Finding confidence

11

Dear Artist,

When asked how an artist finds her voice, writer Roxane Gay says it’s not something that you really find. “It’s something that’s in you and you allow to emerge,” she says. “Oftentimes people go looking here or looking there, instead of just recognizing that they already have the voice, and they just need to use it.”

Groovin High (1986), acrylic on canvas, tie-dyed, pieced fabric border, 56 x 92 inches by Faith Ringgold

Groovin High, 1986
acrylic on canvas, tie-dyed, pieced fabric border, 56 x 92 inches
by Faith Ringgold (b.1930)

Gay also says that it’s not worth waiting for confidence to begin. “If I was waiting for confidence to write,” she says, “I’d still be waiting.” Confidence, it seems, is the least deciding factor in whether or not we make art, for creative invention does not require certainty. For artists, “confidence” might be the simple assurance that what we have to say is of value. Without experience or confidence, we begin anyway. And so, what is our beginning based upon?

 

Tar Beach #2, 1990. Silkscreen on silk, 60 x 90 inches by Faith Ringgold

Tar Beach #2, 1990
Silkscreen on silk, 60 x 90 inches
by Faith Ringgold

Alone in our room, without certainty, we must rely on our compulsion to tell the story, tapping our drive and curiosity to see the result of our efforts. In painting, this often looks like material inquiry — learning how to do something by doing it. Some artists can jump-start the process by observing similar stories told in the world, to add to, expand upon, mimic, reinvent or improve upon their own creative work. Other artists must cut a new path, because their like-stories have been submerged. The chance to bring the hidden out of the shadows is a valuable creative opportunity. “Human potential is the same for all,” wrote the Dalai Lama. “Your feeling, ‘I am of no value,’ is wrong, absolutely wrong. You are deceiving yourself.”

Jo Baker's Birthday (1993), acrylic on canvas with pieced fabric border, 73 x 78 inches by Faith Ringgold

Jo Baker’s Birthday, 1993
acrylic on canvas with pieced fabric border,
73 x 78 inches
by Faith Ringgold

Sincerely,

Sara

PS: “When you can’t find someone to follow, you have to find a way to lead by example.” (Roxane Gay, from Bad Feminist: Essays)

“I decided to accept as true my own thinking.” (Georgia O’Keeffe)

Esoterica: Roxane Gay was born in 1974 in Omaha, Nebraska to a family of Haitian decent. After surviving a sexual assault at age 12, she retreated to a world of reading and writing. Much of Gay’s work deals with the inquiry and exploration of her personal experiences. Her themes include adolescence, television, relationships, writing, American culture, gender, family, sexuality, race, shame and the body. Of confidence, Gay says, “It’s never going to come necessarily. But you have to write anyway.” “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear.” (Franklin D. Roosevelt)

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Faith Ringgold in her studio, 1969

“We read to find life, in all its possibilities.” (Roxane Gay

“You can’t sit around and wait for somebody to say who you are. You need to write it and paint it and do it.” (Faith Ringgold)

 

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11 Comments

  1. While I’ve spent almost 40 years leaning the making, and almost 60 years learning the history and appreciation, I am still humbled by the near retiree who picks up a brush and in a short time produces very fine work. Humbled by the artistic capacities of such people, I am still celebrating the fact that I love it.

    • this is a beautiful and inspiring piece…….and when we lived in Vancouver, I painted at Saltspring,
      and Robert Genn generously taught there. This family, the Genns, has given us all so many
      precious gifts. thank you!

  2. Agnes Caldwell on

    This letter is a standout, Sara. I will be re-reading it often. I will also be looking up Roxane Gay’s “Bad Feminist: Essays”, as she is clearly a person worth reading . Thank you so much for taking the time from your own work to do these letters. They really do seem like “keys” that open many doors in the mind.

  3. “Finding your voice” is a phrase that’s echoed lots of times among artist types…especially those who hold art workshops or write articles about art. I agree with Roxane Gay that one’s voice “is in you” and that you only need to let it emerge.

  4. Brooklyn Whitney on

    I’ve been struggling a lot with confidence in my art and creativity, so I absolutely loved this post! How do you personally create your voice in your letters?

  5. Go out to the countryside, take a walk in nature.
    When all the background noise, of daily responsibilities and city living, are removed, then what remains is your voice.

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Come and paint with me in Lucca, Italy, May 2019!!

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https://painterskeys.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/peter-hobden_moment-wpcf_300x240.jpgWaiting Moment
oil on canvas
54 x 40 cm
2010

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