Embrace resistance


Dear Artist,

In my last letter, one of Joseph Michelli’s five principles, “Embrace resistance,” aroused an unusual amount of curiosity. Francis Stillwell of Corvallis, Oregon asked, “Does this mean the stumbling block that’s outside of you, or is it something inside?”

Thanks, Francis. A bit of both. Let’s take a look at external resistance first. While you can’t make generalizations about artists — I’ve never met one who’s the same as the next — it’s pretty obvious that many artists are non-confrontational. But while they may be sensitive, they need not be passive. It all starts with the understanding that every creative person is surrounded by a variety of other personality types. For the artist who would thrive and build a dream, here are a few ideas to think about:

Share the joy of your gift.
Seek honest evaluation from authoritative sources.
Understand that divergent opinions deserve study.
Find and nurture symbiotic friendships.
Delegate to others with wisdom and delicacy.
Build self-confidence through personal processes.
Keep a foot in the real world.

Understanding the motivations of others as well as yourself is the precursor to personal and appropriate creative action. Early on in my own career I came to admire the work of artists who were simply curious and open-minded. Getting to know the artists themselves, I discovered that their humility toward their art was the true carrier of their creative powers. Humility builds excellence and lowers resistance.

Regarding internal resistance, every creative person is surrounded by a “wall of capability.” Some of us live in a broad room. Others go to work in something about the size of a French elevator. To be true to the greater purpose of art, we must always be pushing against the resistance of our individual walls — no matter how confining or generous they may happen to be. And while every one of us is in some way handicapped, we become greater artists when we realize that it’s the pushing that makes it all worthwhile.

Evolved artists overcome disappointments by replacing them with nobler challenges of their own making.

Best regards,


PS: “Selecting a challenge and meeting it creates a sense of self-empowerment that becomes the ground for further successful challenges.” (Julia Cameron)

Esoterica: “Embrace resistance” can play itself out a thousand times in any studio day. The creator is prone to weakness, error, ignorance and laziness. Living within that same creator is a higher being capable of overcoming and excelling. Extracting the higher being requires will, desire and application. Those who might paint the moon must ask the “what” and “why” of the moon. Not just the pale ball of memory or the smiling face of fable. As every child soon learns, there’s more to the moon than meets the eye. And that goes for the sun, and sunflowers, and a million other items of interest that have somehow been sent to give us challenge.


‘What you resist, you become’
by Helen Opie, Granville Ferry, NS, Canada

Another possible interpretation of “Embrace resistance” is that Chinese proverb, “What you resist you become.” If you spend a lot of time resisting those views or advisors or critics you do not care to follow, you become like them in that you are likely to become rigid about maintaining who you think you are.

Let go of resisting, and you allow yourself to become who you really are… which is far better and far more “yourself” than any persona or art style you might imagine. We are all unique from our very start, so there’s no need to worry about becoming unique, only about becoming oneself.


‘What you resist persists’
by Linda Saccoccio, Santa Barbara, CA, USA


“Intervals#1 Humanity”
oil painting 34 x 47 inches
by Linda Saccoccio

Resistance is necessary, like the wall we can push on to see where we’re at. It is not that we are stopped or inhibited by it, but rather we are given the opportunity to see where we are abiding and hopefully seek to stretch beyond the resistance. It is said that the resistance we meet in the world is rooted in our internal resistance. If this is true, then ultimately we have the ability to overcome rigid resistance in the outer world when we find ways to create more play and flexibility in our inner world. I see resistance as a helpful tool. It is not that it is comfortable, it is provocative and urges me out of the old comfort zone to attempt a new path in creativity in art and meeting the world of art. It is the mirror I am not always interested in looking at, but will haunt me until I do. This haunting reflection is benevolent regardless of the struggles it encourages me to face. As they say, “What you resist persists,” it is a choice.


Unseen challenges and struggles
by Barbara Gamble, Ottawa, ON, Canada


oil and wax on canvas 18 x 24 inches
by Barbara Gamble

Students and those interested in my work are always surprised to hear me talk about challenges and struggles when I speak about my studio experience — they don’t see it in my finished paintings. I try to resolve my studio angst within the painting process and somehow it gets worked out by the time a painting is finished. My job is to just keep working at each piece until it is done. There are a number of narrow twists and turns to navigate and a few boulders to squeeze by every day in my studio. Some days are harder than others, but most of the time I am honoured to be on this path with fellow travellers.


Shows and receptions build confidence
by Brad Greek, Mary Esther, FL, USA


oil painting
by Brad Greek

I believe that one of the best ways to accomplish everything on your list to build self-confidence can be achieved by entering shows and attending their receptions. This gives you the opportunity to view your work with others as well as talk with other artists – both sharing their directions, approaches, inspirations, etc. Most of the time you won’t get a very harsh critique when you are face to face with the critic, but if it’s a juried show, the juror sort of tells you how they view the show by the placement of the awards. Which is something else you have to get used to. At the end of the day, you still just have to create, no matter how everyone feels about it, including yourself.


Resistance holds the jewel
by Ariane Goodwin, Millers Falls , MA, USA

What’s striking to me is the paradox inherent in “embrace resistance.” Since paradox is often a driving force behind creative innovation, this directive may simply be a practical underpinning to grease our creative skids. Or, on the emotional level, since resistance appears unfriendly and implacable, while embrace radiates connection, we might ask ourselves: “When we put our arms around that which is unfriendly, what’s likely to happen?” Could it be that resistance is some part of ourselves that we have dismissed or dissed…some part that is trying to get our attention by putting the brakes on a particular direction another part of us has decided to head? Or could it be that resistance holds a jewel in its closed fist that melts open when we embrace it, when we befriend the scowl with a kind, attentive heart. And, most important, what new and unimagined creative horizons might we cross with resistance by our sides?


Resistance is always inside
by Jeffrey Hessing, Nice, France


Rolling Hills
oil painting, 64 x 51 inches
by Jeffrey Hessing

This resistance question seems to come up repeatedly in different forms — Life presents us with a multitude of varying circumstances, sometimes challenging, sometimes not so. The challenging ones are often the best, the most enriching and growth producing. The “resistance” to those circumstances is inside, always. We make the choice to be in resistance or acceptance. Picasso said, “If you have five elements available use only four. If you have four elements use three.” When we push against our limitations, creativity begins.


Law of numbers
by Georgeana Ireland, Irvine, CA, USA


Georgeana Ireland

Yesterday I opened a letter from a juried show and I did not make it in. My response… “Next.” I do not understand how I can win awards at some shows and be selected to create monumental works and at the same time not make into other shows. I let the slight be small even though it happens all of the time. Like anything, I take it as a law of numbers… I have no idea what they were looking for, who I was competing against, and the taste of the juror. I choose to be as Babe Ruth, with the most home runs and the most strike outs at the same time. I see my career goals and achievements as a snow ball, and each small step the ball gets bigger. All I can do is keep growing as an artist and keep knocking on doors… and someday my chance will come.


Critics inside and out
by Janet Toney, Greeneville, TN, USA


“Coffee Break”
acrylic painting
by Janet Toney

My resistances are both inside and out. Inside is my self-confidence and the inner voice that says, “No one else really cares, so why do you?” Outside it’s the people who try to encourage but don’t really mean what they say. They’re the worst, and they are usually my relatives. I love them for trying but it doesn’t help me feel confident. Oddly enough, I embrace resistance better when people are the most rude. That’s when my “I’ll-show-you!” kicks in! It’s very satisfying to convince one of the critics. Sometimes that critic is that inner voice and I get it to shut up, at least for awhile. One of the most encouraging people of late has been a woman who is showing my work. All she says when I ask her if she likes something I’ve just sent her is this, “I love it! Paint!” I love her! She helps me use my “I’ll-show-you!” on my inner voice!


No wasted energy
by Jeanne Long, Minneapolis, MN, USA


“The Arboretum”
watercolor painting
by Jeanne Long

Embracing resistance has another component. Whenever anyone starts to do something unfamiliar, they usually discover some form of resistance that they had not anticipated. The resistance may come from the outside or the inside, as you stated, i.e., not enough cash, not enough understanding, negative opinion, etc., and the most common reactions are to resent that resistance, attack that resistance, or simply feel bad about the now apparent obstacles and give up. Embracing resistance is different. You see the obstacles as merely facts rather than personal attacks on you. When you see the facts as simply facts, there isn’t a drain on your emotions. You merely examine each resistance and find a way to circumvent it or, at the very least, formulate a plan for future circumnavigation. The main thing is because you haven’t wasted a lot of energy on anger and fear and sadness, but you have had a friendly attitude toward the dilemma, you have more energy with which to solve the problem.


Teaching to the highest
by Toni Ciserella, Marysvale, UT, USA

Resistance is elementary — it’s something each human learns from birth. A great teacher once said that she teaches to the “highest common denominator” not the lowest. The reason being is that the lowest doesn’t create resistance or challenge — everyone can do it easily. Teaching to the highest encourages people to challenge themselves and learn how to overcome resistance. It makes them stronger, smarter, more agile, aware, lucid, flexible, creative people. Let’s challenge one another and hear more about how people overcame resistance. Creative folk are just that — we are artists because of resistance. We face it every day. Everyday I resist the temptation to throw in the towel and sell every art supply I own. Right now I’m resisting the urge to say what’s really on my mind and instead I’m editing frequently. I get resistance from the paint I use, the support I work on, hours in a day, weather, and on and on. It comes down to what your momma told you: “If you want something bad enough… you won’t let anything stand in your way.” Creative folk find the most ingenious ways to overcome resistance and thus are the most rewarded.


Some hopeless things
by Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki, Port Moody, BC, Canada


acrylic painting, 24 x 18 inches
by Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki

At art school it became apparent to me that you learn faster by being confronted with your mistakes and illusions. Small, warm and comfy places tend to get stinky so we need to go out for fresh air. You run out quicker when someone rattles your cage. Sometimes it’s hard to see the world for what it really is, but an occasional peek is invaluable. Here are some hopeless things to watch out for:

— paintings of subjects of which the artist is ignorant
— selling paintings where there are no (or no right type of) art collectors
— selling art classes to people with superior skills
— taking art classes from people with inferior skills
— taking art classes from people who are just after your money
— taking too many classes
— avoiding studio time
— seeking an art career with a portfolio of 2 paintings
— selling paintings of dolphins (and other animals) with human faces (smiling at you)
— trying to fool the collectors — i.e. framing a 5″x 7″ into a large frame and selling with a large painting price
— painting with inferior materials
— putting your art on hold until you are financially secure
— putting your finances on hold until you are a successful artist


Accounting Software
by Joy Skinner, Brandon, MB, Canada

I was wondering if you would share with me what accounting software is available for artists? I need a software that tracks inventory, sales, limited editions, and will do statements. I thank you for any ideas.

(Andrew Niculescu note) Thanks, Joy. There are several solutions available, the right one depends on the individual needs of every artist or gallery. A spreadsheet properly setup could handle basic recording and reporting needs. For existing applications just Google: art gallery management software; you should also look into accounting tools that are not labelled “for artists or art galleries.” As a last resort, to ensure you have a system tailored to your needs, a custom solution could be developed.





Sky’s the Limit

oil painting
by Jean Ives, Victoria, BC, Canada


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 Kelly Borsheim of Cedar Creek, TX, USA who wrote, “This is one of your better letters. I enjoyed it immensely – and find it inspiring as I work in Firenze, Italia. Ciao bello.

And also JoAnn Clayton Townsend who wrote, “Every time I go to Starbucks they have messed up either with my order or with the quality (e.g., giving me 3/4 skim milk and 1/4 coffee, not very warm… granted, with a trainee). Normally, I very much enjoy your thoughts.”

And also Mikolean Morgan Longacre of Fernandina Beach, FL, USA who wrote, “One of the great art successes of our time, Dean Morgan, refused to embrace victimhood or wallow in self-pity in spite of incredible odds.”

And also Ed Howes who wrote, “Ask what opportunity is hiding in this resistance or obstacle. Sometimes the answer is no more than to take a break. Another time it can be the opportunity of a lifetime. An artist needs to form the habit of asking and answering the question.”

And also M. Frances Stilwell of Corvallis, Oregon, who wrote, “Obstacles create a sink-or-swim situation that gives an opportunity to discover something more that you can do or have inside, or be a channel to.”

And also Melissa Whibley of Adelaide, South Australia who asked, “Do you believe one can be taught to be an artist, or is it a totally natural talent?” (RG note) Thanks Melissa. Art is difficult to teach, but techniques can be learned, particularly if the teacher is yourself. What passes as talent is often merely the capacity for taking pains.



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