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 regressed. We artists are constantly faced with forks in our roads. And 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.
The following are selected responses to the above letter. Thank you for writing.
Paintings make me
Eleanor Blair, Gainesville, Florida, USA
“….How it would be made? Its themes, its looks….” I don’t think I ever gave it a moment’s thought. I do remember one afternoon, when I was around fifteen, suddenly realizing that I was an artist, that I would study art, and not become a grade school teacher (my mother’s dream for me) or have any kind of regular job. But it was more of a surrendering to the obsession, an admission that I was simply compelled to live this life. It was never a choice or a decision or a plan. It was more about knowing who I was and accepting that.
My family believes that they have witnessed me make great sacrifices along the way to become the artist I am today, but there has been no sacrifice at all. When you are living the life you were made for, what seems difficult to others is simply following the line of least resistance. I don’t make the paintings at all; they make me.
Elle Fagan, Fairfield County, CT, USA
I was completely disabled but am mended and on the go again. I was considered totally out. Having been an artist all my life as well as a career lady of the Third Millennium, I had no idea that I was being discounted entirely because of my disability. When I encountered resistance returning to earnings, I assumed it was due to my depleted condition, and I was imagining resistance. My son taught me html on a Christmas visit, and I did up my site…
Friends and associates were shocked and surprised that I was still articulate and painting and capable of learning html…It was only then that I realized that I was not imagining difficulties sliding back into the workforce, and I thank my son and my website for the dramatic turnaround in my worklife!
Joseph Richmond, UK
My dream was to develop my own passions in whatever way they took me, make a decent if not a spectacular living, get some respect from my fellow man, avoid automobile traffic, and die with a sense of tangible accomplishment. I’ve done all except the last.
The Wizard of Oz
Pru Heward, San Francisco, CA, USA
In your book “The Painter’s Keys” there are umpteen allusions to The Wizard of Oz. Everything from the yellow brick road to the horse of a different colour. So this metaphor of the path, frightful adversity, wicked witches, dysfunctional companions, is part of the artist’s journey. I have always thought of it this way too. Ruby slippers or not — in the end Dorothy finds she had the power to do what she wanted all along.
My job to take them down
I’ve recently released myself from a mental prison of my own making (though my art “education” was a contributing factor!). Doesn’t matter who built the walls, it’s my job to take them down. After a long slump I have rediscovered my passion for painting and am back in the studio “with a vengeance”. My passion for painting has returned and I feel as though my soul once more inhabits my body. Oh joy. I find I’ve had to deeply re-examine my assumptions about what constitutes artistic identity and practice; my former conceptual model had reached a dead end. I have to BE me, therefore I am GOING to be me, despite “art-world” trends, cheap shots, criticism etc. People can take it or leave it. What a gift, after years of seeking the approval of others, to finally have the support of oneself!
Betsy Kuhn, Albuquerque, NM, USA
I am thankful and I do remember my first art experience. It begs sharing and since you posed the question, bear with me because I hadn’t really thought of it and so never shared it. I remember being in my mother’s arms, so I must have been three or so, and she and I together were admiring my older sister’s art work in which she drew a table. I could tell it was flat paper, but the table drawing looked like it had dimension, I was fascinated and full of wonder of how she did that. First memory, thanks. What a wonderful world, round.
Yes, let go
Michelle Saunders, Chicago
Your letter speaks my story. I am lost right now with my art. I do not know what is true anymore. Is what I have been doing what I really want to do? I don’t know. I think if it was I would be doing more of it. I am in a prison of my own creating. I don’t paint because I insist that it be exactly what I imagine in my mind. I become frustrated if it is different. I cut myself no slack — stopping my ability to be free to express myself. My brain however, never stops churning. My head is filled with endless possibilities. I promised myself that I would let go and stop making excuses.
When do you learn what is really true?
(RG note) This “jaded” attitude is really quite normal and common. Seasoned artists often know all about it — but it’s most frequent and daunting among artists who have recently left an art school. Every artist, from time to time, must take hold of herself and be born again as a rugged individualist, self-fulfill, and re-teach herself some work habits.
Truth brings no limits
Sherry A Bryant, Arizona, USA
I’ve just come out of the “deep dark pit” of dealing with “what sells” versus what I truly want to do and how I wish to develop MY language. I recently attended a show where people were, for the most part, admiring paintings of the photo-realistic genre. I realize there are many people who desire to paint everything that shows up on their photographs, however, this method of “expression” is boring to me not only as an artist, but, as a viewer as well. I just marvel at the patience it must take to copy every line and shadow.
The fact that so many people seemed to especially enjoy these photo-realistic paintings got me swirling into thinking that even though I may be bored to death painting in such a way, perhaps……if I truly want to make a living at painting, I SHOULD bite the bullet and do the photograph thing……….paint like everybody else. Through much agonizing about this, my true self won out. I am back on my path of creativity come hell or high water. It feels good because I have made the decision to feel the breeze of enthusiasm flow through me as it always does when I am true to my artistic self. I glow in the knowledge that there are no limits to what one can do. I am back.
Out of the ring of truth
Peter Lillie, New York, USA
Your perception of the artist’s psyche is outstanding and valuable to hear. Take for example Mark Rothko. He had a dream — he tried different things. Some critics loved the nothingness of something he tried. This work was noticed and talked about. Because there was nothing to it there was lots to talk about. He spent the remainder of his life making those insignificant nonentities for the carriage trade. He hated them. He was out of his ring of truth. He started not to like and trust himself. He died of his own hand.
A crack in the pupil
Albert Chr. Reck, Swaziland
As a one-folded one, a naive artist, I have a crack in my pupil; I see landscapes only one-folded. Such a fold could easily turn into a notch and a notch again turns into a quickset hedge. With the crack in my pupil I paint landscapes with quickset hedges between the Indian Ocean and the Atlantic. Many breaks in the landscape are turning a one-folded one into a manifold landscape. The diversity of this landscapes exists out of the hedges and corners. They are the responsible signature for the modulation. And only now the structure receives a type of depth, or even better is developing distances, which are now forming my square dimension to a space.
The visible things are so moving in front, in the back or remain in the middle ground. But to look for a flight point in my pictures is an undertaking in vain. Railway lines do not meet in the far and roads may fall a victim to the next notch as a sacrifice. Nobody is able to call such a structure real. All in all our world is living through perspective and enjoys its frustration at the flightpoint, which again has been missed. The wanderer in the central perspective landscape walks into the far or the distance, which is interpreting and only for him, the space.
The real foreground landscape exists out of depth and is borrowing space from the far. In my landscape one may live only out of distances, which are calling to enter relationships. Once entered a loneliness, than it continues with two-, three-, fourness till finally reaching a togetherness.
What I need
Barbara Steinberg, Maui
My truest dream is being an artist. I have been a professional artist 15 years now, since I stopped studying art. I have just produced 2 Giclee art prints. I sure hope I can get in a real art gallery and paint full time. I have so many other things to do. Soon my enlarged art studio will be organized. Then, I hope to paint full time. I need support. I try to sell laser prints at this art mart that happens in Maui and find little confidence to sell them and don’t do too well either.
I would like to be a successful artist. I would like to prioritize my life more to be a full time artist.
I need to paint daily.
You may be interested to know that artists from 71 countries have visited these sites since January 1, 2001. That includes Mary Ann Mountain of Seattle, Washington, who writes, “I haven’t heard such things since grad school where we would sit around over a pitcher of beer and solve all the art problems of the world.” And Michael Joseph Depraida, traveling and photographing somewhere in his motorhome, who says, “The journey is the destination.” And Vicky Quail Run of Phoenix, Arizona, who says, “May we all reach further than we think we can and each improve our potential.” And Tanichka Bournoff, from Novomoskovsk, Ukraine S.S.R., who says, in translation, “Mint tea centers me.”