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July 2007

Getting a Grip

  I've been reading a book titled "Coaching the Artist Within" by Eric Maisel.  I am now on Skill Three: Getting a Grip on your Mind. 

At first I was thinking, "Oh, I've heard all that negative self-talk stuff before."  But - as what sometimes happens with me -- after sleeping on it, this morning I had one of those peculiar "OMG" moments, you know, the kind with the embarrassed red face that goes with it.

As I have mentioned before, I'm taking an on-line art marketing class, and I asked a question that I already had the answer for but had forgotten about.  It pertained to an e-book I had downloaded a year ago and skimmed through, looking for the information I needed at that moment, and not really paying attention to the rest of the content. 

Now bear with me, this is going  to connect in a moment.

Eric had been writing about the importance of "noticing anxious self-talk" as a way of recognizing when anxiety over the creative process emerges in seemlingly innocent thoughts.  The "linguistic ruses," he said, could be incredibly subtle.  I was certain I had recognized all of mine long ago, but then I had the "OMG" moment.

Here is the biggest little bugger, expressed in Maisel's format, with the thought and the additional "ruses":

1.     "I need that resource."
I'm sure the answer is hidden in that book.
         I have to keep on the cutting edge or I'll be left behind.
         I know that class, or an MFA degree, or a membership in a particular organization will provide me with the answer that I'm seeking.

Dsc00718copy  I deal with my anxiety about creating by relying heavily on the idea that "the correct information is out there somewhere, if only I could just find it!"  I keep looking outside myself for the magic answer, and I have used this seemingly rational thinking for most of my life as a valid excuse for not creating art or taking art risks.

As a result, my studio is a total mess ( not entirely due to the point of this blog, but that's another post), my book shelves contain so much duplicate information from various authors I can't find what I  want, and when I look at cleaning up the clutter it's just too overwhelming and I go away and take a nap.

Dsc00719copyNow, I'm not discounting the valuable grounding I received through my education and the experiences I had in Italy. They were vital to my inner identity as an artist.  But what Eric Maisel helped me to recognize is that I have all the information I need, and I must nurture the courage to apply it.

I think what Eric Maisel might suggest if he were my career coach is that  when I recognize the impulse to buy "just one more book" that I stop for a moment and breathe in deeply.  Then repeat to myself a mantra.

I've come up with this: "I have all the knowledge that I need."  Followed by:  "I know what to do."

Here is the new work in progress:  A new poured piece. 


The Academic Debate

  Is it academics or talent that makes the artist?  This seems to be a hot debate on several of the blogs I've been reading lately.  Artists with strong academic backgrounds tend to intimidate artists who are basically self taught, while many self-taught artists are more innovative because they aren't constrained by rules and expectations.

  For myself, I was self taught until I reached a point where I wanted the academic background.  I wanted to understand as much as I could about art, and I needed the psychological crutch of having that degree in my back pocket before I could find the courage to grow artistically.  My choice worked for me, but it isn't the only path an artist can take.  The secret is not in what you know, but in how you apply what you know, if your work advances, if you see growth in technique, execution, and in finding your own unique voice.

  I work part time for High Desert Gallery & Custom Framing,  a very successful gallery here in Central Oregon, and what I have discovered is this: those artists who are constantly producing new work, who are pushing themselves to create visually compelling images, are the artists who attract the attention of the public.  It doesn't matter that some have extensive academic and graphic art backgrounds, or that others are self-taught and learning on their own.  That information is simply interesting trivia, a reason for buyers to like an artist's work more than they did when all they knew was that they loved the painting.  What matters is the art , the images, the individual techniques, the freshness of vision or the passion of experience.  Academics might give you a formal grounding, but as artists, we should never stop learning, stop pushing, stop reaching for new ways to develop our visual language. 

The Fallow Times

There are days when I feel like I'm not getting anything done - the fallow times.  I am in one of those right now.  I could blame it on the heat, or distractions like the wonderful book I am reading - "Rembrandt's Ghost" -- but I know  those are the easy excuses.  The hard excuses are plentiful:

1.  I am doubting the value in what I am doing. 
2.  I have too much information and a crushing inability to make a decision.
3.  I have a practical voice in my head that has been gaining headway lately, and I'm having trouble keeping that voice in balance.

But I realize it all stems from the first excuse: I am doubting the value in what I am doing.

I suppose every artist struggles with such a situation.  I'm not special in that regard.  Creative expression is a fundamental human desire and everywhere I turn there is someone holding up their own artistic work with the existential equivalent of "look at me, mommie!"  I also know I am being sensitive in this regard, that I have a fear of competition that can demoralize me into a cowering blob hiding in the corner.  Okay, maybe not that extreme, but I usually find the nerve to stand up for myself several days after the fact and then brood about my ineffectiveness.

I realize, too, that I am throwing my own pity party here. 

But this is what I know:

  • I have to follow this artistic path, no matter how difficult
  • When I am involved in the act of painting I exist in a different reality where I lose track of time, immersed in a sense of joy and peace I experience in no other place
  • The purpose of my art -- both the abstract and the landscape -- is so that "people remember."  Now, I'm not sure why I know this, or how, but I know it with a certainty that would probably bring the men in the white coats and drugs if I broadcast it around very much.  So I guess I'm taking my chances here.

And I also guess that's where the value exists.