I was having a conversation with a friend in the movie business. In his world, producers, directors, actors, sound technicians, grips, are all trying to get some form of control of both their art and others around them. If they don’t, they can be waiting by their phones from here to eternity, confined to the dead-letter office of movie history.
Control is one of life’s principal actions. Parents, kids, husbands, wives, bosses, employees — all attempt some level of control over one another. In the self-motivated world of private art-making, control starts with self-control. Artists who master self-control also find the means to control — at least to some degree — their quality, and their destiny.
Self-control is self-management. As a part-time volunteer mentor of painters, I often run into talented folks who just can’t find it. For them, lack of self-control can be the worm that spoils the apple. Habit-retraining methods such as the recently mentioned “Early Morning Club” can spur creative growth as well as the bottom line. Here are a few ideas on control:
Wear two hats — the boss hat and the worker hat.
Regulate time for yourself and use it well.
Respect the work of others who are not like you.
Organize your work area and strive for order.
Learn efficiency and study your motions.
Diversify dependencies — dealers, agents, venues.
Diversify capabilities — don’t burn out in one medium.
Control distractions with firmness and respect.
If possible, delegate some activities to assistants.
Learn to hold your baser instincts in check.
Try to limit ego and prejudice — knowledge is power.
Dominate yourself, or someone else will.
Have no guilt for energetic play.
It’s been my observation that most highly evolved artists strike a balance between studentship and workmanship, between humility and ego, between freedom and control. As my movie friend said, “It must be so cool to be self-employed.” I asked him what he considered the most important thing for getting along in the movie business. “Neither an ogre nor a patsy be,” he said.
PS: “The main detriment to movie art is the presence of the ‘committee.’ Painters who can struggle on their own know not how blessed they are.” (Ed Bakony, Film director, educator, walking encyclopedia of film)
Esoterica: You may have noticed that many high-profile and celebrated artists are not in control at all. Rather, they’re products of their dysfunction and the result of someone else’s control and hype. When I talk about “evolved artists,” I’m talking about artists who live in the here and now, who wrest quality from themselves during their own lifetimes, who live and love well, and through the power of self-management, thrive. While some sort of remarkable luck or screaming talent aids some artists, self-control is at the root of most successes.
Beauty in an uncontrolled brush
by Mary Moquin, Sandwich, MA, USA
Control. The subject caught my attention as it has been a point I have been pondering lately. I think in the way you are using the word it may be necessary. Yet it is such a dangerous practice as an artist because controlling too much can be so limiting. Yes, we need to take our work seriously and “control” our working environment. We need to “control” our working schedule. So your point is completely valid taken in that context. But in another context, I believe that too many artists devote too much energy into “controlling” their brush. Their work looks controlled and contrived although technically proficient. For me, the most beautiful marks are the ones that happen despite our effort to control them. When we give up control and let the force of the universe flow through us. When we empty ourselves of our need to be in control and become the creative conduits we were meant to be.
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Finding a balance
by Nina Allen Freeman, Tallahassee, FL, USA
For some of us, and I speak of myself here, we lean in the too much self-control area. I strive constantly to let my playful side emerge, to let the creative energy flow unimpeded while balanced by my tendency to control everything. If not careful I would spend all my time organizing the studio and cleaning out closets. Finding a balance between the two is a challenge when the laundry basket and hungry family are calling to you. We all have challenges, though, no matter what our situation. If growing in our art is important, and it is to me, then you find that balance and keep painting or writing or whatever you do.
Allergic to linseed oil
by Gayle Ray, CA, USA
I recently started painting with oils after using acrylics for nearly 20 years. I fell in love. I love the way they feel, the way they blend, and the luminosity of the paint. After painting for several months, I developed headaches. In being tested with Kinesiology, I’m allergic to linseed oil. I was wondering if you have any suggestions. I haven’t tried the water=based oils yet. I just bought lots of oil paints and was hopingto be able to use them. I’ve been trying to ventilate the room with fans it just doesn’t seem to be enough.
(RG note) Thanks, Gayle. My choice for a substitute is Poppy seed oil or one of the Alkyd oil-modified resins. Safflower oil is another good one. All three of these smell better than Linseed oil, are apparently less allergenic to most people, and are actually better media to paint with. Linseed oil is the Model T of media, classic, time-honored, but unreliable in the long term. Yellowing and cracking are two of its sins. Many artists have solved your problem by turning to water-based oils.
Take back your power
by Mary Chang
Control is releasing the control of expectations and recognizing some of the learned behavior patterns that our society has placed on us as a barometer to our success. Begin to question how we feel and does that work for us. We must take a position on our direction and that is ever changing to circumstance, condition and awareness.
We are often victims of the opinions and behavior of those in key position that we feel we need to move ahead. This can go on and on. It will rob us of our soul and thus the mind begins to function on the response of others’ responses. We become reactionary or defensive, shut down and stop functioning or half function with echoes and voices of other belief and opinions that may have nothing to do with us in the first place…
We must trust ourselves and move to understand that we can materialize our artistic and personal goals. If we look not to wait for someone to discover or save us we will begin to discover ourselves. The journey will vary from individual to individual. I believe it starts in our mind and follows through in our actions. There are peaks and valleys. Take your power back, take a position that you can be passionate about in every aspect of your life. This will develop the core of your spirit and that only you can feed.
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Take control by letting go
by Lynn Harrison, Toronto, ON, Canada
It seems to me that self-control sometimes involves a conscious letting go of “other-control.” I can’t control, for example, what others think, or what opportunities are out there, or what other artists may or may not be doing. I can, however, make that follow-up call, I can work in a disciplined way so that my songs are as meaningful as possible and I can refrain from whining. I can also appreciate and celebrate the beautiful controlled chaos (or is it chaotic control?) that is life experience. After all, it’s the stuff I can’t control, that I didn’t make happen, that most deeply inspires me and that brings a certain humility to the equation. By controlling what I can, I play my part.
View business as an art
by Karl Leitzel, Spring Mills, PA, USA
I am more convinced all the time that artistic talent and technical proficiency is only one piece of the puzzle in creating an art career that is self-sustaining, and thus allows the artist the time to reach their full potential. The other two pieces are embodied in your letter. The first is an artist’s ability to control their own work habits and creative explorations, getting the most out of their available time and energy without inhibiting free creative thought. The second is the “business” side of an art career. Many artists dislike this part intensely, and thus are bad at it before they even get started. I suggest this to struggling artists: View your art “business” as an artistic medium, to be explored with both creative zeal and an eye toward technical proficiency. If you can do this, you will learn to enjoy the business side immensely and will therefore do a far better job of it, and get to use parts of your brain that are hardly touched in creating your art.
Outlet for controlled rendering
by Douglas Sandland, Vancouver, BC, Canada
I am experiencing a kind of control that is at the same time demanding and rewarding. When mother passed away I was appointed executor. As such, one job was to go through her things and deal with them. In her attic I found an old suitcase full of Brownie Box Camera photos that she took of us kids growing up in Sumner, Washington.
Mom was very creative in her own way and, with great gusto, encouraged us to be creative also. I love her old photos and ultimately decided to take some of the 2 ½” x 4″ images, blow them up to an average 20″x 30″ and render them in graphite as close to her great photos as possible, including good or bad composition. It has been a wonderful nostalgic trip for me and definitely a labor of love.
However, after a time working with a very tight, controlled rendering that knows where it’s going from start to finish, I have to back off on occasion, grab a watercolor canvas or paper and cut loose. Starting with a rough idea, then try to chase the emotion rather than a more literal solution. It doesn’t matter if it’s successful. Or maybe do an abstract exercise. This is helping me enjoy the precise work much more.
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Art takes time and effort
by Cindy Revell, Sherwood Park, AB, Canada
I can’t count how many times I’ve heard the words, “It must be nice to sit around and play with art stuff all day,” or ‘But you’re self-employed, can’t you do it later?,” and on and on. They look at me in amazement just like they do when I tell them that art just doesn’t happen by magic, that it first takes practice to get good, then a lot of work, commitment, more practice, and business sense if you want it to be your career.
Some people seem quite surprised to hear that if artists are to make a good living we must spend time and money to promote ourselves, or that we have to learn the business side of art, or that there even is a business side. They generally don’t understand the need to practice since art making seems to be practically magical to them, and perhaps in some ways we want it to appear magical, and in some ways it is. I try to explain that I am not some kind of avant-garde personality artist making a noise or getting attention via my antics nor am I blessed with another form of income for which I do not have to work. Art and the business side of it IS my work and work takes time and so I can’t just take time off whenever I want. I can tell they don’t quite believe me.
Knowing when to exercise control
by Rick Rotante, Tujunga, CA, USA
I’ve been in many “committee” businesses in my life and understand not being in control. It is not a great place to be. My wife tells me I’m a controlling person and she is right. The “balance” you speak of is key here. It is because to be good you have to be able to lose control when necessary. Painting requires this duality from artists. Many of my better paintings were created when I let go some of the control I exercise in life.
Your web site is so valuable to me because it proves again and again that I’ve been on the right path. Even when I’ve disagreed with your contributors, it reinforces and strengthens my beliefs that I’m doing the right thing. This is the true benefit to this dialogue you provide. Teaching does the same thing. When you inform others, you also inform yourself.
by Karen Henninger
For many years, men have described the world as if their experience is universal. Your words about control speak about your experience. Not mine. It is important for me to share this understanding; that it needs to be recognized that your world is simply yours and framed by your gender, and it comes across as if you are unaware. (Internet is a limited way to communicate). When I speak to young creative women, as I just did this week, I clearly mark social location when I speak which gives them the space and recognition and knowledge they need early on to use what they got instead of setting it aside, which I didn’t get. I hope that you leave room in your mind and in your writing, especially for the sake of younger artists so that the ideas about creativity and control can be seen for much more than what you described… the many infinite ways they exist so that the dominance of creativity as ‘one way of being,’ that is simply false, can be eradicated. As a woman, the relationships I have to people in the world, to authorities and to my audience are determined by the social rules of how others are taught to perceive me and treat me ‘as a woman’ and it is mythical to believe that we don’t treat each other by category of person — of course we do in many, many ways. No matter how I try, I can not be treated differently until others recognize their own behaviors and beliefs and actions they carry when they interact with me. My way of being as well as my creative process and the issue of control is very much determined by both the early teachings that were part of my self-development as well as the circumstances I was and still am confined in by the category and social location.
Too many men, and women, have learned by example and teachings from the honored forefathers, but have yet to be taught the horrific limitations and errors that come with that and are unaware of what is missing. There is a denial about the unlearning that must be a part of what ‘didn’t’ change but people believe has changed. Men, art, creativity, power and control — it’s a subject that deserves much attention beyond what we can do on this limited technology.
Enjoy the past comments below for Control…
I have yet to allow myself evolve as I have just started to believe in my talents and I would love to be more in control but I just seem to move from one moment to the next and somehow things get done. Things I never had the courage to do before.
Re gender specific experiences – yes to all that you say here.
Having recently learned of the passing of my brother after 20 years of family trying to find him, I know that control is something we do not have. We have choice, but not control. I paint how I paint, and the outcome has already been written.
Try M. Graham paints. They are high in pigment, handle well and are made with walnut oil. They are available online or, here in Canada, at Curry’s.
As a woman artist, I find the “gender-specific” comment unintelligible and pointless, while Robert’s essay, as usual, is enlightening. To indict Robert because he presents “his point-of-view” and not anyone else’s begs the question of whose perspective should he present–a teenage girl’s, a rapper’s, an Eskimo’s? As a North American woman, I disagree that there are “horrific” limitations to our creativity. It’s too easy to blame “men.”
Art is our language. Through it we express the world as we see it and as we would like it to be. We come here from our own places — different countries, backgrounds, races, experiences and personalities — to tell our stories in a medium we all understand: line, form, colour, texture. This is the beauty of art — that we are all different and we are all the same. Thank you, Bob, for bringing us together!
Without self-contol there is not progress in any endeavor. Our society is increasingly on a path of thrill seeking and instant gratification. The real values of life are to be had in hard-won accomplishments that require charater and application. Otherwise there is little but depression and remorse, and the feeling that one has not taken part in the imperative of progress.
Maybe art should be left to those with “screaming talent.” But then again in today’s free for all, who would know who has it and who doesn’t? In a world where anything goes, promotion dominates and crap is king, it’s easy to get jaded about the business of trying to develop character and self control in order to gradually get good. I think I’ll go back to plumbing.
Nothing is crap until someone calls it crap.
If painting is in your soul then who cares what it looks like.
I think “screaming talent” should be left to surgeons.
Business is business; everything is business, a fact of life in today’s society.
Every generation is a free-for-all, many artists “pre-genius” were looked upon as insignificant, until someone didn’t call it crap.
In this age of spontaneity and unleashed artistic self-indulgence, I have difficulty convincing students of my mantra: the greater one’s control over the technical demands of one’s art, the greater one’s freedom of creative expression. I like to point to the example of guitarist Eric Clapton, who is capable of immediately playing any music that he hears in his head. Likewise, the artist who has control over his or her medium enjoys the luxury of being able to give concrete form to the pictures in their imagination and dreams.
A combat naval officer and a good one
A historian, quality left untested
An Artist, the door is open
A teacher, a good one
Married to a very successful businesswoman (former)
Around successful artists
I must say that the key to getting to the top is obsession. A bit of ruthlessness does not hurt. Only now, at age 70, am I starting to feel in control of more than what my hands eyes generate. One must keep space, integrity and time to WORK!!!
I peronally don’t think the article is saying anything of great value, or anything new, or even enlightening. Control and spontaneity. Obsession. There isn’t a magic formula.
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.
And also Jim Cowan of New Westminster, BC, Canada who wrote, “Reminds me of one of my favourite sayings Bob: Freedom is the luxury of having self-discipline. Wish I had more of it!”
And also Sara Gursky-Petitt who wrote, “Interesting piece. Definitely hit home.”
And also Antoinette Ledzian of Stonington, CT, USA who wrote, “Creating order from chaos is one of my favorite means of controlling my passion within.”
And also Jean DeMuzio of Madison, WI, USA who wrote, “My life flows when I’m in my art. I am learning to accept myself in my art and to let go of what I can’t control.”
Very nice, Mary.