Why do some achieve mastery and others not? How is it that some “get good” and others never seem to? For many of us who teach or practice art — this is a question that we ask every day — about others and about ourselves. With all the interest in formal art education, workshops, self-promotion, sales, and other secondary art activities, there is, after all, no greater value than simply becoming a “master.” How does this happen? In my experience it largely occurs when the artist is alone. It’s a function of individual character.
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A subscriber wrote, “I fear I lack what’s required to be a great artist. My work seems to blend in with the work of others, I have trouble putting myself forward and I’m plagued with self-doubt. Am I just lacking the ego to do it properly?”
Thanks. You’re not lacking ego — everyone has one. You may have merely misplaced your ego’s good stuff while mistaking its darker qualities for the absence of one.
Not everyone knows what I’m talking about when I drag the word “homeomorphic” out in mixed company. Specifically to do with equality of shapes in differing chemicals, it’s not in the art books. But it’s a valuable creative concept. Without always knowing its name, homeomorphism is generally pointed out as a type of compositional problem. Typically in amateur work, it’s a lineup of equidistant trees, or a mountain that rises up conveniently in order to avoid colliding with a foreground element. It’s a natural tendency of the human mind to automatically organize things neatly and in a regular manner.
Perhaps it’s the unsettling variety or the mind-bending sunshine. I’m at sixes and sevens and my stuff is all over the place. Maybe it’s just being away from the home studio. Maybe I’m coming up on another period. Last night, with the lazy fan turning and the wall-geckos chirping, I was dreaming of Corot.
Artist Damien Hirst, describing his spot paintings made by offsite assistants at undisclosed locations, said, “They’re all a mechanical way to avoid the actual guy in a room, myself, with a blank canvas.” For Hirst, it was a way of avoiding the possibility of his own mediocrity.
Weekly, an email comes in describing similar avoidance. They usually have an elaborate end-goal in mind, but struggle, for years sometimes, to get into the activity that the goal requires. What’s the matter? The matter is fear, and fear breeds avoidance.
The activities of most plants and animals are timed to the cycle of day and night. These natural rhythms are called circadian rhythms. The most obvious example is the sleep cycle. As well, many plants and animals are sensitive to other time cycles. “Phototropic” sunflowers, for example, turn their faces to follow the sun’s path. Others make their moves in guaranteed light. Some sea animals time their activities to changing tides. These creatures seem to know such times even when away from their home waters. Yep, if you put clams into your kitchen sink, they will try to feed when the tide is rising down there in the bay.
A subscriber asked us this question for a university thesis: “Why do you make art?” I included it in a previous letter and some responses came in.
I knew we were onto something when another subscriber wrote, “The gift was recognized very early in my life. There were marvellous tools at hand: pencils, crayons, coloured pencils, poster paint, etc. Producing art was an extension of myself on some other plane or level — spiritual.
Artist and Purpose Guidance Coach Sam Kaczur recently put out a call on social media asking her friends, many of them artists, the following question: “Around the ages of 6-10, do you have a memory or pivotal moment in your life that you feel set the trajectory or tone for your future?” She offered some examples, like meeting an artist or scientist, discovering a talent, or winning a prize. From among the responses, a theme emerged that painted a picture of family and parenting. “My mother took me to the theatre,” “My dad beat me and so I wanted to be peaceful” and “I assembled my first computer,” were among the replies.
At the top edge of Joshua Tree National Park and skirting the edge of the Mojave Desert is a place called Wonder Valley. In 1938, the U.S. Congress put forward the Small Tract Act, encouraging homesteaders — mostly World War I servicemen — to lease five-acre federal land parcels to convert to private ownership if they built structures, businesses or recreational facilities there. By the ’50s, thousands of cabins had been built but, after infrastructure like roads, water, power and schools failed to appear, were later abandoned.
The Mozart Effect by Don Campbell makes some startling claims. By listening to Mozart you might just turn out to be more creative, productive and healthier.
This book is full of scientific studies and lots of anecdotal evidence. For example, premature triplets were separately incubated; one was fed Mozart, one silence, and one Rock. Guess what? The Mozart-fed kid gained weight faster, didn’t fuss, was smarter, and did more with his life. That sort of thing.