Yesterday, Sara McManigle of Luverne, ND, asked, “How does an artist maintain the energy levels, motivation, and passion to realize her dreams? As hard as I try, I still get bogged down by others’ condescension, the financial aspects, and time management. How do you keep the fire burning when you’re so fizzled out?”
Thanks, Sara. Artists need to be self-sustaining, private, “follow-your-bliss” islands unto themselves. Self-directed and independent, they make their own fizz. But artists need to realize that there are more than a few ways to become enthusiastic and motivated. One size does not fit all. Not surprisingly, artists with obsessive-compulsive tendencies and an addiction to work appear to be the keeners.
One way to understand motivation is to look at the symbols represented by the things we do. A passion for kayaking, for example, might represent a desire for freedom or escape. That of dancing, for romance and love. Among other things, painting can represent a desire to re-order the universe or simply to fill the beauty gap. Nothing wrong with those. These passions, whether intrinsic or learned, are integral parts of our natures and need to be honoured. When we begin to understand our symbols, we can get on with the more mechanistic of the ploys — head down, focus, shutout or postponement of impedimenta, pump priming, multitasking and the wisdom of time-management.
Furthermore, amateurs have a wisdom that professionals know not of. One can learn from amateurs. Successful self-motivators at any level are able to regularly return to their beginner-minds and rekindle earlier enthusiasms. Never underestimate your inner kid.
Artists also need to be aware of their personal blockers — people, places and things — and be prepared to substitute positive over negative. Without trashing the wonderful mothers of our world, a frequently reported situation is the demanding, impossible-to-please mother who derails daughters and sons. Oh yeah, dads can do it to you too. Critical, failed, or bitter themselves, they are the kernel of a rolling, generational snowball that is difficult to stop. Stealthily and unwittingly a keen edge becomes dull and jaded. Artists so afflicted need to give thought to re-sharpening with alternate role models.
PS: “If you can give your child only one gift, let it be enthusiasm.” (Bruce Barton)
Esoterica: From my perspective, every situation, every human being, is unique. While the loving input of true friends is certainly valuable, more than anything, each artist needs to work out private ploys that beat back the unique bugaboos. I appreciate this is not always easy, as circumstances can run powerful interference. But if I didn’t know it can be done, is being done, and will be done, I wouldn’t be tapping on this laptop. The word is “character.” Character is built, not granted.
Tom Thomson paintings
Breathe in the joy
by Gwen Fox, Colorado Springs, CO, USA
Oh, how we all know of the condescension of others… those patronizing attitudes that take us back to the playground in grade school. It is this shift in energy that moves us from a place of confidence to a place of insecurity. Not a fun place to be. Surrounding ourselves with those who support and believe in our visual viewpoint is crucial for an artist. We put our art out for others to see like laundry on the line. We expose ourselves to the core. It takes great courage to be an artist. Remember, when people are condescending to others they are merely showing that insecure part of themselves they wish to hide. So many artists forget the beginners mind philosophy. This is all-important for artists as this allows ideas to percolate without judgment of what is right or wrong. This allows us to paint from knowledge while presenting a fresh perspective on a subject or technique. Each day in the life of an artist is new and exciting. Breathe in the love of life, the knowledge that today you have the freedom to paint and create… breathe in the joy of being an artist.
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Creativity begets creativity
by Sandra Bos, Cookeville, TN, USA
I used to have tons of this stuff, enthusiasm, but I now have to work harder to try and keep the magic happening. I was told by my teacher not to judge while in the process of creating, and to remember the ‘genie in the bottle’ seems to click in if we can remember to love what we do and to trust the process. Creativity begets Creativity. Thinking about painting is a lot harder than actually doing it, but when I freeze up and worry too much, I forget that and have to go back to the drawing board and pull myself up, brush myself off, and start all over again. But then, I really don’t have any other options, since I love to paint and create. It’s what I do, and my feet never hit the floor in the morning when I don’t think about it and, most days (Robert’s advice), I’m “squeezing out” before my coffee gets cold.
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Paint well and often
by Linda Blondheim, Gainesville, FL, USA
I had an epiphany a few years ago as a professional artist. I woke up one day and realized that none of the trappings of being an important artist mattered any more. The one-upmanship, the jockeying for position, the resume building, making sure I was in the right gallery, were all so unnecessary to my success. All I really had to do was paint as well and as much as I could. That’s really all I ever wanted to do anyway. I have survived in this economy because I avoid the negativity and the politics of art and my passion for my work is ever stronger as a result.
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Plugging along for joy
by Nina Allen Freeman, Tallahassee, FL, USA
I don’t know of any other profession where friends and family feel as free to tell you how to do your job as they do to an artist. It is very difficult to continue working on the route you know is the way you should go when people are telling you, “Why do you do this; you are not making any money?” or “You should paint beach scenes, they are selling.” I have simply continued to plug along trying to be the best that I am able to be and knowing that people will buy good art regardless of the subject. I know I am right about this, even though they buy bad art too. I also have remained active in local art organizations and close to artist friends. These relationships are invaluable help to maintain my focus. Whenever I am down or discouraged I call or go by the studio of a friend and enjoy a spirited conversation about art and I am again enthusiastic about working.
Right now, my focus is distracted by a garage that needs cleaning out and a yard that needs attention, but I am determined to be in the studio this morning.
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Dealing with resistance
by Dennis Marshall, Paterson, NJ, USA
I have found that I am the one that blocks myself from painting. Robert Pressfield in his book, The War of Art — Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles points out that the secret that writers know is that writing isn’t the hard part, it is sitting down to write. He points out that what prevents writers from working is called Resistance. I am learning what my Resistance is and while it is difficult to overcome I will try to do so. The only way to paint is to paint. Everything else is secondary. I know that the business fairy will not sprinkle magic dust and then I will have a gallery and sales. Yet while painting artists have to literally close out the “noise” that surrounds them. Audrey Flack in her book Art and Soul has a wonderful quote on page 15 from a talk with Philip Guston. It is titled Studio Ghosts- “When you’re in the studio, there are a lot of people in there with you. Your teachers, friends, painters from history, critics… and, one by one if you’re really painting, they walk out. And if you are really painting YOU walk out. I paint mostly landscapes and if I were to keep dwelling on the very serious environmental problems I may never pick up a paint brush. Hopefully one of these days while I am painting in the studio I will walk out.
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Summoning the greats of the past
by Ron Elstad, Anaheim, CA, USA
The one constant that helps me most, and always has, is by visually drawing off the energy from the images and live art of the work produced by the master painters of the past, yes, the dead guys. The ones who invented the wheel… so to speak. These are the artists I highly admire. I’m continually viewing and studying their works, whether in a gallery, museum, video or book. For some reason this creates a profound amount of energy for me. It gives me the need and power to imagine myself creating similar paintings of this quality. So much so, that when I set down in front of my easel, without thinking, I begin to paint. I feel this energy flow from my soul directly to the canvas. This helps me to bring about that proverbial, in the groove, moment. This may sound a bit farfetched, but for me it is an actual phenomenon. However, for one to possibly ever experience this one has to already possess an innate need and love to paint, to live and breathe it. This one way I speak of only helps by bringing out and igniting the dormant presents already existing within.
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Being stubborn and driven
by Paul deMarrais, TN, USA
Some people are not cut out to be artists as others are not cut out to be actors, mothers or hair stylists. Each of us has unique gifts and a ‘highest level’ area where perhaps our gifts can find their best nesting place. Motivations start at a young age. Perhaps it is our parents or peers that reward us with praise and start the first spark of the passion needed to excel. Passion is a complicated business that is difficult to achieve and maintain. There are legions of enemies that seek to squelch passion and many are very effective. Parents, friends, hormones, families, spouses can be passion robbers. Artists need to stand vigilant to guard their passions and motivations. In the end, successful artists are very stubborn, driven individuals. Their art becomes enmeshed in their personal fabric. They NEED to do art. It fulfills, enriches, motivates, satisfies. If you need to ask about how to go about having the passion to create, you are not likely to follow this field long. You will never find answers from others that will make you jump out of a plane, or invent something or paint a stack of paintings. You are alone. You must be your own psychiatrist, counselor and personal trainer. It’s up to you!
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The subtle pressure of shows
by Edward Abela, Markham, ON, Canada
A practical way to remain motivated is always having a number of shows planned ahead. This gives you a target and an incentive to work towards. Preferably at least one ‘one-man’ show each year at a venue where you are obliged to show some new work each time.
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Adverse times inspire
by Suzanne Partridge, UK
I try to accept whatever I do. I have to realize that what I do is always the best I could have done. Any dissatisfaction I feel with a piece of work is transferred to the next painting, where it will get dealt with, other problems will then arise, ready for the next painting, and so it goes. I love and hate what I do in equal measure. When galleries, or competitions, say no, this gives me the impetus I need to carry on. I work to please myself. I motivate myself because I need to see new things, and to be surprised by what I do. This is the worst year I have known since I graduated in 1998. Galleries are closing and I don’t, as yet, have an exhibition lined up for next year. This hasn’t stopped me. I have to find new ways of expressing my need to be an artist.
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Finding your fizz
by Mark Sharp, Invermere, BC, Canada
Paint a picture in the Dark.
Paint a picture in a mirror.
Paint a picture with your finger.
Paint a picture upside down.
Paint a picture with a brush too big.
Paint a picture eating wasabi. Make it quick!
Paint a picture where you would have never.
Hope you find your Fizz!
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Avoiding the abyss
by Trish Booth, Cordova, NM, USA
An hour a day in your studio or your journal. The world and its chores will take over if you let them. Carve out a certain space, a certain time for you. Make it a habit. It will grow to become part of your routine and it will grow beyond that as a matter of course and you and your work will grow with it. Plant the seed you need and water it every day.
If it means your kids take one less lesson, fine. They have a lifetime of lessons ahead and probably really need some time to just play. You MUST take care of your needs in order to take good care of theirs. Neglecting yourself for others, even your children, will only create a downward, resentful, spiral. Don’t fall into that abyss. Shine.
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Permission to fail
by Marleen Goff, Sacramento, CA, USA
As a psychotherapist, in practice for over 25 years and now an artist, in spirit, for forever, I couldn’t have given more wise, sacred or practical advice than you gave in your letter to those of us who “aspire.” It is truly refreshing to read your words of simple recipe and know that, somewhere out there, teachers, advisors and mentors are telling us the very best stuff with which to “be.” Being is not an easy practice and leads us to the most profound discoveries of “us” than we can imagine. I would add to this formula, give yourself permission to “fail.” For whatever this means to each of us, individually, this is an important part of the process. And, as I have recently discovered, art, like therapy and life, is a process! So, “pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again.”
Mirror, heroes and twins
by Judith Madsen
I just bought Anne Paris’ book Standing at Water’s Edge. She is a clinical psychologist (25 years) who specializes in helping artists and other creative people reach their potential. Rather than presenting the creation of art as a lonely, solitary endeavour, she shows how the relationships with others are actually crucial to creativity. She reveals a unique model of “mirrors, heroes, and twins” to explore the key relationships that support creativity. Exactly as you said in your letter in the last paragraph — we must learn to substitute positive over negative. Your letters to artists accomplish the role of all three above, mirror, heroes and twins…
Thank you for your passion for philosophy and because you are an artist — sharing this with your fellow artists with your special use of the English language (clarity, conciseness, kernels, brevity, humour, subtlety, motivation, challenges) which is another gift you have.
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3D digital painting
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 Marie Lyon of Summerside, PEI, Canada, who wrote, “May I suggest The Perfect Mess by Eric Abrahamson and David H. Freedman. It’s about the hidden benefits of disorders and their value to brain-storming, lateral thinking, etc., all beneficial to a creative artist.”
And also Cyndie Katz of Morelia, Michoacan, Mexico, who wrote, “The best advice I ever had was to buy Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. Through her exercises, I (and thousands of other artists) learned to put the proper emphasis on my art and my own creative visions. I really don’t think I’d have the discipline or confidence I have today without having used her book.
And also Janee Ward of Crosby, TX, USA, who wrote, “When I read your subject I immediately thought it was about Irish keening — the sad lamentations or ullaloo at the wake or funeral. Keening is performed by Keeners, women who are trained in this art. Sadly, this ancient practice is dying out. I didn’t see the connection to art right away but knowing you I figured there would be one. Then I read on and realized that it had nothing to do with a high pitched wailing.”
And also Kim Rushing of Seattle, WA, USA, who wrote, “Every moment moves me toward having no moments left, and full of emotion and ideas to express; it’s off to art class I go!”
And also Susan Knight Smith of Powder Springs, GA, USA, who wrote, “My energy comes from my desire to create an alternate role model for my relationship with my mother. I am obsessed with creating lovely images of mothers nurturing and babies and the mother/ baby connection.”
And also Andrew Bray who wrote, “Alternate role model? You. I don’t know how you regularly write such well-articulated, no-nonsense, yet inspirational letters. Thank-you.”
Enjoy the past comments below for The private lives of keeners…