Our attitudes determine our accomplishments. Recent emails about shared studio spaces, male-female dynamics, creative progress etc., showed us those who see the glass half empty and those who see it half full. Could it be, we wondered, that the half-empty folks were destined to have emptier and emptier glasses, while the half-full folks were bound to have fuller and fuller ones?
Could there be truth in such a simple and timeworn concept?
Maybe it’s the time of year — dark days in the Northern Hemisphere (right now our Down Under subscribers are generally upbeat). Anyway, a lot of negativity is out there. Okay, so maybe it’s tough being an artist, but maybe we need to delude ourselves that it isn’t tough at all — like it’s a joy, a privilege, an opportunity to enrich those around us, and a lot of fun to boot.
Psychologists tell us we tend to believe what we say, especially when we chant it over and over. It doesn’t seem to matter how unlikely the stuff is either — actions following words is one of the hazards of speaking, writing and thinking.
Here in the dark days of winter are a few words that might just keep your sunny side up:
Have a decent ego; cultivate self-esteem and individualism.
Keep an open mind; there’s more than one way to do things.
Focus on your processes; that’s where the joy comes in.
Be kind; it never hurts to give to others, even praise.
Be innocent; have a childlike — not childish — approach.
vBe thankful, even for the smallest of blessings.
Be a perpetual student — be curious and seeking.
Filter your priorities — and don’t suffer fools.
Be creative; it’s the highest form of life.
Honour and respect time; it’s the main gift.
Be optimistic; the opposite holds no charms.
Develop good habits — they will develop you.
Be thrifty — waste not, want not.
Work to please yourself.
Be hard to please.
PS: “Keep your thoughts positive, because your thoughts become your words. Keep your words positive, because your words become your behaviours. Keep your behaviours positive, because your behaviours become your habits. Keep your habits positive, because your habits become your values. Keep your values positive, because your values become your destiny.” (Mahatma Gandhi)
Esoterica: A note regarding the clickbacks: We treasure all our mail. Very often, depending on which one of us is looking after it, we assemble the clickbacks from the first 50 or so letters that come in each time. We try for a range of opinion, new angles, fresh insights. Other times we’re dealing with conventional wisdom. Further, many excellent letters are too late for inclusion. As you may have noticed, we sometimes add these to the live comments. Wisdom and humour are always appreciated. Recently, an anonymous subscriber reminded us: “People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it.”
Fill the glass
by Mike Young, Oakville, ON, Canada
One solution for the “glass half empty” folks is to get a smaller glass. Better still, be determined to fill the glass. Robert’s prescriptions are a start.
There again, in a sustainable world, we may all have to expect less and learn to embrace with what we do have or what we can give.
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Artist, give thanks
by Paula Cravens, Canal Flats, BC, Canada
My favourite winter solstice prayer begins with “Thank you for the darkness, without it we would not appreciate the light.” To which I will add thanks for being an artist, one of those people who sees the beauty in a sunset, a wave, the rust on an old vehicle or the freckles on a draft horse. I believe artists experience this world more profoundly than other people and are then compelled to try and share their discoveries. What could be better than that?
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Not sharing core ideas
by Cindy Michaud, FL, USA
Recently, an anonymous subscriber reminded us: “People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it.”
I could not agree more, Mr. Genn, and I thank you for reminding me of this… I thought maybe it was just the folks I sometimes hang with! I have recently started NOT sharing my big ideas for projects or series or new experiments. I just write them down and mull them over (and over and over) and suddenly (hours, days, weeks or sometimes months later) the key as to how to make something work “magically” appears. I have learned the hard way that sharing a new idea early in its formative stages was as good as burying it, as those with no energy, no imagination or no curiosity (the half-empty-ers) would poke at it and beat on it until I had no hope of making it happen. They not only took the wind from my sails but they made me appear foolish for even wanting to try. Keeping my “projects” under wraps and close to the vest has shielded them (and me) until they were ready to make their grand debut to the admiring and shocked masses. A couple of books, several successful series and a grand collaborative project later, I still keep the core idea a secret until fertile ground presents itself!!
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by Nicoletta Baumeister, Vancouver, BC, Canada
Not only do we tend to believe what we say, but we tend to answer whatever question we give our brains to work on. Commonly asked questions such as why do rotten things keep happening to me, why can’t I get this right, or why is this painting so horrible, will invariably be answered but not in a constructive way. In the first question, the asker is assuming that rotten things are always happening and focuses all attention away from the positive things. In the second, the assumption is that nothing is right, whereas usually most of what we do is reasonably effective. Changing the question to ‘what am I not getting right’ will lead much more quickly to a useable answer. Why is this painting so horrible? Well, is the composition balanced or not, cluttered or clear, dramatic or lackadaisical; is the colour harmonious or not, is there too much of every colour, or not enough warm or cold, is the light source consistent? Are there too many highlights? You get the drift. A large vague question is not useful, and an erroneous assumption will naturally lead to an erroneous answer…
Putting in the time
by James Lane, Markham, ON, Canada
I find that if I “just put the time in,” at times I discover my “groove,” I’m pleased with the work and that makes me happy. Of course when I’m on the outside of my “groove,” I’m not pleased with my work and that makes me miserable.
I find my batting average is 300 (3 out of 10 paintings). So I’m happy 33% of the time.
The only reason I’m responding to you is that I’m in that 33% zone.
I have to learn to anticipate that 33% of good groove when I’m in the 66% bad groove.
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by Sara Sparks, Wakefield, QC, Canada
I understand the “negative”… I’d lost my muse, or we weren’t communicating or something… but it had been years since I’d painted with any of the enthusiasm I once did. My work had progressed, it was technically excellent, but somewhere in my heart I was missing a real connection… What was I painting??? I could “render” anything, but when I’d sit down to paint it was a chore… for years. At one point I very nearly let go of my art but knew I couldn’t… so it dragged on.
I’d been getting your emails for… 10 years, but couldn’t read them. It was too painful to know that others were stepping up to the plate, while I seemed to be missing the point altogether. Terrible artists were thrilled with their work. I could hardly speak with anyone about my art. I even typed in “I have lost my muse” in google search and there were a myriad of other lost souls… mostly writers, but what they were saying I heard loud and clear.
Kind people suggested “the right things to do”… but I knew by the responses that these creative souls were in the same dark hole as I. Writing drivel… or in my case… painting it… and then, I don’t know what happened but my muse came back.
Just like that, I’m painting again. I’m not doing great stuff, it doesn’t have huge depth, but I’m once more putting paint on canvas and I’m resisting the ever present urge to start critiquing it. My goal is to use up all the paint I’ve purchased… repeats of colors that I bought to try and encourage and jump start my inspiration… so I have four tubes of burnt sienna, 4 of yellow ochre, 4 burnt umber… etc … I’m going to use it all up. That’s my goal… not a show, or an amount of work, just use up my paint. Once I do that I shall reward myself with really excellent quality paint and brushes.
And, in theory, while trying to achieve this goal, I shall have a body of work which I may exhibit.
I understand the blanket a person can get under. Heavy and dark, but keep plugging away, like Sisyphus rolling the eternal rock perhaps the muse will take pity and sit down beside you again.
There are 3 comments for Painting again by Sara Sparks
Start right now!
by Anne M. Huskey-Lockard
After a recent major surgery, and laying about for too long (okay, two weeks…) with nothing I could do other than recoup and exercise, I found that my love of my studio was a great inspiration. And the desire grew deeper and deeper to get out there and work. It has nothing to do (for the most part) with the dark of winter — how much do you love your work? I mean, really LOVE it? Do you live and breathe it? Do you want it more than anything?
While I have overdone it a bit physically, I have been limping about with joy, making simple mixed media and in general, being happy and totally unaware of whether it is daylight or dark. Or Winter or Summer.
I normally would say I go through “half empty” spells, but I have readjusted my attitude after two surgeries in one year. My glass is almost FULL! At least, as full as I can carry without spilling! Don’t wait for something traumatic to set your thinking right; start that path right now!
Attitude, awareness of seasonal depressive tendencies, and the willingness to put the work into changing how we think and perceive our life has much to do with us as artists. Frequently, for some, this is a second job — maintaining mental health and the ability to work. Keeping the process flowing.
If all else fails, fill a glass with water, set it within eye sight with a scribbled sign; “I am not empty. I am full. And I can always be refilled. So please keep me that way.”
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by Veronica Funk, Airdrie, AB, Canada
I was so excited to read your letter today as I feel I’ve definitely experienced growth because of ‘the positive.’ A few years ago I thought I’d take advantage of one of the latest art marketing books, which, as I began to read through it felt absolutely inauthentic to me. So, I decided to follow my heart instead by utilizing my skills to be a contributing member of our community through my love of art. I began to volunteer as an art teacher on occasion in schools and the local public library, became a founding member of our local ARTS Society, an Art Committee Board Member for a nearby small town library and donated some of my finer pieces to great charities. All the while I kept painting and in the process made amazing friends who have been such a great support and encouragement, have sold work and received commissions for more, and have recently been hired as the Art Program Coordinator for our local library where I get to curate exhibits and arrange classes for our Junior Artists program. I get paid to have fun. And I believe it’s all come about because I’ve been giving instead of worrying about getting. I’ve certainly received much, much more than I’ve given and it has increased not only my self-esteem but my positive outlook on life.
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A double-edged sword
by Chris Boghosian, Los Angeles, CA, USA
By nature, I am an immensely sensitive person, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I believe most artists are and need to be. And at times, I feel this sensitivity is a double-edged sword.
On the positive side, it informs and inspires our work. It allows us to observe elements in life which most take for granted or miss all together. Consequently, our art helps people to see afresh and anew.
On the flip side, our sensitivity ceaselessly reminds us of the immense corruption, brokenness, and depravity in the world. It is overwhelming at times, and, worse, gives the artist a sense of futility, i.e., nothing he/she does will make a difference. One’s motto becomes, “What’s the point?”
Perhaps productive artists are either overly optimistic people, insatiably driven to succeed, or simply disciplined. And maybe there is another type: the one who is broken and sad about the world and simply wants to cry through their art.
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Expectations for 2010
by oliver, TX, USA
A year or so ago you wrote a letter about getting prepared for tough economies. As I recall you said some important things like, get out of debt, work, work, work and set your expectations reasonably, appropriately and perhaps more modestly.
In addition to the physical dark days for us in the Northern Hemisphere — days are getting longer now YEA. I wonder how many of those who didn’t take your sage advice and get properly prepared as you advised are now struggling with lack of planning and too high a set of expectations and not enough internal satisfaction?
The economy is supposedly going to recover a little this year, but art sales are generally, except for the cream of the cream and a rare exception, going to be difficult again with artists competing very heavily for the opportunities that are there. Art sales, and luxury goods are usually amongst the last to recover. Most consumers will make sure they have a roof, buy a nicer meal, replace a worn wardrobe, car or tv before buying art. Your “filter priorities” and “waste not want not” speak to this yet again. People worried about losing their jobs will be paying off debt and saving as they can rather than splurging. We have a reported 10% unemployment and many say it may be as high as 17% because many have simply given up looking for work.
All that said I think your advice of a year ago as I recall it holds true again for this year and if expectations are properly set, “be thankful for the smallest blessings,” it will be easier to see the glass half full or full because you will have done well according to plan. I notice many of your plan items below state get satisfaction from the work itself and sharing with others.
Setting the table properly and getting prepared in tough times demonstrates you are a survivor and you will have grown, be well positioned and be ready for better times ahead. Just surviving with new good work, a few influential people knowing that you survived, still improving your work may be a great accomplishment for 2010.
oil painting 6 x 6 inches
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 Al Wilson of Okanagan Falls, BC, Canada, who wrote, “I read an interesting review of a new book by Barbara Ehrenreich, Bright-Sided with subtitle: ‘How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America.’ The book stimulates thought regarding the somewhat unquestioning acceptance (by optimists such as myself) of ‘the power of positive thinking.’ ”
And also Doug Williams of Vancouver, BC, Canada, who wrote, “This is all very lovely positive stuff, Robert. Take a look at this for the other view.
And also Jill Charuk of Canada, who wrote, “This is very timely advice. It reminds me of the Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. The first one is “Be impeccable with your word.” Our word can do great damage, especially by “cursing” someone, calling them stupid or untalented. Artists at times can curse themselves. Time to stop and be gentle.”
Enjoy the past comments below for Sunny side up…