The Laws of Nature

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Life Support

Andrew Wyeth

Art Without Compromise by Wendy Richmond
Chapter 3: "Life Support"
section 1: "First Accept No Harm"

Psychologically, being an artist is about as easy as climbing Mt. Everest without prior experience and little to no assistance. There are too many ways to easily slip and fall. There are too few people at that altitude to urge us on. There are too many doubts in our own heads about whether or not we can complete the climb. And yet, there is something exhiliarating about it. Chapter 3 of Richmond's book adresses an artist's psychological battle and is timely for this artist because it's been a very long winter in the studio battling my way into another series of paintings.

Section 1, "First Accept No Harm," begins with an examination of the importance of support and the impact of the lack of support on our psyche. For the latter, Richmond names the ways:
  • criticisms that are doled out lightly but cripple our passion
  • negligence that leaves a prolonged bitterness
  • people who take advantage of us
  • self-serving advice given by a loved/trusted one
  • blame for not doing enough
  • society's general indifference
  • and, America's attitude that undervalues art as a serious profession

All of this erodes our confidence and inhibits our creativity, sometimes on a daily basis. What's the remedy for the artist? Richmond advises us to be "clear about what you want and hope for: to declare, defend, and pursue what you want. Sometimes this means identifying that which holds you back, and seeing how insidious lack of support, in all its guises, can be." She observes that we artists are most vulnerable when our passion and hopes to do good work are great. I agree, and think that it's at those times that creativity is squelched if we're not careful. The author gives more advice: "When I try to figure out, and then try to do, what someone else wants, I fail. But, when I focus on what I want and how I want to do it, I succeed." Her title First Accept No Harm should be conspicuously posted on every artist's studio wall!

Your thoughts??


Margaret Ryall said...

So we get to the heart of the matter today. This is a topic I've given much thought too in the last five years.

I've ridden the waves of my creative pursuits without a life jacket and many times I've had to sink and return to the surface. Each time I learned a small lesson that layered over previous ones to create a thick skin. It is needed to allow me to exist in the sometimes unkind and calculating world of art where everyone has an opinion specifically their own and often in conflict with yours.

As you put all the pieces together you realize there is quite a bit of turf protecting especially in small places. You may be supported in front of your face and then cut down when your back is turned. Those are hard lessons to learn the first times they occur, but they make you stronger in your belief in yourself and your creative life because it finally hits you that you are being treated like a threat. I take that as the positive.

I also had to learn to be careful of who I ask to critique my work and to consider the response in the broader context of my own thoughts for my work an why I create the way I do. Following every bit of advice will bring you on a wild goose chase that leaves you further behind rather than ahead of the game.

I'll stop here and see what others have to say. I wish my book would come so I could keep up with the reading.

Casey Klahn said...

I love the mountain climbing comparison, since I did quite a lot of that in days gone by. I use the lessons learned there very often in my business and in the studio.

I was blessed to be well supported by my peers and my parents in my little home town on the Pacific coast. It was all ahead, full steam when I was young where art was concerned.

I'm interested to see what this community says on this. It is very hard to keep from trying to please others with one's art. In particular, we bloggers are also very effusive with our praises. I like the recent trend where we are trying to be more careful to detail what we like in another artist's work.

-Don said...

I kept feeling like something was left out of the "First Accept No Harm" list, and Margaret hit it right on the nose with "turf protecting". I've seen a lot of that and I've seen too many artists discouraged as they try to break into a local market and bang their heads against those who are already established or on the rise. It only takes one of those established people shattering the resolve and purpose of an aspiring artist to send them into a tailspin. It's sad to see, and something that I've bumped up against. Thankfully, I've become thick-skinned enough over the years to press on, but I find that if I'm not careful this can creep into the psyche, creating doubt. It's those proverbial little foxes nibbling at the vine... Well, I say "shoo, shoo, little foxes!"

You're right, Kathy, this IS an exhilarating climb and well worth the scrapes and bruises. The "ah-ha" moment when we reach a summit is definitely worth the struggle and creates desire and a momentum to start towards the next summit.

I LOVE this thing we do! And, I LOVE this blogging community which has become a source of support and inspiration. Let's keep on boosting each other up while helping to fend off the nay-sayers.


Stan Kurth said...

I'm older. I'm wiser. Less time left to accomplish my purpose. My force shield is stronger and less vulnerable than it ever has been. I'm much more focused on what I want. I pay little attention to the multitude and variety of detractors or as Don so aptly put it "naysayers". I know where I want to go with my art and they don't. I am confident in what I do.

Mark Sheeky said...

I think being an artist is easlier than climbing Everest. Artists who argue can prove me wrong... by climbing Everest!

To me it is always amazing how much of a meritocracy art is compared to my old field of computer games which was very rough by comparison.

That most people undervalue "art as a serious profession" is sad but true. For me, artist is the most important job in the world. An artist can change minds more effectively than a politician. Prove more than a scientist. Contribute more to society than a philosopher. Help console better than a psychologist. Cure more than a doctor, and give more love than a lover... well, to more people at once anyway!

Eva said...

This post is all so true and important. I've had to deal with all the the things listed and it's been a struggle. Because as an artist. writer or performer our work is under constant scrutiny. No hiding behind the boss, we are it.When we listen to others and betray ourselves, it is even more devastating! Wendy Richmond has confirmed it. Thank you for this post.

Kathy said...

Hi Margaret - you make a very good point about turf protecting. This is a tough profession, and as much as I complain at times I also feel that we're enormously lucky to be artists. It's really a two-edged sword. And, I agree with you about how all this adversity makes us stronger. Thank you.

Hi Casey - you've touched on something that I've been hinting at: "we bloggers are also very effusive with our praises." On the one hand, I think the generous support is great because it renews our confidence in our abilities. On the other hand, it's difficult to get a thorough and candid critique. But, maybe this isn't the forum for the latter. I think that artists who blog, like me, are looking for a like-minded community that's understanding and supportive but likes a challenge as well. Thank you for adding this.

Hi Don - I, too, enjoy the supportive nature of my blog community and hope we'll all keep it up. What I particularly like about all of you who regularly join me in discussion is your intellect, candor, and supportiveness. It doesn't get any better than this! In this venue we have a safe haven away from the rat race. It's cathartic, illuminating, and addicting! And, it's a place where I can set aside the suit of armor that I usually have to wear in the professional realm. Thank you for urging us to keep this up!

Hi Stan - I admire your wisdom, determination, and strength. You're a pillar! I have been enjoying my "senior" years because there's something liberating about them. At the same time, the "teenager" still lives in me and keeps me thinking that I have many more years left in my life than I actually do, and so I forge ahead in that spirit. I suppose it's delusional, but I love the optimism and energy of youth.

Hi Mark - well stated! If I put what you said into a nutshell it would appear that artists are large-scale "givers." In a sense, we are. We give of ourselves in a way that most people won't because we have to fully expose who we are if our work is to be authentic. OK - so maybe climbing Mt. Everest isn't a perfect analogy, but for me it is. I have a much better chance of reaching Everest's summit than becoming another Picasso in reputation. (Background: I've climbed many of the major mountain ranges in Europe). Thank you for adding more substance to this conversation.

To All - wow!! Another great conversation. You're all amazing.

Kathy said...

Hi Eva - so true! I think that the constant scrutiny is what bothers us most. But, I also think that if I'm going to expose myself through my art, I better be prepared for all the opinions. It's a good thing I'm not into entering beauty pageants!! :-) Thank you for joining the discussion.

hwfarber said...

Friends recently visited New Orleans and brought me the book, Seen in Solitude, Robert Kipniss prints. I was not familiar with the artist or his amazing work. This is at the end of his Soliloquy, written when he was 74.

"....You need to have a hunger to do this, because nobody wants you to be an artist, no one needs you to be an artist, no one is waiting for your art."

I believe it is a hunger--and I think that every time an artist completes a work, he's managed to reach a summit.

Kathy said...

Hi Hallie - that's truly profound! Thank you for sharing this quotation and your thoughts about it. It's something to remember.

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Kathy said...

Hi Pam - the "School of Hard Knocks" is, unfortunately, heavily enrolled. Most of us are alumnae and I'm gld to know that you found the positive side of your experience. And, I'm glad that you're a part of the blogging community. We always look forward to your posts and comments!

Sheila said...

Well Pamo, I'm even later to this party but had to say this post was so timely and helpful. Katharine, you know what a big transition I had career wise and I really felt intimidated with sharing my "work" with accomplished artists such as yourself. I'm glad I got over that because even you can see how I've improved in the little time I allowed to expose myself soft artist belly to all of you. I have so much more to learn and hopefully you and the others will continue to poke, goad and encourage all of out there. Hugs!

Nancy Goldman said...

This really hit home for me. Up until about 2 years ago if someone asked what I did, I found it hard to describe myself as an artist or if I did, I said it in an an almost apologetic way. Finally, I now describe myself as an artist when asked with no hesitation and I am fine with people liking, disliking or being indifferent toward my work because I realize that art is so subjective and everyone has a different type of art that hits their emotional buttons.

Now, I need to deal with my meanest, most abrasive critic - me. I can't seem to stop criticizing each of my paintings to the point where all I can see are the things I want to change. Instead of concentrating on the parts of my paintings I don't like, I need to find the parts that are successful. Most paintings have both. I'm sure we all do this to ourselves. Would we ever treat our blogging friends like that? I think not.

Kathy said...

Hi Sheila - we've all been in your artist shoes at one time, and, personally, I always feel like I'm on the hot seat when it comes to painting. It's hard not to feel that I'm only as good as my NEXT painting, and who knows what that will be? On the other hand, there is satisfaction from having a strong body of work behind you. You're on that path and your determination to continue will lead you to success!! We're all rooting for you :-) Hugs.

Hi Nancy- I agree that we are usually our own worst enemies. It's hard to overcome that, and I'm still working on it. It's funny, but when I work on a painting I think it's succeeding and I'm very happy. When it's completed I feel let down and often think that it's a failure. Someone else may have a totally different opinion (hopefully they do!), so it's good to show the work to others and get feedback. Then again, you have to know what to do with their opinions because we must paint according to how we feel and not by committee. It's a very tough balance! Thanks so much for joining our conversation. We hope to hear more from you in the future!