Monday, May 26, 2008

When You Feel The Pain

Written By: Sue Smith

"I'm stuck, in a rut."
"I'm frustrated and discouraged"
"I'm stressed out; everything's urgent."
"Maybe I just don't have what it takes."

These are a few of the opening sentences in Stephen R. Covey's new book, The 8th Habit, From Effectiveness to Greatness.

If you follow this blog, you know that I read a lot of books, and about 75% of them are not about art. But "Art" doesn't live in a vacuum, apart from the rest of our lives. What works and doesn't work in our "real" world is the same sort of stuff that works or doesn't work in our "Art" world.

If we were in our early 20's, our "Art" lives would be different. We'd have the time and freedom to explore ideas, themes, techniques, and problems with the enthusiasm of one who sees no end in sight. As we age, though, it's natural that "the end" begins creeping toward our horizon. I received an email recently from Casey Klahn who explained,

"One thing I've discovered as an older artist is that it is important for me to start "at the top". I am not a school kid, after all!"

I remember feeling times of great urgency, a limited window of opportunity that I was going to miss - and still do. I remember pushing myself nearly to the point of exhaustion and then feeling frustrated with the results - and still do. So how do we achieve a sense of balance between the urgency of the Muse and the realization there might not be enough time left to do all we dream about doing?

Here are some ideas to get you thinking:

  • Believe that there is enough time to do what you are supposed to do. Once I freed myself from the belief that time was working against me, my life became easier. I would walk into my studio and not feel the self-imposed pressure to create something that would "sell now!" In fact, I realized the more I tried to answer that demand of "sell now!" (which was a form of needing to justify what I was doing) the worse my work became - and the more frustrated I felt.
  • Realize that the "top" is only a marker on the spiral, just a "starting point" for the next growth cycle. I understand where Casey is coming from when he says he needs to start "at the top." Because we are entering the art market at a mature age, the art market expects a high level of competency. Our work can't be excused as young and brash, full of passion, short on technique, but loads of potential. So it's necessary to study artists working at the levels of competency to which we aspire in order to ensure that our work is comparable before we approach the market.
  • Growth requires us to "hate" our work periodically. I once had an exercise t-shirt that read : "No Pain, No Gain." I wasn't into pain, so I never saw much gain. Its the same with art. Being stuck, feeling anxious, frustrated, angry, experiencing the emotional pain of hating what I'm producing - I used to dread it. I still dread that moment of walking into the studio and looking at the painting I just finished and immediately "hating" it. But I've come to realize these are messages from my unconscious, my artistic soul, telling me, "hey, you gotta move on here! Your work was fine for where you were last year, but this is Now."
  • Become your own best mentor. Be kind to yourself. When you grow to the point of recognizing there is something missing in your work - rejoice. It means you've developed your "eye" to the point where you're able to progress, and that you're not suffering from what Robert Genn calls "Kalopsia" (an interesting read in the click-backs). And as your own best mentor, take on the responsibility of learning what else you might need to know at this point on the spiral - whether you watch instructional DVD's, read books, draw daily, paint daily -- whatever you do, begin to expand your practice consistently.
  • It's also okay to work within your comfort zone. Out of curiosity, I started reading art blogs coming out of the New York Art Scene. I quickly discovered that I didn't belong in that rarefied world of artspeak, critical laceration, bizarre theory, shock art, power plays, movers and shakers, blog wars, hoaxes and non-hoaxes pretending to be hoaxes...okay, too much hyperbole here. My point is only that it's better to focus energy where you know you want it and not spend it where it drains away your enthusiasm. Activism, while fondly remembered, might be better left to the young.

So what is Covey's 8th Habit?

The 8th Habit "is to Find Your Voice and Inspire Others to Find Theirs" (p. 5).

Interesting, huh?


This article is reproduced with permission.

Copyright...2008 Sue Smith

To Get more of Sue Smith's thoughts about art visit her blog at:
Ancient Artist: developing an art career after 50
Sue Smith fine Art

This article originally appeared at the following URL.

PS...make a "Point"...leave a comment


Terry Rafferty said...

I woke up this morning feeling sad and when my husband asked what was wrong I answered that I felt like such a failure. Your blog entry obviously really spoke to me when I read it a few hours later. I don't know why we have such cycles, but they seem to be a necessary part of what it is we are doing. I had a teacher once who said we have to get the bad paintings out of the way so we can learn how to get on to the good ones. (I'm ready for that!)

The print you sent me arrived Saturday and its lovely, thank you. And now that my button painting is finished I finally have taken some time to enjoy your drawing of the buttons spilling - I avoided it while doing mine - and I have an even greater appreciation of yours now. But wasn't it fun to finally go in and place all the tiny holes in the buttons? Definitely the frosting!

Marsha Robinett said...

Sue Smith's article hit me the same way...and as with you, just at the right time. I felt a strong need to share it and I'm glad you enjoyed reading it.

I'm happy your print arrived safely. This piece has special meaning for me as it is actually my grandmother's button jar. I have fond childhood memories of learning how to sew on buttons with her at my side.

As with you, I felt quite accomplished when I had finished this drawing. It was quite labor intensive...much more so than I had thought it would be.

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