Rudyard Kipling noted that if you don’t get what you want, it’s a sign either that you did not seriously want it, or that you tried to bargain over the price. For artists the price is very often merely exhaustion. Our business is not capital intensive. It’s creative intensive, and one does not wish, at any cost, to declare creative bankruptcy.
From time to time (sometimes we think it’s based on the phases of the moon), my inbox loads up with artists who see themselves bogged down in a swamp of indecision. At one stage or another we’ve all had our toes in this swamp. It’s part of the game we’re in. I’ve found it’s easier to handle my own indecision when I realize that our profession is nothing but a series of decisions which only we ourselves can make. Everything depends on it. The history of art depends on it. What brush? What pigment? What stroke? What subject? What size? What vision? What energy? What future? What life?
Several years ago I took part in an encounter group — grown men and women in fetal-position, whining their problems to their fellow humans. Very informative. An amazingly creative variety of personal victim-games. Among other privations we had to be caffeine-free for a week. One young woman cried that she could never make it without coffee — and for some reason she was given a special dispensation. I went along with the flow. Emerging a wiser and a better man at the end of this mind-bending ordeal I decided to try a private test of character. You might try it too. In the morning, dopey from dreamland, before I had my coffee, I simply started holding my brush in my hand. That’s not a toothbrush, either. Squeeze out the paint. Start work. Impossible, you say? Just try it. You’ll be surprised. When you’re still working at seven, eight, nine AM, coffeeless, even unbreakfasted, you’ll be amazed with your facility, energy and vision. In your monk-like purity you’ll notice a new level of creative intensity. You may even hear yourself saying: “I will not allow myself to become victimized by my minor habits.” It depends on what’s important, doesn’t it?
PS: “We weary as much of not doing the things we want to do as of doing the things we do not want to do.” (Eric Hoffer)
Esoterica: As artist you are both head-office and factory-floor. Project-to-project thinking is the basis of success. The project manager sees the potential, identifies the plan, understands the hazards, works out the ways and means, picks up the tools and does the job. There’s only one catch. In the words of Frank Kingdon: “Make sure you want it enough.”
The following are selected responses to the above and other letters. Thank you for writing.
Out of coffee
by Jennifer Garant, Naramata, BC, Canada
As an artist, it is true that our day is 100 percent decision making, which I find is why I get so incensed when I have to make other decisions. It may not be the fact that one has forgone their coffee that heightens pure creativity, but in talking to one’s creative sense it may be the fact that it has been put first on a pedestal. I am a true believer that we can talk to our creativity and it listens. I have been rising at 4:30am for the last 6 years. This has been a gift to my creativity. No-one knocking on my door, no phone or fax going. As a matter of fact it is just myself and my creativity, alone to make decisions, until the rest of the world rises, and wouldn’t you know it I am out of coffee this morning!
by C. C. Abernathy, Ashland, Oregon, USA
Decision making is the crux of artistic creation, as of so much else in life. And perhaps creative dry spells are a form of decision burnout. As for breaking minor habits in order to create more freely, I’m often plagued by my lack of any regular habits to break, and am trying to establish some which might regularize my artistic output, instead of leaving it to the vagaries of inspiration.
Artistic allergies alleviated
by Faith Puelston, Wetter, Germany
My daughter arrived bearing books about illness being the secret to many of life’s problems. I shouldn’t have told her about my hay-fever, as she always interprets everything in relation to fate and even nemesis. April is a bad month for allergies and the early warm weather is for me a catastrophe. But I don’t think of my allergies as illness, so logically, I shouldn’t be regarding periodic lackluster work as fatal to the “artistic” cause, which I suppose is, in the end, self-realization. From tomorrow I shall be right in there armed to the teeth with paintbrushes and certainly not waiting for some kind of inspiration to fall into my lap. It’ll be all perspiration in future… well, 99%. Why did it take me so long to work that one out?
Time excuse less valid
by Mary Jean Mailloux, Oakville, Ontario, Canada
Countless days and hours I go around doing everything but paint because it needs to be done (or am I just using that as an excuse) meanwhile I’ve done the painting in my head 10 times. When I finally give myself the time to paint the impetus for that painting or idea, it’s gone. It can’t be retrieved like finding a lost sock. I moved my work upstairs to the dining room for the last two weeks and painted 6 miniatures. I can do one in an hour or two. I found it easier to be inspired even though the light isn’t consistent. My subject matter was at hand and I just painted and cleaned up. Doing the set up and clean up repeatedly made it easier and easier. The time excuse is becoming less and less valid.
Painting party pooper
by Maureen West
Try this one. You come into the house after having an evening of drinking and dancing and as you walk in the door at 2 a.m you go directly to your studio and do some finishing touches on a painting already in progress. Now that takes stamina!
by Annette Waterbeek, Maple Ridge, BC, Canada
I went on the factory floor this morning and discovered my bike handles make a good easel. All my thumb-nailing the last little while has paid off in the way I look at the landscape. Looking at dynamic symmetry, trying to figure out summation, looking at calmness and what makes the noise happen in the landscape. With regard to creative bankruptcy I cannot even imagine this, my creative bank is just bursting, it is just a matter of settling down to one project and not jumping around until one is complete.
Stuff we can’t do?
by Diane Voyentzie, Connecticut, USA
“We weary as much of not doing the things we want to do as of doing the things we do not want to do.” (Eric Hoffer) You (and Hoffer) could be right about this. But there are things in life that we would like and want to do that we, for whatever reason, cannot do. The answer, I believe, is for the moment, whatever is the moment, (excuse the phrase), “Suck it up.” This covers much.
Creative cells cancelled
by Bev Wolsey
I have just read your caffeine free exercise and probably could benefit from something like this. Being a responsible wife and mother, I rise early and have that coffee to get my sluggish body moving. I then begin my breakfast, bed-making, cleaning one drawer a day, a little work in the greenhouse and we must not forget the 5km bike, then when all this is done at 11:00 as a reward for being a good girl I go and paint. I realize now that whatever creative brain cells I did have are exhausted from my organized routine. I think I will try your method and arise at 6:30, stagger out the hall, trip over the dogs, feel my way to the upstairs painting area and try to squeeze out some paint. Being a disciplined painter, now what will I do with this paint I have squeezed all over the table? This is where I need practice but I think I will try it as long as I can before my husband calls for the white wagon.
The following are a few more of the 360 or so entries that have come in since the contest was announced. They are not necessarily finalists in the “Free Painting Workshop in Brittany with Robert Genn” contest.
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 97 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2002.