“Pride,” said Alexander Pope, “is the never-failing vice of fools.” This certainly applies when we kid ourselves that something we’ve done poorly is somehow worthy. Fact is, pride’s always suspect, even dangerous. Religions warn against it. Along with envy, gluttony, lust, anger, greed and sloth, pride is one of the Seven Deadly Sins.
But I’m calling it “true pride” here, and I think it’s good stuff. A sense of pride is one of the finer arts that we need to learn. We need shots of pride when we enter our work place, when we handle our tools, as we proceed in our processes, and when our projects are drawing to a close. Here are a few ideas for the care and maintenance of pride:
Develop professional, workmanlike habits.
Build joy into your working hours.
Take care, be patient, raise standards.
Organize for efficiency and creative flow.
Know that unrest is part of the program.
Gain power from learning and knowledge.
Demand artistic truth and integrity.
Be in love with your own intuition.
In humility, find your divinity within.
Sign with eternity in mind.
Every creator, to a varying degree, has what I call an “intrinsic passion.” It’s an exhilarating state that can easily be deflected by obligation, expectation, guilt and other factors. Unless one’s passion is somewhat followed, no number of mechanical motivators will work very well–and scant satisfaction will occur. But satisfaction is not the same as pride. It’s actually dissatisfaction that leads to higher accomplishments and true pride. Here, I’m talking about the well-being of the living, breathing artist.
Feeling he lacked integrity is what propelled Mark Rothko into his last miserable years of depression, drink and suicide. Appalled by the high prices his work was achieving and by the seeming simplicity and repetition of his dealer-motivated style, he angrily fussed over minor measurements and innocent slights — masking his lack of pride and diminishing self-esteem. The same could be said of Vincent, who put all of his prideful optimism into anticipation and had the additional burden of perceived personal failure.
PS: “No artist is pleased. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.” (Martha Graham)
Esoterica: If you ever doubted the grace of pride, you should see a movie called Born into Brothels. It’s a tribute to the resiliency of childhood and the restorative power of art–a portrait of several unforgettable children who live in the red-light district of Calcutta, where their mothers work as prostitutes. Zana Briski, a New York-based photographer, gives each of the children a camera and teaches them to look at the world with new eyes. The children get to enlarge, frame, compare, sign and exhibit their photos. The show travels to other lands and the kids go with it, filled with pride.
Pride is earned
by Stella Violano, Thousand Oaks, CA, USA
So many people do not realize that pride must be earned through study and practice, and it must be maintained with humility — a willingness to acknowledge the need to learn in order to grow. Pride in workmanship is indeed an excellent tool. It will demand that an artist not settle for less and will work harder to achieve the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed.
Touch of joy
by Asterio Tecson, Cape Coral, FL, USA
There’s a big difference between satisfaction and true pride — the latter meaning a deft touch of joy after accomplishing something really good. Your strategies on how to get back ‘in the groove’ is well taken and would surely benefit all artists in need of a daily regimen or work ethic. I get more from your twice weekly letter than from all those art magazines I’ve been subscribing to for years.
Pride damaged by rejection
by Anthony Kampwerth, Knoxville, TN, USA
I recently had my pride crushed when a commissioned artwork was rejected. The client said, “It wasn’t what I had in mind.” Now I question my abilities as a watercolor artist. I can rationalize that she doesn’t recognize the difference between a watercolor painting and an architectural rendering (it was a painting of a restaurant on the bay that was to be a Christmas present). Still the insecure feeling is there.
Gratitude and thankfulness
by Ed Pointer, Lindsborg, KS, USA
Perhaps gratitude, rather than pride, might be a better word — even thankfulness. It seems we artists are blessed with a somewhat different point of view. Though unendingly challenging, visual art is a way of seeing and expressing that thing seen in a manner not given to everyone. I suppose that statement could be misconstrued as prideful but anyone engaged in painting as a profession knows that isn’t true.
There are over two million artists engaged in the visual arts in the United States alone, not counting Canada and other nations. Of this number I estimate 10% or less are supporting themselves by painting, the rest divided into groups of dedicated hobbyists and those simply having an interest in creating something visual. There are many of us and there’s no question we all struggle in one way or another; e.g., I never seem completely satisfied with 90% of my paintings. I guess pride, being one of the deadly sins, is a word I find uncomfortable, thus my need to use the words “gratitude” and “thankfulness.”
Art as refuge from inferiority
by Janet Toney, Greeneville, TN, USA
I think the pride you are discussing could also be called self-esteem or confidence. It takes a lot of these to face the world. I have always battled feelings of inferiority. I have no idea if that’s some mental defect, a result of my treatment as a child, or perhaps it is just my cross to bear. As I get older it’s less a worry than a curiosity to me. I am two persons. I stand away from my shy self and instruct that person. I tell her, “You are as good as anyone else. Worry less about you and do more for others.” Art has always been so very helpful to my confidence, because I think I’m pretty good at it, and even if I’m not, I really like doing creative things. Unlike other people and their actions both towards me and to each other, I can control my art. It’s my world the way I want to see it. It’s a refuge, a joy, and makes living in this difficult world much nicer.
Problem with retaining
by Linda J. Ricks, Fredericksburg, VA, USA
More so than pride in my work, what keeps me going is building and retaining belief and confidence in myself and in my talents/skills. (The fun involved with a project helps a lot too!) The “building” part can be very easy some days. But, it’s the “retaining” part that gives me the biggest heartache.
After reading Betty Edwards’ book, The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, I have discovered the cause of my problem with retaining. My practical, logical, linear, know-it-all (thinks it does, anyway) left segment of brain wants to shoot down much of the artistic belief and confidence in myself that I have worked so hard at building up. It’s a real struggle at times… What strange critters we are to have two very opposite halves living in one body!
(RG note) Thanks, Linda. Betty Edwards’ books are mentioned frequently and are second only to Julia Cameron’s in popularity. You can see a complete range of artist-recommended books and reviews in Andrew’s newly created Books on Artist’s Shelves.
Need to look further
by Sharon Specht, McGregor, IA, USA
In your letter you mentioned “Vincent” at the end; I assume you are referring to Van Gogh? And to his suicide being the result of misguided pride? I think one has to look further than such a simplified reason, and into the very biological reality of mental illness and the extreme difficulty of being it gives to those that struggle with it.
(RG note) Thanks Sharon. And thanks to everyone who pointed out that a feeling of personal failure was not Vincent’s only malady. Depression, schizophrenia, masochism and Menier’s Disease were mentioned. A valuable insight into depression in artists can be had in Eric Maisel’s The Van Gogh Blues.
In praise of pride
by Patty Grau, Redondo Beach, CA, USA
Pride is an important “tool” needed to progress… I was a blossoming white teenager in a racially integrated school when “black is beautiful” was becoming a household credo. I was fascinated how other people needed to be told they were at minimum equal to others. I wasn’t raised this way. My father told me how “great” I was all the time. I was encouraged to think for myself and to view authority with a little skepticism. How could an entire race of people be so brainwashed, I wondered. Later, with eyes more open to the outside world, I realized I was the unique one. That it wasn’t even only a racial issue. Religion, politeness and bad parenting beat it out of you. I have come to be in awe of those that have fought their way out of a dark corner into the light of self respect, pride and yes, you’re right, integrity. I had help.
A chance to blossom
by Kathleen Knight, Teasdale, UT, USA
As a retired psychologist, I was fascinated by Sherry’s and Shari’s strong negative reactions to Peter Brown’s message. I suspect that what inflamed them was his assertion that artists are just people. Many of the folks in this group, sometimes including our esteemed leader, tend to believe they are uniquely inspired and very different from ordinary folks. Of course some people are much better at expressing themselves through art, and some are truly geniuses, but the basic techniques, skills, and ways of seeing can be taught to almost anyone who wants to learn. I’ve witnessed it with my own favorite instructor, who has, within an hour, opened the eyes and hands of seemingly most inept people. And that’s my point: why not encourage teachers like Peter Brown, most of whose students will not become artists? A few of them, given the basic tools and confidence, may blossom into real joy, or even greatness.
Problem of hubris
by Mary Madsen, Henderson, NV, USA
It is not pride that is a deadly sin, but rather false pride — hubris. Many of us are locked outside of the door that leads to our passion because we are immersed in false pride. We tell ourselves that we lack organization and discipline because we’re geniuses that live outside the boundaries, that we lack motivation because of traumas lingering from the past, or that we can’t market ourselves because it is beneath the lofty calling of our soul’s work. If we strip ourselves of that false pride and look squarely into the eyes of our faults and weaknesses — own them without blame — then the key to our passions begins to materialize, and we often become hungry for discipline, study, abandon, balance, and a healthy body that will carry us to our work. The more experience I get under my belt, the more I begin to realize that true genius is being able to say, “I’m a lazy sod. Don’t know why, but I need to start parenting myself better,” or “What I really want in life most is the pity and care of others, and it’s time to let go of those needs without ever understanding their cause. I want better.” Perhaps those aren’t the seeds of genius, but they certainly are the beginning of the end of false pride, and the beginnings of what you call true pride. I prefer to call it prayer.
Wanted: SWM n/s Artist
by Veronica Morgan, Gloucester, MA, USA
Had you the slightest idea what you were getting into when you initiated your letter? Surely the response illustrates just how much those of us in the arts (and perhaps any) community feel a need to connect with our own, and ultimately feel a sense of “community.” Have you ever considered setting up a studio/house exchange for a subscription fee? It would be time consuming, but might have wonderful results. And then, surely someone has suggested GennMatch.com. For those of us creative singles out here in the cold who have tried Match.com, JDate, personals, with results best suited to stand-up comedy.
(RG note) Thanks for the ideas Veronica, and everyone else who sends us suggestions. We’re going to discuss these two at the very next board meeting. Please send photo.
Use of collaged photos
by Nina Birnbaum, Scarsdale, NY, USA
My daughter wrote and published a sonnet about Jo Hopper, the wife of Edward Hopper. She gave me permission to use her poem as the basis for my artist’s book. The sonnet contains 14 lines, each of which is hand written on a page composed of a torn photo copy of Jo Hopper taken from different Hopper paintings. These images are collaged onto my own mono-prints.
Can you tell me whether I can exhibit this book? Will the estate of Hopper complain or sue me? At what point can an artist use an iconic image in his/her own art without worrying? The book and poem examine Hopper’s use of his wife as his model although she was a well regarded painter. I recently saw the Robert Rauschenberg show at the Metropolitan Museum and noticed that he used photocopies of known paintings in his ‘combines.’
(RG note) Thanks Nina. Hopper’s work is still under copyright. You should write to the people at The Edward Hopper Landmark Preservation Foundation in Nyack, NY. They will be able to help you. Explain the scope and uses of the book, as well as how much you expect to make from it. If your plans are not too commercial, they will probably go for it.
enamel & acrylic paintings
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 105 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2005.
That includes Marlene Bulas of Orillia, Ontario who wrote, “Yesterday I looked at all my art with such disdain, disappointment, and the utter frustration that I will never be good enough no matter what I do. But, guess what! It’s ok. I still have the blessed unrest that keeps me moving — and tomorrow is another day.”
And also Sue-Grace Talley of New York, NY who wrote, “Vincent Van Gogh was a man with real courage in the face of his certain mental illness. Part of his courage, it seems to me, was checking himself into an asylum for depression when he needed to… and his depression was truly clinical. Perhaps he is not so very culpable?”
And also Kasssahun Kebede of Jimma, Ethiopia who wrote, “I am very much happy and have great benefit for my art groups. We are proud of Robert Genn’s great deeds that inspire artists in our globe. Even my non-artist friends are very longing to read what’s news from him.”