a “collective” that shares the same worldview and experiences. Perhaps the grumpy artists that you referred to are the ones too caught up in being “different” and expressing their individualism. I have found happiness as an artist by being a channel, like the contemporary Aboriginal artists who channel the expression of the ancient mimi, the ancestral spirits who created all art. My efforts as an artist and a human being have been focused on dismantling the false self and expressing the divinity within. Abundance seems to flow naturally from this type of energy.
New generation of artists
by Sandra Chantry
Growing up in England, it was common to call anyone who bucked convention and uniformity as a bohemian — which commonly meant to be a gypsy, an artist or a writer. The term had no reference whatever to their financial acumen, but did conjure up an exotic individual who was to be envied, a little feared, and held somewhat in awe. Now the word has disappeared from common use when the ‘pop’ generation took the lead in outrageous behaviour. Like those formerly called ‘bohemian,’ they were uncontrollable, but rather took control over the minds and hearts of others, often making a great deal of money in the process. Today’s generation of artists on the public stage look much more like the ‘pop’ merchants than the bohemians, those like Tracey Emin, etc, who often look more like ‘con’ merchants out to make a killing.
Along the creative journey, there are many twists and turns, hills and valleys that artists face. Self-discipline combined with focused determination are the controls at the artist’s command. Whether it be cancelled exhibits, damaged artwork, inclement weather, or personal crisis, the only control an artist has is to continue on the path, keep grounded and walk on. To accept the reality that the artistic trail has bumps and curves is the necessary control mechanism an artist must develop. The ability to overcome obstacles and continue the creative flow requires faith in and knowledge of an artist’s true self. As artists, we can choose to either drive down the highway or sit on the shoulder. That is in our control.
Need for independence
by Linda Blondheim, Gainesville, FL, USA
I agree that artists feel the need to be in control of their own lives. It’s not just about money, but also a need for independence. I was never able to work for anyone else or to work in a corporate environment. My mother worked for the state for thirty years. She has always been disappointed in me for my unwillingness to harness myself to that grind.
by Kathy Dunn
I think of myself as seeking personal freedom. And while that does require carving out a space — a refuge from external, institutionalized control — the accent is more on “freedom” than on “control.” I think of myself as an intuitive, go-with-the-flow, find-my-own-way, creative person… not a controlling-style personality at all. So your frame of reference is surprising, intriguing and something to play with.
There absolutely is a connection between entrepreneurship and creativity. I work as a consultant to entrepreneurs, and some of them are among the most creative people I know — as much fun or more than writers and artists I know. It’s like the world is their medium — their art is the very concrete, fuelled by the conceptual — ideas about people, how they work, what makes them creative in their work. The daily challenges of the business is what pushes them into their most rebellious, and most creative, realms.
The journey or the product?
by Stephanie Kolman
In our art organization there are two schools of thought that tussle with each other for prime importance: the journey or the final product. There are those who believe that it is the final product or finished piece that determines the parameters of who we are as artists, i.e. how much we are accepted and acknowledged as artists. The need for an AWS behind their name or national recognition is their ultimate goal or proof of the quality of their art. Then there are the others like Virginia Cobb who believe as I do that one can be a truly great artist and never even be known by anyone. It is the joy of the journey and the creation that makes the art, not the recognition or monetary gain.
Need for acknowledgement
by Helena Tiainen, Berkeley, CA, USA
More than a need to control, a need to be acknowledged is a driving force for many an artist. We humans have an innate need to be acknowledged for our accomplishments. Making a piece of art is the ultimate statement of individuality. After all, most fine art serves no other practical purpose than to be enjoyed. Unlike applied arts you cannot use most fine art to open wine bottles or serve cookies on. I would argue that applied arts/industrial arts is a field where control plays a larger role since you have to take function into consideration. I would almost bet that most fine artists from ego level come more from “see what I can do” attitude. They want to be acknowledged and admired for their accomplishments.
“I’m not different”
by Andrea Pratt, Delta, BC, Canada
The analysis and diagnosis of the artistic temperament often appears suspiciously like the diagnostic criteria for certain psychiatric conditions. For example: “Patient has trouble in going through established channels, following ‘proper’ procedure.” And I thought I was just a lousy joiner! The conversation between you and Joe reminds me of a scene from Monty Python’s Life of Brian:
Brian (to adoring crowd): You’ve got to think for yourself! You’re all individuals!
Crowd (in unison): Yes, we’re all individuals!
Brian (to adoring crowd): You’re all different!
Crowd (in unison): Yes, we’re all different!
Single voice (from within the crowd): I’m not.
The support of an inner joy
by Linda Saccoccio, Santa Barbara, CA, USA
I made attempts in younger years to use my artistic ability for commercial art. Coming from a very conservative family, that made sense. However my wild artist’s heart would not let me do this without being miserable. I soon realized at all costs I must heed my inner voice and be what I am, a fine artist that creates from a place that is protected from the trends and external pressures of the practical world. In essence, in order for me to create I had to find my own voice and nurture this delicate source. My art was the one thing in my life that was not to be disturbed or controlled by anyone. My studio is my sanctuary, a place where I commune with the divine energy of inspiration, intuition, and imagination. I have a need to experience this time alone, in complete power and surrender, exercising the ability to tap into the infinite Source. It allows me to stand firmly in the world and feel all is okay. Time has re-enforced my place as the channel for my own creativity and given me great appreciation for beauty in the world. Being nurtured through the spirit of an awakening Self, I walk in this world with the support of an inner joy. I believe that this joy stems from the experience of freedom that this work requires and allows. What we attain when we substantiate our bliss can never be taken from us, and that is vital and essential.
Who’s in charge here?
by Warren Criswell, Benton, AK, USA
I’m sure you guys are right about the desire for control being a necessity for an artist. The question is, control over what? Philip Guston said that before any real painting could happen everybody had to leave the studio, including the artist. I’m sure I’m not the only artist who knows what he meant, because I’ve heard others describe that same sort of “trance” thing that happens to me when I’m painting. I become the painting, so to speak, and so have no conscious control over it. The artist has left the building and the painting is painting itself. Only by breaking free of the painting — by looking at it in a mirror or whatever — can I regain objectivity. Of course objectivity is necessary in its place, but the good stuff happens when it’s not there, when I’m “out of control.”
And the act of painting itself is not the only place where too much control can be dangerous. Yes, “Creative people exhibit a continuous discontent with uniformity.” But too much control over what I’m going to paint next can actually promote uniformity. My experience as an artist is that I am always on the edge of the unknown. Very often (like now) I have no idea what I’m going to do next. I’m always afraid I’m working on my last painting, waiting to be ambushed by some unexpected sight, event or whatever. If I get aggressive, worried about some upcoming show or something, and try to artificially conjure up a bunch of images based on some idea or other, I usually either fail or start repeating myself. On the other hand, I choose to live on this edge, as scary as it is. So, while everybody needs to feel in control of their lives for the sake of sanity, creativity seems to depend on knowing when to let it go. Maybe that’s why normal people think artists are crazy.
This evening I hosted a memorial art show for my friend and student Judy Hoffman. She took up painting twenty years ago when she was first diagnosed with breast cancer. They say teachers learn as much from their students as the students learn from them, and in Judy’s case that was certainly true. She loved to paint, and never missed a single painting class. Even when she broke her right arm in an accident, she came to class and did her best with her left. She had some success in local shows and eventually became an art teacher herself. And in the face of recurring health problems and a typically busy life, she never stopped painting until her death last April. As she said in her artist’s statement, “Art has enriched my life so much! There is a force that takes me over and I have no choice! It is my love. It seems to open my heart to life, and I feel renewed again.” There are many things in life beyond my control. But I can pick up my brush, and I can paint, no matter how complicated and difficult things are at the moment. Judy taught me that.
Don’t count on the universe
by Karen E. Lewis Seattle, WA, USA
I took a whole lot of workshops on goal setting, and one of the things I learned that no one ever said was this: It does no good to set goals which require the cooperation of the universe. In fact, it can be counterproductive. The goals you set need to zero in on your contribution. “I plan to paint x hours this week.” (Sometimes even this isn’t in your control.) The universe’s contribution is more on the order of a wish list. “I’d like to make x dollars this year.” I’ve found it much more practical to set production goals. And for the results, a lot of the time I’ve had to just hang in there and hope.
Complicated becomes simple
by Janet Sellers, Monument, CO, USA
In terms of complexity, I sense in paintings a complexity of thought rather than a complicated composition. In terms of paintings, the rhythm of the response or rapport of viewer and imagery can be complex. This is what makes an image interesting to me, that it takes a certain involvement and musing to appreciate the work. Sometimes I think of the simplicity of Japanese calligraphy or sumi painting, and the thought is so pure, so simple, and so full of meaning that I may pour over the image many times to savor it. Once, while living in Japan, I had the opportunity to live at a museum campus and “visit” the art every day. Some of the sumi paintings by a Zen priest made no sense to me and were deceptively simple… one day, suddenly, I saw the sweet flag iris in the blot of ink, and voila! The complicated came from the simple.
No universal code
by Girish Kumar, Kerala, India
With regard to control, we are talking from entirely different cultural and political poles. I think there is no universal code for an understanding of self. But I agree with you in your writings about self control. Due to amputation of my left leg I sometimes get depressed and lose control of myself. I am in the process of retraining the self and its control through spiritual creativity.
“Do it yourself” acrylics
by Jan Zawadzki
Truth is acrylic paint, as ridiculously and overly expensive as it is (based on pigment expense, never mind the fancy colour names) is a thing of the past. Easy to make… just buy a gallon of acrylic “urethane” and boil off the excess water in a double boiler, add pigment and Voila! Un spectacle pour les oueix — acrylic base that can be made as thick and smooth as you want! Just keep in mind it has to be ‘rolled’ to smooth it up when adding pigment (easy to do with a rolling pin or pasta roller). Add some polycarbonate monomers to shiny it up if you wish and make it as hard drying a la recipe as need be (some of this stuff can stop a bullet). All good and funky stuff the acrylic people don’t share with the common starving painter and especially for the fact that silicone based paints are the thing of the future (Rozputniak). By adding light absorbents and/or reflectants silicone puts acrylic in the same category as mud (my personal preference actually but not for the above mentioned reasons). Be that as it may there is a groove in paint that ain’t happening yet. For those who are ‘safety’ conscious, acrylics ain’t any more safe than the pigments used to colour ’em. Quite the contrary, acrylics will ‘chalk’ eventually (all polymers break down — just ask Suzuki and his war om [on]the styrofoam terror — releasing cadmiums and oxides and and and…) Polycarbonate polymers last a little while longer. One can also make great paint with polysucrose monomers, or as some would call them, wallpaper paste with pigment added (the original acrylic) and is compatible with all other acrylic mediums.
Oils don’t molecurily collapse as do acrylics unless lead is added. Lead chalks off. Oils are stable otherwise and easily digested, regardless of how they’re absorbed.
Liberation from fear
submitted by Myrle McIntosh
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure
It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us
We ask ourselves who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?
Actually who are you not to be?
Your playing small doesn’t serve the world
There is nothing enlightened about shrinking
so that other people won’t feel insecure around you
We are born to manifest the glory of the spirit that is within us
and as we let our own light shine
we actually unconsciously give other people the permission to do the same
As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2004.
That includes Caroline McCrae who wrote, “Art is in our DNA.”
And also Duane Dorshimer, Raleigh, NC, USA who wrote, “I always find the clickback discussions illuminating and inspiring. The open flow of ideas exchanged by artists resembles the way those cafes in Paris must have been in the 1800s. I greatly value the opportunity to interact with the clickback, as I have yet to find such a wonderful atmosphere of artistic “brotherhood” in my own community.”
And also Bee Flowers of Russia who wrote, “I admire your energy to keep all those messages coming and getting art and other things done as well.”