Do you ever wander back to that time when you first started thinking about making art? Do you ever think of the vision you first had — how your art would be made, its themes, its look? How simple it all was then. For some of us we thought it was just a matter of learning the skills and enacting our vision.
Then, with a little seasoning under our belts, we modified, changed, expanded, contracted — we grew. Or perhaps we regressed. We artists are constantly faced with forks in our roads, with the realization that some of the paths we take are a genuine pressing-ahead with our dreams, and others a caving-in to demands and the easy backslide into mediocrity. We see it in ourselves if we are honest, and it’s evident enough when we look at the life work of many artists. It’s been my observation that it’s sometimes possible to confuse creativity with compromise.
For me, it’s been a matter of figuring out what is true. I like to take a break regularly and reassess where I’m going — put a check on my weaker tendencies and review whether I’m doing what I truly like and want to do. What am I doing right? What is uniquely mine? Which subjects and stylistic elements give me satisfaction? The penalty for not doing this is boredom and blindness. The boredom and blindness may be only temporary — or it may become chronic and put an artist in prison for life.
Go back to your dreams. Feel the evolution since the beginning as a natural unfolding. Think of misguided moves as only potholes and part of the process. Breathe deeply, be thankful, and be true to your true self.
PS. “It is necessary to keep one’s compass in one’s eyes and not in the hand, for the hands execute, but the eye judges.” (Michelangelo)
Esoterica: We also pause to look at the miracle and the promise of the Internet. It’s the ultimate democratization of our profession. In theory, and now to some degree in practice, an artist working by a wild river in Iceland can ride on the same current as an artist two floors above Manhattan traffic.
This letter was originally published as “Your Vision” on January 30, 2001.