In one-on-one mentoring there’s the advantage of offering specifics. By getting to know an individual the mentor is able to give personality-suited and need-driven advice to the mentee. For example “Put the kids on yogurt so you will have lots of those little cups around the studio,” and “Stop going to the fridge — go to your mind.” More commonly these days I’m finding myself telling artists to stop making ineffective skirmishes on the periphery — such as sketches, journals and preparations. “Jump right in,” I tell them. Also, these days it seems to me that there ought to be an endowed university chair called “Avoiding Distractions 201.”
The danger of all this is that there is some hand holding going on. My daughter, Sara, and her husband Richard have a remarkable website called Saraphina Mosey. It’s an illustrated weblog of a year traveling in Europe. Every day people write to them with questions like, “Where did you buy that cardigan in Killarney? Or “Where’s a good place to eat paella in Seville?” Not to belittle the value of such questions, the point is that there is a bigger picture, a deeper, more valuable message coming out of their site.
The same goes here. Artists who want to become more than what they currently are need to grasp a larger view of the universe and their place in it. While art is a marching band of specifics, the answers to questions are often found by simply “being there.”
In the pursuit of personal meaning and purpose in art, gently and surely there’s a short list that practically always applies to everybody. To my way of thinking the short list is a sort of universal truth. I like to think that its application results in being “highly realized.” Being highly realized as an artist may or may not include dragging money to your bank, but it often does. It’s nice work, and you can do it:
Go to your room.
Work regular hours.
Finish lots of stuff.
Fall in love with process.
PS: “Do the things external which fall upon thee distract thee? Give thyself time to learn something new and good, and cease to be whirled around.” (Marcus Aurelius, circa 170)
Esoterica: Speaking of specifics, some of the wonders of these twice-weekly letters are the remarkable contributions from a world of artists. This time we’re trying something new. I’ve asked our webmaster, Andrew, to give us a further idea of how our new search capability works — and the value to artists. You can see what I mean by going to our current clickback at Wonder of line.
Avoiding avoiding distraction
by Jo Cringle, Wellington, NZ
Your letter content is so relevant to me at this time. I’m a 2nd year university student. Socialite… easily distracted and thoroughly struggling to get into my course… (pity half the year’s almost over already). I’m on the brink of failing, yet I have the potential for A’s, as everyone else reminds me, and deep down I know. I drive my parents and peers mad. It’s all about discipline, and I’m TRYING to change… I guess it’s just comforting there’s others out there like me.
by Russell W. McCrackin, OR, USA
This last weekend I got to drag some money to the bank. I sold one of my favorite paintings that another painter said was worth at least three times the selling price. I sure can use the money — but hated to see that painting leave. It could have happily lived on my wall for many years. Guess I’ll have to paint another “favorite” painting.
by Jan Verhulst, Beveren, Belgium
With regard to avoiding distraction — I’m often in the funny situation that after starting a painting when everything seems to go well, I become afraid to continue and make a mess of it. This happens often. Admitting distraction is for me a way to avoid disillusion I think, or maybe for keeping the orgasm to a distance and perpetuate the desire… Your letters often put me back on my way.
Get over it and start painting
by David L. Glover, West Hollywood, CA, USA
The artists I know wonder how I can produce so much work a year. One reason is that I have standing orders so that in itself is a good motivator — but my artist friends tell me about their process and how they are working and getting to work. Reorganizing studio layouts, shopping for new gear, redoing portfolios, driving all over town to save $1 a tube for paint or 50 cents off each canvas. No wonder they never get around to painting. Man, they are sketching up a storm, rearranging the compositions, fretting over the subject matter. I say get over it and start painting. If you don’t like where it’s heading, grab the palette knife and scrape it off. Take your blank canvas and do a one-minute sketch blocking in the dark and light patterns then let it fly. In about 4 hours you should have a finished 24 x 30 with maybe another twenty minutes the next day to tweak a detail here and there. Then move on to your next piece. That’s how you get painting done and it is how you get better.
(RG note) Something I’ve noted that holds a few artists back is a sense of guilt that arises when they complete a painting in the short order you mention. Somehow they have the idea they should be dragging it out — taking more time with it. Often this just overworks the painting and gives it the amateur touch. Generally, artists should teach themselves to paint fresher and faster, and not be embarrassed or dismayed when they find they are making $1000 per hour.
Falling in love with the process
by David Louis, Coventry, UK
As an artist who has only just reached my own vision after 20 years of life experience and art development, I am in a way a newcomer. I wrote in with an article entitled Orphan Art some time back and embraced the advice from yourself and contributors. I have painted some of those pictures depicting my past with occasional visual off-shoots, distractions, and it’s now 16 months on.
I knew it was not going to be easy financially whilst producing this work but I knew that the process had to start. I am now gleaning the light. The black and white monochromatic side of my work is becoming a real pull with its uncluttered messaging and localized colour, often purple, punctuating clues. Apart from downloading, I am seeing subtle luminous play offs between canvas off yellow, and paint, lamp black/zinc white that is visually stimulating to me as well as many other wonders that the process of painting has to offer.
The need to continue my practice means that I have to start selling. Cold, but necessary. The tricky bit now for me is where do I start? Do I look for a one-man show, which I would like, or do I splinter the work? What ever the best solution is which may not be either. Where does one start in the appropriate direction towards selling unique works in order to continue their practice? This Next Stage to me seems a crucial one. Some advice from you would be of great value to me.
(RG note) Try to keep your body of work together for the time being. Your soon-to-be-produced website will be a window to your work and your trials which all the world can see. You need to tell your story clearly and simply. After that you can phone or call here and there and see if anyone is interested. It’s a matter of running it up the flag-pole and seeing if anyone salutes.
Need to show up
by Violette Clarke
The paradox for me is that something which gives me such immense pleasure where I lose myself in the process also gives me so much psychic pain. And that pain I believe comes from the history of depression and the voices that haunt me of not being good enough or never amounting to anything other than being a mother. Of course these voices come from my childhood and no matter what I have done to extricate myself from them they still remain… therapy, release work, reikki, body work, massage, solitude, journaling etc. It is an ongoing process. My shiny happy work belies the fact that I go through so much pain to get there… perhaps it’s like the person who becomes a psychologist in order to better understand themselves (something which I had considered). Through my work I am encouraged to love myself and to honour the light within which is what I attempt to do for everyone else. But still I believe you are right about just Being There — that is really what it boils down to — no matter what demons are attempting to hold me back. You have to squeeze the tube everyday! No matter how crummy you are feeling — no matter what you are going through, right now for me it’s the excuse of being pre-menopausal — before it was feeling lethargic from a gas leak in my home. I have discovered that the best therapy of all is to simply create — to show up and do the work that is waiting within to be released!
Can’t wait until morning
by Renato Muccillo
I recently chose to dedicate myself full time to my career as an artist… again. This decision was not one that came easy. I spent the early part of the ’90s as what I would only describe as commercial artist. I had been approached by an Art Publisher/Distributor, wanting to represent me. They were interested in “Wildlife,” which fit my particular style well. I was very excited out the possibilities of fame and fortune and felt very up to the task. I was considered to be a competent painter in regards to the subjects I was portraying. I was making a very good living and could have continued to crank out image after image, but I realized after a few years that this was not the career I imagined for myself, regardless of the income. My heart was not in tune with my subject. I felt like an art prostitute, and began to resent myself and the industry and became very bitter. I had overwhelming desires of wanting to heave every bit of equipment out the studio door. I was spending less time in the studio and more time dwelling on the situation. All of the negativity lead to a decline in production and eventually forced me back to working full time 9 to 5.
Almost 7 years has passed since then, and throughout that time I had kept myself busy in the studio never really breaking free of being the artist, just the industry. Evenings and weekends were my time to play around and experiment, with no demands from publishers or time lines. I opened myself up to the world around me, spent many hours with my nose in books… it didn’t matter where I was sitting, I just needed to absorb information. Two words that I refused to use were “limits or expectations.” I slowly unchained myself from my attitude — I eventually “found myself” artistically speaking, always making sure that I was forcing my self into the studio no matter what. I just painted. The idea was to have fun! I had no expectation of the finished product and I was surprised at the shear numbers of paintings I was completing. In 60 days, I had completed more paintings then I did as a professional between 1992 and 1994. Most of them have ended up in galleries and have found good homes. It’s truly amazing what can be achieved when one allows oneself to be free, but disciplined.
I used to lose sleep because of feeling guilty for what I was painting. Now I lose sleep because I can’t wait until morning to get painting.
Lining up your ducks
by John Ferrie
I spend a great deal of time wondering about the message behind my art. I’m concerned if it’s coming through loud and clear and if this is the message I am trying to convey. I make sketches, keep a journal. It is through these and many other behaviors that I hope to unravel some of the mystery of being an artist and how to be better. Paint and canvas are pricey and I find it far better to work out a few images in my sketchbook to make sure it is the right direction to go in before I start a canvas. I try to paint everyday, but sometimes I get distracted. Artists are often not disciplined with their schedule, but sometimes these distractions are as much a part of the creative process as anything else. Some artists have to take on work that they normally would not do, just to maintain some income.
I often let the anxiety of having to get an art project underway build up. Finally getting the project underway releases the creativity and the project often works better. But make no mistake I am an artist through and through. However, to be a mentor and tell someone to forgo all of these things and just “jump right in,” I don’t think is the right approach, especially for someone young and impressionable.
Finding what is right for an artist is as much a part of the journey as discovering if you are a painter or a sculptor. Some artists can work nine to five, five days a week with a coffee break and an hour for lunch. Keith Haring would paint an entire show, literally 150 paintings, three days before the show opened. This would drive the gallery owner insane with anxiety only to have the show sell out on opening night.
There are 75 artists in my building and many of them are chronic procrastinators. I was quite unpopular in a discussion with an artist who said he was still waiting to hear about a government grant for his latest project. I said I seemed to recall that he had been waiting well over 18 months. I told him I thought he was pathetic to have the government tell him if and when it was time to become an artist.
I find my work comes in seasons. I have three collections each year that I exhibit. I’m always thinking about my next series, whether I’m walking the dog, at a movie or theatre, or simply making dinner and meeting with friends. But the work builds momentum and I start to sense the number of canvases, the sizes and shapes I will need. The colours are carefully chosen and tested for what I want to create. I ask opinions of people in and around my studio to have a look at some of the new works. I discover a new voice for my work. I get excited when I feel I really have something and the rest of the series just happens over a period of months. A date is set for an exhibition and I am in full production and all the marketing and self-promotion kicks in. There is no stopping the creativity once my ducks are lined up.
Need art agent
by Elfrida Schragen
I have always been “doing stuff’ in the visual arts. It has ranged from being work driven (I was an elementary teacher), to Sunday dabbling in costume design, to painting, to erotic sculpture, portraits, and now, any and everything in pastel (I love the direct colour, as I got fed up with mixing and messing with paint). Currently I am at my art most days and I tend to jump right in. What I need is an agent. Someone to sell the product. In the case of selling, I do make ineffectual skirmishes. I hate the whole process, from pricing to flogging the goods. For example, I just sent off a commissioned portrait of two dogs and was miserable for three days until I heard that they were pleased. I usually make a half-hearted attempt at a demo show and then hide out in my studio for days afterward, berating myself for having stuck myself out there in the first place. When I have had a show I have usually sold about 25-40% of what I showed (maybe just loyal friends?) I’ve toyed with the idea of a web site but have yet to speak to anyone who has actually sold from their web site.
(RG note) Andrew, our webmaster for this and for my own site www.robertgenn.com is offering consultation in website-planning for artists. It’s important to note that while websites are not always a quick fix for artists, there are certain types of sites that produce excellent results.
Need to focus
by Gloria Angelino, CA, USA
I’m struggling with distractions from my husband’s chronic illnesses and my own autoimmune disease with its debilitating fatigue. While I “know” the things you’ve stressed, I’m unable to focus on my artwork. Maybe this is just a passage of time in my life – I’ll get through it. But I’d like to be productive during it. Focus, is that it? After a forty-hour work-week, housework, food preparation, and errands, I can’t seem to find that moment when I am inspired. But if I clear my drafting table, turn on some music, and sit down, the inspiration will come, I’m sure. I just need “to do it!”
Google connection incredible
by Warren Criswell, AK, USA
The “More thoughts by” links are incredible! My compliments to Andrew. I had no idea I had “clicked back” that many times. I could make a web booklet of my own from it, entitled “Bullshit: The Collected Clickbacks of Warren Criswell.” Of course I had to read them all — and was surprised at how many times I repeated myself. But then so do you. Senility? Persistence? Pig-headedness? Seriously, Andrew’s use of Google for these archives was brilliant. I appreciate it.
(RG note) Some stuff, including the stuff you mentioned, is worth hearing again.
You won’t get your money back
Contributed by Dorothy J McConville
“You won’t get your money back,” she said.
If I had to paint a picture of stately elegance, it would have been as if she jumped from the canvas of my mind into real life.
She was the teacher.
You won’t get your money back.
The words pierced me as though she were talking to me. She wasn’t. She was talking to another student.
It was like one of those high-powered bullets that can go through several people and a car without even slowing down.
You won’t get your money back, kept echoing off the walls of my head like a BB in an empty corn flakes box.
To most of the students in the class, it was just a statement. It was more than that to me.
I saw a whole attitude of life in that simple statement.
Maybe it was her. Often it’s not what you say, but who says it. She was the teacher.
She spoke softly yet underneath you could feel she had a depth of knowledge and wisdom that didn’t come from her Yale degree. It was polished by Yale, but didn’t originate there.
You won’t get your money back.
A student had asked the teacher, “What if I don’t produce anything in this class? What if I freeze up? What if I come away from this series of workshops and have nothing? What if I draw a blank?”
They were honest questions.
The class was about creativity and that’s something that no one can force.
It was possible that you could draw a blank. What if you did?
The teacher said, “If you do draw that blank, you won’t get your money back.”
I always choose my teachers carefully, for you become a part of what they are. I felt very comfortable with this choice.
She reminded me so much of life. She was full. She was a grandmotherly type with sparkling hair like spun silk.
She was someone’s grandmother I was sure. Though she had a degree from Yale, she spoke with wisdom more like a grandmother than a college professor.
I could hear the grandmother wisdom dodge and duck its way around the fine parchment of the Yale degree and silently shout to ears that hear more than sound,
“If you miss out on what you’ve paid for, life won’t give you your money back.”
We’ve all paid for the class of life. The minute the doctor eased our heads out of our mother’s womb, we got a full scholarship.
Your joy is all paid for. Your adventure is all paid for. Your tingles, thrills, and exciting moments of discovering every wonder imaginable are all paid for.
We are all students in the class of life.
Some of us will get more out of it than others.
Some will nod off and miss most of what life has to offer.
Some will cut class and leave early, never to return.
Some will get distracted and miss the main points.
Others will soak it in, learn, grow, and glow.
There are those that will get more than their money’s worth, every minute in every class in an ever-unfolding adventure.
Another group spends their time watching a clock that freezes motionless like a shy freckle-faced girl when eyes fall upon her and stare.
You are in class. Get all that you can. If you miss out, you won’t get your money back.
The King BUREBISTA
Monumental composition carved in stone
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