Strategic patience

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Dear Artist,

“Strategic patience,” is popular jargon these days. It’s the strategy of letting time take care of at least part of the process. It precludes running off willy-nilly in a knee-jerk reaction — a reaction that often does more harm than good. Artists should at least consider the system.

Half-finished paintings left deserted and grumbling in studio corners are often busy mending themselves. Pulled into the light, they re-boot the artist’s neural pathways. Solutions are often clearer, easier and less painful than originally thought. “All things come round to him who will but wait.” (Henry Wadsworth Longfellow)

You might imagine yourself as a big corporation. Big corporations regularly stop for bouts of strategic planning where they ask themselves questions like, “What do we do?” “For whom do we do it?” and “How do we excel?” These inquiries often result in better plans and future successes.

Artists need to pause and ask, “What am I doing?” “Who am I doing it for?” “What am I good at?” and “What do I need to work on?”

vAs you work on your art, you need to be thinking ahead. In other words, you take workmanlike actions that are setups for what is to come later. As you delay the gratification of the fun parts, patience is required. You may also need to wait to see what your work suggests. Just as in a game of chess, early minor moves prepare the way for later major ones. This is perhaps a more deliberate way of working than you might be used to — particularly if you’re a spontaneous, intuitive painter who works fast in the hope that things will work out. “Hope,” said Brian Tracy, “is not a strategy.”

Looking around among my limited number of acquaintances, I feel many artists need to shuck off the popular romance of inspiration and acting on the spur of the moment. They need, among other things, strategic patience toward making better decisions. The result will be higher quality work.

Best regards,

Robert

PS: “Many of our failures in life and art come about because of the lack of strategy. This is the facility which is needed to produce better than average results.” (P. Papadopoulos)

Esoterica: Strategic patience also applies to the business side of art. Getting work out of the studio and into galleries is basic to our business. What puzzles me is how some artists expect instant action from their dealers. I knew one guy who, as a young man, routinely sent a painting to a dealer and waited until it was sold before starting another. This is an example of the wrong kind of patience. When his paintings began to take a year to sell he had already forgotten how to paint. Artists need to think of galleries as places to store their productivity. When you do this, you’ll find yourself simply wallowing in joyous creativity. Get a million dollars worth of strategically placed art in storage, and you can go where you want and do what you like. This is a strategy you can eat.

The cruel truth?
by Judy A. Crowe, Spring, TX, USA

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“Quiet Day on Creek Street”
oil painting 11 x 14 inches
by Judy A. Crowe

I needed this today. Feeling really like, “What am I doing this for?” My daughter was over on Sunday and she pointed to 2 unfinished paintings in the studio and said, “Wow, Mom, you are getting better.” Well, the funny (or not so funny) thing is that those were two older paintings that I was just trying to either cure or kill! At any rate, I can look back over the years and see that I have improved, but I still get so frustrated some days like I said before. I have been, in the past, too impatient and ‘hopeful’ and have been deliberately trying to slow down and think more about what I’m doing. Thanks for the reminder. It’s not over.



There is 1 comment for The cruel truth? by Judy A. Crowe

From: Tatjana M-P — Mar 16, 2012

I often thought that family shouldn’t be allowed in the studio. I once made a list of my pet peeve comments – among many others are “it looked better yesterday” and “haven’t you worked on this one long enough?”

The wisdom of going it alone
by Rick Rotante, Tujunga, CA, USA

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“Hollywood Division”
oil painting by Rick Rotante

As I’ve progressed as an artist I’ve found I rely less on camaraderie from other artists regarding my work. I’ve also noticed that I have fewer artist friends or persons to take and give advice on my work. I’ve come to learn that I am the only one who can make a judgment on what and how to paint. There comes a time when you alone can determine your own path. More importantly, the advice of other artists may hinder your progress. Understand, I still socialize with artists but our conversations are not about my work in particular, but artwork in general. I have learned to rely on myself. Mistakes will be made, but I learn from mistakes and this is a better way to learn. With this attitude, patience becomes an asset. I don’t rush to judgment to get a new work out quickly. It’s a delicate balance between subjectivity and objectivity.



There are 5 comments for The wisdom of going it alone by Rick Rotante

From: Rosemary Claus-Gray — Mar 15, 2012

Thank you for writing this, Rick. I find that I am at a similar point in my artist life. Recently, I made the discovery about myself that I no longer wanted or needed a mentor or specific critique from artist friends. In a way, it felt like I had ‘graduated myself”. I realize I, too, have learned to rely on myself. I am continuing to learn, to improve, to grow as an artist, but I have developed trust in my own eye and the knowledge I have gained over time. I do like to know if my work communicates to another, but the decisions about how to create it are up to me.

From: Janet Badger — Mar 16, 2012

I, too, have realized that I am my own best critic. I was relieved when a critique session launched by my art group turned out to be more of a “show and tell” where we could learn about inspirations and motivations, but the artist got only positive feedback. Artists need encouragement, period.

From: Nancy — Mar 16, 2012

I feel exactly the same! At a certain point and age you need to be the owner of your own work and make your own decisions – good or bad. We are, after all, the artist. It can tear your creative juices apart if you listen to every comment about your work. I have a nephew who just graduated from art school and started to tell me everything I should/could do. I appreciated his interest but decided that I had the most experience and I would make the decisions.

From: Tinker Bachant — Mar 16, 2012

Right on! I know when my work is good and I know when it’s not and needs “fixing” . I let a “finished” piece sit a day or two and then come and look again. Generally I find what, if anything, needs to be adjusted or changed.

From: Tatjana M-P — Mar 16, 2012

I agree that self-sufficiency has been the most valuable tool in my toolbox. But there have been a few rare moments when an artist friend had such a profound insight that caused a wow moment. Happens once in a blue moon but those were very special moments for me.

The 80/20 rule
by John Barsness, Bozeman, MT, USA

Thank you for your excellent thoughts on strategic patience. Especially intriguing (and very good advice) was the conclusion in Esoterica about storing a million dollars of art in strategically placed galleries — which triggered a question. In many different endeavors I have found the retail sales “80-20” rule to hold true. In a nutshell: 80% of revenue comes from 20% of stock and 20% of revenue from the other 80% — and it is absolutely necessary to have the 80%, for customer choice, in order to sell the top 20%. My question is: have you noticed if the “80-20” rule also applies to gallery sales?

(RG note) Thanks, John. I’ve noticed the need to have a range of work in each gallery. Large paintings on display help to sell smaller ones. And vice versa. Selection and choice are very important, I think, and while consistency is also important, I like to seed my deliveries with “mavericks.” Further, poor paintings do not help to sell your better ones. Recently, I tried putting some poor ones down the garburator. Unpleasant choking sound and a plumber visit.

Right track confirmed
by Sheree Rensel, St. Petersburg, FL, USA

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“Universal Dump”
mixed media by Sheree Rensel

I just read your “Strategic Patience” letter. It is so funny because my early morning Facebook update said, “This morning I jumped out of bed and put on my combat helmet. This is WAR. Right now, I am writing a BUSINESS PLAN.” As I started writing the PLAN, I realized it was making me think about the same things you speak of in your letter. “Artists need to pause and ask, ‘What am I doing?’ ‘Who am I doing it for?’ ‘What am I good at?’ and ‘What do I need to work on?’ Thank you for writing this letter. It confirms… I am on the right track.



There are 2 comments for Right track confirmed by Sheree Rensel

From: Susan Kellogg, Austin, TX — Mar 16, 2012

“It must have taken a lot of Strategic Patience to make your Universal Dump”. It is a powerful expression of a lot of universal fears. I hope it finds its way to an editorial or an environmental publication.

From: Sarah — Mar 16, 2012

A powerful statement, indeed, but also a beautiful painting!

Gumption trap
by Sally De Fazio, Watertown, MA, USA

Part of your useful interpretation of the “Strategic patience” involves a concept introduced to me by Robert M. Pirsig in his 1974 bestseller, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

Pirsig, with reference to motorcycle repair, used the term “gumption trap,” and I am amused that this term, which was a life-changer for me, now has its own Wikipedia entry. A gumption trap is an event, or series of events, that cause you to lose patience and enthusiasm for a project. If you persist, guided by the old maxim, “Finish what you start,” your bollixed up project, be it a painting or repair job that is in the process of going wrong, will go from bad to worse. Steam starts to come out of your ears and a sense of urgency overtakes good reason. Parts of your motorcycle break off in your hand and nuts and bolts roll into inaccessible spots. You lay down a big blob of some un-liftable pigment on your watercolor painting.

The breakthrough for me when I read about gumption traps was two related realizations: first, that at a certain point, the best thing to do when working through a problem was to STOP. Just plain stop, and put the project aside until you could again look at it in the face with optimism; second, that there was nothing morally reprehensible about starting a second project (or third, or fourth…) before the first one was finished.



There are 3 comments for Gumption trap by Sally De Fazio

From: Darrell Baschak — Mar 16, 2012

I would add to the last paragraph that if the painting isn’t working you might just ruthlessly scrape it off and begin anew. It can be quite an exhilirating and liberating expererience and the ghost image left quite often works nicely in the new work.

From: Rick Rotante — Mar 18, 2012

The thing about art is that there is more than one way to work. If the way chosen was false or inaccurate, by all means wipe it off or stop and rethink. There is no shame in mistakes, the shame comes with continuing to work badly.

From: Anonymous — Mar 20, 2012

As they say: When you’re in a hole, stop digging. The 80/20 rule applies with “What am I doing?” “Where are my actions leading?” and “How does my excellence manifest?” 20% of your answers will give an effective plan of action to aid in developing strengths out of weakness. Sage advice may come from insight from the outside yet don’t wait for it; ultimately only the artist knows the way to the excellence experience. It may be in the best action of the moment and stopping before it has timed out. Sometimes its breathing life out of destruction. It is about taking control of the situation to the best of your ability at the time, all of the time in good faith.

Patience in preparation
by Kay Christopher, TX, USA

Your letter reminded me of what I learned as a professional speaker. People new to the profession often want to just “speak from the heart” without a lot of forethought, preparation and practice. It is the very highly skilled, seasoned, practiced speaker who gives the audience a sense that the speaker is absolutely effortlessly captivating the mind and heart of those in the audience. The master speaker makes it look so easy that anyone could do it. But it is not easy. It takes asking those same questions you wrote about and more. And it takes “strategic patience” — endless hours of work to make it flow like that. I guess that is true of the mastery of any art form.

Writers write
by Leilani Squire, North Hollywood, CA, USA

I like to think of strategic patience as perpetual habit. In other words, I don’t wait for inspiration. I set my paper and pencils on my desk before I go to bed, so they are waiting for me in the morning when I awake. I’m a writer and I write. That’s what I do. I write. Whether it’s good writing or bad writing, I write. Whether I feel like it or not, I write.

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Sunrise blast

pastel painting 14 x 14 inches
by Mary Denning, Spokane, WA, USA

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That includes Dr. Edward Berkeley of Portland, OR, USA, who wrote, “In medicine there is a term similar to your “strategic patience,” when things sometimes get messy. It’s “masterly inactivity.” People fuss in a Brownian commotion during an emergency rather than stop, assess and avoid doing something in a rush.”

And also Lori Worby of Dadeville, AL, USA, who wrote, “I find your letters thoughtful, helpful and real. You speak to me as if you know my innermost thoughts. I liked the way you asked the questions… What am I good at? Etc… Your questions led me to three other questions. Where am I going with this? When will I become proficient? Why is this important to me? My second question to myself can frustrate me because I have so much to learn and want all the knowledge now! I believe I have the patience and I am not usually in a hurry to complete a painting but I come up with another question… Am I finished? It is good to hear I am not alone with unfinished work. I think unconsciously we can work on a painting so that when we pick it up again later we can SEE where to go or not! Anyways it is just really nice to hear you as my teacher of thoughts and encouragement.”

And also Michael Fantuz who wrote, “Wow! Great advice regarding approach to gallery inventory and “storing of productivity.” I never thought of it like that… it’s already had a positive effect on my thinking. Thank you.”

And also Kelly Medford, who wrote, “‘Hope is not a strategy’ really made me laugh! (maybe the laugh of recognition?”

Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Strategic patience

 

 

 

From: Marvin Humphrey — Mar 12, 2012

A successful piece of work depends on the maker’s will and intellect. If the strategy is good, satisfaction gradually seeps in as he progresses.

From: Kay Christopher — Mar 12, 2012

Your letter reminded me of what I learned as a professional speaker. People new to the profession often want to just “speak from the heart” without a lot of forethought, preparation and practice. It is the very highly skilled, seasoned, practiced speaker who gives the audience a sense that the speaker is absolutely effortlessly captivating the mind and heart of those in the audience. The master speaker makes it look so easy that anyone could do it. But it is not easy. It takes asking those same questions you wrote about and more. And it takes “strategic patience”, endless hours of work to make it flow like that. I guess that is true of the mastery of any art form.

From: Gail Caduff-Nash — Mar 12, 2012

You’re dead on with this one. But the main reason I put work aside and wait (while going after another) is to GET inspiration from the piece itself. Often if I start a background, for instance, I’ll be able to imagine what will be the focus of it. Or I’ll begin visualizing something there. Most of art is done in the head. I’ll get most of one done and then, while lying in bed, imagine the rest, or improve on it. Painting in my head really helps. And I think that the brain, once given a problem, works on the solution when you’re not thinking conciously about it. So the next time you look at a (dusty) piece, you’ll see it sorted out for you. It’s less about patience, for me, than about directing certain brain cells to do something for me, while I do something else! Like sleep. But putting a time limit on your ‘waiting’ is a good idea – so the canvas isn’t holding up too much of your wall for too long.

From: Brenda McCourt Pulham — Mar 13, 2012

Design is important and many of our adjudicated shows are done so by teachers of this facet of art. I have never boggled down to sorting this aspect out consciously before painting except perhaps to think of the Golden Triangle theory. That said I do a lot of photography before hand then pop up the pictures and see what I like about a scene or subject. Usually the Design somehow has evolved through the eye of the lens before I Shoot! After staring at the photo I like to put it away and dig in. I took my large paintings to see a sage former Art and Design Teacher – he saw only one mistake – a right angle on a rock edge which he thought made the waterfall area look a little cement-like -15 seconds to correct, and it went in a show! I like the combination of photography and art yet I am not partial to detail nor very realistic art – I prefer the Monet style and some more modern plastic shapes sometimes interjected.

From: Edward Berkeley — Mar 13, 2012

In medicine there is a term similar to your “strategic patience”, when things sometimes get messy. It’s “masterly inactivity”. People fuss in a brownian commotion during an emergency rather than stop, asses and avoid doing something rush.

From: Lori Worby — Mar 13, 2012

I find your letters thoughtful, helpful and real. You speak to me as if you know my inner most thoughts. I liked the way you asked the questions…What am I good at? etc… Your questions led me to three other questions. Where am I going with this? When will I become proficient? Why is this important to me? My second question to myself can frustrate me because I have so much to learn and want all the knowledge now! I believe I have the patience and I am not usually in a hurry to complete a painting but I come up with another question…Am I finished? It is good to hear I am not alone with unfinished work. I think unconsciously we can work on a painting so that when we pick it up again later we can SEE where to go or not! Anyways it is just really nice to hear you as my teacher of thoughts and encouragement.

From: Laura Tovar Dietrick — Mar 13, 2012

How true all of this is! When I am stuck with a painting, I park it on my easel and turn it so that it is first thing that I see when I walk into my studio. Looking at it fresh, it often grabs me and says, “What were you THINKING?” and then I am able to see clearly my error(s). Sometimes fixable, sometimes not. Parking is essential to being your best critic.

From: Claudia Roulier — Mar 13, 2012

Robert, I have a very very very hard time not finishing work and letting things sit, whether it’s assemblages or paintings. The best I can manage is to hang them and look at them for a week or so before I finish putting the final sealer on them but nothing sits around my studio for any length of time. I must be ADD or something….lol.

From: Denyse Milliken — Mar 13, 2012

Even us wee folk are concerned about brand – read Seth Godin – find your “purple cow” make it stand out, and you rise above the mediocrity :)

From: Louise Francke — Mar 13, 2012

As I attempt to go abstract after a life time spent in the surreal realm, I find myself thinking and thinking and thinking. I used to be a spontaneous painter! Now, I am extremely cautious. Change one thing and the whole painting changes. The pursuit of the abstract is frustrating but when a painting does surface, it can be a very rewarding experience. I no longer think about the marketability of the work but more in what I have gained from the experience. It is definitely a mind game.

From: Michael Fantuz — Mar 13, 2012

Wow! Great advice regarding approach to gallery inventory and “storing of productivity”. I never thought of it like that….its already had a positive affect on my thinking. Thank you.

From: Bianka Guna — Mar 13, 2012

Ha-Ha-Ha!!! Good one !!! Most of the art galleries treat artists and their works as trash not treasures , They are the worst in ” saving” your treasures , better in artists storage , these “millions” :)))))Never trust the “middle man “… Things disappear even from museums these days :(((((

From: Tom Mallard — Mar 13, 2012

If only Wall Street & Madison Ave got this …

From: JP Beeks — Mar 13, 2012

Beyond strategic planning, “Big Corporations” are also very concerned about Brand… I am very curious as to your opinion on the artist as a brand. I have found that people who own art prefer to refer to their artwork by Artist Name rather than by Subject (Hey, nice landscape! – Oh, thanks, that’s a Robert Genn!).

From: Anne Nelson Sweat — Mar 13, 2012

You are such an inspiration, Robert! Thank you so much for your generous sharing! I greatly appreciate your newsletters and all!

From: Sadie Davidson DeVore — Mar 13, 2012

I am always hoping…that is my strategy! Hope is most of my work…patience is lost in the stack. Thanks for the newsletter. I will try to learn.

From: Barbara — Mar 13, 2012

Spur of the moment and thoughtful painting are processes that I seem to be going back and forth between these days since I have added painting in plein air painting to my life. So I was interested in what you wrote for today’s letter. Often I have found an old painting that didn’t quite work out; and in a second of seeing it again at a later date, I knew just what to do to make it work. What satisfaction to read that it happens to other artists too. I must remember that I can give myself a break from something that isn’t working at just this moment. Thanks for yet another helpful bit of painting wisdom.

From: Ion Vincent DAnu, Sherbrooke, Quebec — Mar 13, 2012

…”to catch gesture at a glance” , that’s a good phrase! and a very difficult thing to do. At least, a very difficult thing to do SUCCESSFULLY! and it is true not only for flying birds but especially for humans. No easy feat to catch the gesture of a woman, posing nude. Or the fleeting expression of a face… Or of a goose, at the market… I would add that drawing is (at least for me) a very absorbing and, finally, a completely satisfying activity. If I could live selling drawings probably that I would prefer to draw 90% of my time… But you already cited Van Gogh who said it better: ” there is nothing so delightful as drawing.”

From: GRM — Mar 13, 2012

Indeed, sometimes more information is needed and one might be wise to conceal a work in progress to avoid being pressured into making premature decisions, eh. Enjoy your musings and helpful hints.

From: Doris — Mar 13, 2012

I really enjoyed todays letter. After scrounging for something to paint, I brought out the trusty sketch book and started the painting. Now I know what I do best and will stick to it. Your letters always have an influence on me and many others..Thanks

From: Pamela Gertrude Manson — Mar 15, 2012

Two cups of inspiration every week from Robert, with a good dash of common sense and a spoonful of sweet joy.

From: Norman Staley — Mar 15, 2012

Strategic patience. Excellent advice in so may areas of life, including politics. Too bad it is not more frequently applied.

From: Ratindra Das — Mar 16, 2012

Strategic Patience

I use a three part process for a painting-Concentration (which is observation), Contemplation and Reflection (execution of a painting). Contemplation and reflection often go side by side. As I get older I seem to slow down the execution of a painting and I offer no apologies or regret about it. I paint in watercolor and used to think that I have to finish in one sitting and quickly. It’s more of a myth than reality. Jumping into the painting and slam dunking takes you away from savoring the moments of exploration in creative work. I have many unfinished paintings in the studio and patiently waiting to continue sometime in future.

From: Ron Gang, Kibbutz Urim, Israel — Mar 19, 2012

I love the stories of Bonnard’s long gestation periods. Like one work that he promised to sell only after he found out what was wrong with it, and took ten years until he figured it out, and then sold it to whom he had promised it for the price from 10 years before, even though his prices had since risen considerably. Or that he went into a museum with a little vial of paint and a brush concealed in his inner jacket pocket, and modified a displayed painting of his when the guard was elsewhere. I can really identify with these, as there’s no telling how long it will take for that elusive solution to pop up.

 

 

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