Yesterday, Keith Wright of Melbourne, Australia wrote, “Nothing is as hopeless as trying to justify a lifetime as an artist. I have painted for over thirty years and have little to show for it. I have a studio full of paintings and a wife who denigrates my career. I have no money, no sales, no hope. You may even say, ‘His paintings are bad.’ But I have no ego and little belief in my abilities. I always thought one day my work might be in demand. I know I don’t paint for others — it’s an addiction within myself. But the indifference to my work has gradually worn me down. I’m now being treated for depression. I can no longer believe in myself because no one else believes in me. A lifetime wasted. I should feel bitter but I’m beyond even that. I have loved my art but it has destroyed me.”
Thanks, Keith. I’m sure some of our readers will pass along their opinions. As in all cases where artists mention depression, I encourage them to seek help. Looks like you are doing that. While I’m deeply sorry for your predicament, I also recognize that it is, in degree, universal. While feelings of hopelessness may be part of the game, there is still the blessing, the power to create. At times like this, we can think of Vincent van Gogh.
“One may have a blazing hearth in one’s soul and yet no one ever comes to sit by it,” said Vincent. “Passersby see only a wisp of smoke rising from the chimney and continue on their way.” This statement — even though his letters are often full of flights of optimism and joy — is the grim outlook of many of us. Success or no success, joy or no joy, we are alone. And it is to this private struggle that we must consign our energy, our focus, and our lives.
Vincent tells us that one needs only to listen to the voice of nature to be fulfilled. That only the beautiful mind is needed. The idealist in us finds this to be true. The pragmatist doesn’t. Vincent himself could not live up to his own standards. He too was depressed. “What am I in most people’s eyes?” he asked. “A nonentity or an eccentric and disagreeable man.” Truth is, when we’re able to kiss off the expectations laid on us by ourselves and others, we have the chance to overcome.
PS: “As a suffering creature, I cannot do without something greater than I — something that is my life — the power to create.” (Vincent van Gogh)
Esoterica: Feelings of creative joy and the consequent self-worth come from doing the work. We all ask Vincent’s question: “There is something inside me — what can it be?” And we learn, “One must work and dare if one really wants to live.” Are we up to this question and its answer? If it was easy to fulfill I think everyone would be artists.
The loneliest career
by Alfred Muma
The loneliest career I think of is to be an artist. Visual artists work alone in their studios or on location. A visual artist has to be self-sufficient for inspiration and energy sources. It is easy to fall into doubting the validity of one’s work under these conditions. I find one way to keep myself positive is to get involved on some level with other visual artists. One can simply find another like-minded person to have coffee with and discuss art things. Or find a person to go painting once in a while together on location (en plein air). I have also worked on group projects in the past with other artists to create a group event, exhibition or show. These experiences have helped me think outside of my personal box opening up new possibilities. Being part of a studio tour is also a good pick-me-up even if you don’t sell anything. The compliments and teaching possibilities are endless.
My painting master, Alex Millar told me at the completion of my art studies with him at Art College… “To be an artist is a lonely life but if you are truly an artist there is nothing else like it.”
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Powerful emotions useful
by Nikki Coulombe, Lewisville, TX, USA
Not hopeless! Finding the right medicine will help with the objectivity but the positives and negatives are here to stay. In drawing, to illustrate the solid, ‘positive’ shapes and not the background with all spaces considered, the work will be incomplete or less effective. As I am bipolar, I completely empathize, but illness is possibly the best thing to have impacted my life and work. From somewhere within us all is the primal determination to seek solutions. Emotions (“the final frontier”) can be powerful, but useful after all, and not so fearful when we become more familiar — collectively also — with how to stabilize or transform them to advantage.
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by Patricia Riley, La Paz, Mexico
I think he has been listening too long to people who do not appreciate him. He has forgotten that painting is mainly for our own self-satisfaction. If every painter waited to be appreciated before he or she had self-respect, there would be a lot of miserable people out there. As a person who has painted for 40 years with little notice from the general public, and few sales, I can identify with Keith. However, fortunately I found a drive to keep me going. It is based largely on the desire to see how much I can develop and improve during the short time I have on this earth. I had a mate who couldn’t understand why I bothered to spend so much time painting, but I didn’t let it keep me from putting in several hours a day of painting. Now I am all alone and cherish the free time to spend as much time painting as I want. Keith, your paintings are very interesting and well done. You have a gift. Use it, appreciate it and don’t listen to anything negative that others have to say. Don’t even listen to your negative thoughts. Don’t let the devil in your head tame your wild side.
by Carolyn Newberger, MA, USA
My heart goes out to Keith and my concerns as well that his wife denigrates his choices in life rather than to provide support. Perhaps some counseling as a couple would help them to help each other better. Although I would like to offer an antidote to hopelessness, the reality is that we all struggle in our own ways. Sometimes well-meaning “antidotes” make people who are depressed feel even more alone when the antidotes don’t apply to or help them. Professional help may be needed at those times, as you acknowledge.
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Follow your bliss
by Cathy Harville, Gambrills, MD, USA
I have suffered with bipolar disorder for 20 years. It cost me my high paying corporate career. But I found my love to paint when I could not work a “regular” job. And I have never been happier.
There have been times when I have been so depressed, I wanted to throw in the towel, but my painting is what has kept me going. I always feel better after I paint, even if it is a mess. The very act of painting keeps my brain from thinking about anything else.
Hang in there, get help, see a good doctor, and follow your bliss. Always believe in yourself. I have felt your pain, and I am still here to show that persistence, faith, and determination will get you through.
Believe in yourself
by Yvon Bouchard, Diana, TX, USA
Yes, get treated by someone for depression but get away from bad company who is tearing at your heart and beating you up mentally. Specifically to Mr. Wright — You obviously do not have the right market because your work is way beyond great. Your detail is impeccable and your feelings varied. Find another market and someone who is a friend, truly. Obviously you work very hard at your gift. It shows a quality way beyond “craft.” Do not give up. I have been tossed out of galleries in Santa Fe, NM and sneered at by some small towns in Texas. If I let it get to me I would be where you are. Do not continue to beat yourself up. BELIEVE. You are truly gifted.
A balanced life
by Anne T. Nielsen
I was heading down the same path as Mr. Wright of Melbourne. I came to realize that there needs to be balance; a life out of balance will most likely crash and burn at some point. (No man is an Island.) I found that investing in service to God and caring for others, loving my family and executing my art in equal portions have brought a joy to my life that withstands economic woes or hard times. My husband loves to say that I have lived my whole life making 50 cents per hour. I work hard at learning and getting better. I share what I know by teaching others. I listen to those whose art I feel is better than mine. I do not take critiques personally. I treat my art as I would a 9-to-5 job. And finally, I am having some consistent success.
by Jo Robinson, NC, USA
Mr. Wright, your paintings are carefully wrought and wonderful. I am 70 years old and a lifetime painter and sculptor. One survival technique that works for me is to step away, do something that brings in some money or changes your direction, something new. I worked as a draftsman for a while to keep from starving and that was enough to get me out of myself a little and excited me about getting back to work at the same time. It is a struggle, but one has to throw in a little practicality (like contacting galleries, etc) to be able to survive. Yes, you will be able to paint again even if you step away for a bit. We who are compulsive artists understand your plight and send recognition and encouragement.
Medication and Yoga
by Andrea Ward
Keith, I have had a terrible battle with depression and anxiety. I come from a creative family; however this condition runs through it like crazy. My brother took his life with this problem, many years ago. Early check-out was not an option for me. I sought treatment as soon as I realized something was wrong upstairs.
I am so pleased that you are getting treatment. I had to go through about 13 medications until one worked well. You have to be patient to try different ones because they work with our own chemical and genetic makeup. Yoga is something I learned during this time. It is a wonderful thing to do before painting and drawing. I really visualize well during Yoga. You will find that you will feel better and better.
Affirmations for Artists
by Dennis Marshall, Paterson, NJ, USA
Keith your situation touched a deep cord within me. Unfortunately like so many of us you send yourself negative messages and affirmations. It appears that your wife is not standing in your corner which is unfortunate. You can go it alone but it is better to have someone positive on the journey with you. Do not give in to the despair – do not allow yourself the luxury of embracing defeat. This can become quite comfortable. I have been painting for a long time and the last few years have not been as productive as they could have been. I too struggle with the forces that will stop me from painting. After looking at your work and seeing how good an artist that you are I felt compelled to write. Keith, do not worry about justifying your life for as Eric Maisel wrote in his book, Affirmations for Artists, “Reality an artist must embrace; but ghoulish self-disparagement must be disputed mightily. Do not fear that you are a worthless impostor: fear only that by such talk you are destroying your chance of being an artist.” Be critical of your work but do not negate yourself in the process. It is a difficult balancing act to be critical about one’s work without tearing yourself down or over-inflating yourself. We are on a journey part of which deals with getting out of our way and being present in the moment.
by Keith Cameron, Sierra Madre, CA, USA
Keith your work is your work, and the fact that you turn to art as a constant, ranks you as a pretty solid organism on this planet. It’s why you make art that is at the core of your current crisis. What is the validation you seek, and why do you seek that validation? A declaration to you, or to the whole world — the reflected meanings all have value. Whether it is about your work or the state of the human condition you always learn something in the process, and perhaps your accounting of that information is causing your concern. I don’t think you need our recommendations, but I for one applaud you as a creator. You know at your core why you make the work you do. I think you just need a clarification of what the work is for. For you, and/or your audience.
by Penelope D Rothfield, Chicago, IL, USA
Keith — I was struck by your comment that your wife denigrates your art. If this is so, it is not surprising that you are depressed. Anyone who lives with someone everyday for years and years who denigrates one’s core self would certainly become depressed. I urge you to take this seriously and if your wife does not have a conversion experience (begin to support you emotionally and psychologically) you must get a divorce — or at least separate. Emotional abuse is real and has real consequences.
I understand how bleak things can be — but believe that there is a light at the end of the tunnel — and it is not just the light of an oncoming train — it’s real. Just be patient with yourself and take care of yourself with tender loving attention. In time you will know real happiness again. Non-artists are very envious of artists and their envy comes out in the form of put-downs and negative comments and sarcasm — that is important to know and to remember.
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An irrational fire
by Ed Pointer, Afghanistan
I have often “enjoyed” the bittersweet emotional trauma of wondering why I paint and “what’s the use?” I have painted for more than 50 years and, as does Keith, I have little to show for my effort except paintings under the bed, the porch, in the trunk of my car, my rented storage garage — anywhere but in galleries or other venues.
A dear painter friend of mine is about to become a great success in painting and he deserves it (8-12 hours a day he works at his art). This has caused me to do a little self-examination and I’ve almost concluded that it’s time for me to wise up and pursue other interests.
It’s obvious that Keith is a serious painter with unrequited talent but painting isn’t everything, it isn’t the do-all, end-all of life. Having had similar thoughts as Keith, I can attest to the validity of that statement. I’ve considered myself to be a professional artist, earning my living with painting and have been mildly successful, emphasis on “mildly.”
Perhaps objective reality is what’s needed. It helped me but I must also confess it’s not an easy endeavor and involves daily effort, especially when we possess an irrational fire that requires we be rewarded in some way for our painterly efforts. As I get older I am at last able to face reality: I’m beginning to think of my art more as a creatively satisfying pastime than a rewarding career.
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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, 2013.
That includes Anne Swiderski of Chelsea, QC, Canada, who wrote, “I find that Keith Wright has loads of talent and should keep painting, but perhaps the paintings don’t sell because of the darkness of their subject. Perhaps he could try focusing on those paintings that are uplifting, and paint but not show, those depicting darker emotions. After one year of this, approach a gallery.”
And also Barbara Sterger of the USA, who wrote, “His paintings are wonderful illustrations and show a high level of talent and imagination. Maybe what Keith needs is an agent to promote his paintings. Keith should be very proud of his work.”
Enjoy the past comments below for Hopeless?…