The Laws of Nature

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Showing Up

Last year I took this b/w photo of a corner of my studio,where I was preparing fourteen canvases simultaneously for a show. Each canvas is 28" x 22". Right now, I'm working on thirty-four canvases in oil for a solo show in June. I posted this to illustrate that I actually do show up for "work" in my studio on a daily basis :-)

Chapter 6 of Ian Roberts' book Creative Authenticity: 16 Principles to Clarify and Deepen Your Artistic Vision is about showing up. He begins this chapter by writing: Nothing determines the success of your creative life more than doing it. Amen to that! And, he adds, there's something within us that "calls" us to create, that acts as an inner voice that we shouldn't ignore. The point is that if we don't show up to do our work it doesn't get done and then there's no chance for advancement. And, if we do show up for work one small step will lead to another and another, and so on until, before you know it, you've made great strides in your work.

Roberts also addresses the doubts and fears that often keep us from showing up; the ones that make us procrastinate and find some other activity that diverts us from the studio (blogging, perhaps??). Often, we'll hide behind our fear of failure, ridicule, and incompetence. I got past that when I learned to accept and even embrace the fact that THERE WILL ALWAYS BE SOMEONE ELSE who paints better than I do, has better ideas than mine, is smarter, prettier, faster, thinner, you get the picture. Should that stop me? No! I just keep plodding along. Over time, this adds up to a lot of little successes that amount to something really wonderful. over an entire lifetime.

But, how do I manage to keep plodding along? Admittedly, sometimes I don't feel like exerting the effort necessary to get those creative juices flowing. Especially, now that it's colder outside and inside, too. I'd rather snuggle up under an afghan with a book and cup of tea. So, I made the conscious decision that my art IS my job, but in a good way. I can't wait to get to work, and the moment I put on my "work clothes" and head into the studio I'm elated by the prospect of what might happen today. I play my favorite music, put a large cup of tea near the easel (where I sometimes mistake it for the brush cleaning bowl) and paint with abandon. Honestly, is there a BETTER job on this planet? I don't know of one. But, I don't "just" show up for work, I always try to show up on time so that I don't fall into the habit of procrastination. I set specific hours and stick to it. Luckily, my boss lets me take a lunch break so I can read your comments on my blog :-)

Like any job, there's a real world aspect to being a professional artist that can interfere with our desire to show up. As in industry, the art world has members who seek to undermine those who are advancing. There's jealousy, bitterness, and even sabotage. I may not be on a high rung of the "corporate ladder" in the art world, but I've experienced this many times from other artists. It's important ignore it and move on, and it's equally important to help other artists around you who are struggling. We're all in this together. So, my friends, consider today's blog a friendly reminder to show up to work today! As Roberts puts it: are you going to follow your dream or not?

Your thoughts??


Anonymous said...
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Casey Klahn said...

I've seen a little of the professional bad behavior (non-professional, I guess we ought to call it)too. Certainly it has been a minimal thing, but I think odd for artists to behave badly. Antithetical, IMHO.

OTOH, as with any important endeavor, there will be personalities and they can be "out there." I remember my days in other vocations/avocations where personalities clashed, too.

Thanks for this butt kicking - now I need to find my way to the studio...

Unknown said...

Hi Pam - It's good to know a little more about your journey as an artist. You raise a good point about the dangers of perfectionism. It really can get in the way and adds unnecessary stress. Your dedication to your art and your husband's support is commendable! Keep going ...

Hi Casey - I agree with you that it seems odd for artists to behave badly toward one another. Then again, I suppose that human nature reveals itself in any job sector, so why not art? What bothers me most about it is when growing artists become so discouraged by others that they give up. Such a tragedy.

Mark Sheeky said...

I find artists to generally be nice people who are supportive and willing to help. Compared to my old haunt of computer games the art world is full of saints. Perhaps I've just been lucky. Or not successful enough!

Today's post was right on! I was going to ask you how you manage to blog so much AND paint! I've not stopped work all day and I'm finding it hard to blog, browse, comment, read. Lots of TV has been recorded and is unwatched. My Roger Scruton book has been half-read for months!

Like PAMO I was just this morning wondering why I'm bouncing around trying bits of 50 different things and getting nothing done. I needed to focus calmy on one task, giving it all of my love and attention. For me sticking to the clock is vital for getting work done. For painting it's best to be calm and methodical. Ignoring all distractions. For the actual musing and creation; well that can be passionate, rowdy, drowsy, charmed, inspired; anything but calm and methodical!

Must go now. I have two minutes of browsing time before my evening break!

Mark Sheeky said...

PS. Amazed that you can work on some many things at once!

Unknown said...

Hi Mark - I try to write my blogs very quickly so that I don't spend too much time on them. Maybe that's why they're so poorly written! In any case, I don't spend as much time on the computer as you might think. The reason I work on so many canvases at one time is because I want my solo exhibition to be cohesive, and it takes a year or more to complete all the paintings required to fill up a gallery space, so it's entirely possible that my style could change from one end of the year to the other. This would weaken the exhibit.

layers said...

When I teach my workshops, this is the number one issue with many of the artists in the workshop-- how to SHOW UP in the studio-- this is something that can not be taught-- I give suggestions and tips and so on.. but the drive and determination has to come from the artist-- I don't understand how one does not SHOW UP in the studio-it is automatic to me-- like eating and breathing.

M said...

I knew when I read the title of this post, I would be found lacking. I am terrible at showing up consistently. I have come to accept that I am a "fits and starts" creator who needs downtime to process and consolidate . While I'm not actually in the studio physically, my mind is usually on art. My friend has commented on my creative behaviour and describes my "down" time as percolating. I like that idea. When I am actively creating I am super focused and productive.

Four Seasons in a Life said...

This was one chapter of the book I fully supported and though I seem to be failing to show up and create art, I have been showing up and being creative in another manner, by writing and designing not only my blog, but that of others.

Yet I miss the smell of oil paint and witnessing the birth of another painting coming to life.

Sometimes I feel like I am wearing too many different hats, but then creativity takes on many different forms; a major reason why things take so very much longer to come to fruition.

Thank you for sharing another wonderful, thoughtful and amazing post with us.

Warmest regards and wishing you and your family all the very best this holiday season,

hw (hallie) farber said...

I just read the comments and thought Egmont said "Thank you for sharing another world." He didn't say that so I will.

Unknown said...

Hi Donna - good point! You can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink.

Hi Margaret - this is a good example of how different our methods can be. One size doesn't fit all and it's good that you arrived at a way of creating that suits you!

Hi Egmont - sometimes there's a reason to shift gears and move in other directions. To ignore that calling could be a mistake, so it's good that you go to those places that allow you to create what interests you most. Everyone's journey is different. Your blog is wonderful!

Hi Hallie - you're welcome!

Anonymous said...

This posting, and the wonderful comments, has so much pithy insight! I agree with the “showing up” to the studio part. I have sort of accomplished this by spilling my studio out around the house. I have a station in the dining room for morning drawing, which sometimes doubles as space to cut mats. I use the living room chair to draw my compositions for still life with toy pony. I use my studio for painting. I am a fan of “small pieces”, a little bit here, a little bit there, and then suddenly it’s all coming together!

That being said, I have been distracted this fall. I think it might be due to finally achieving a certain goal. Repeating the achievement and pushing to the next level is scary. So, I think I’ve allowed myself to wonder a bit. Time to refocus! Even so, I do a little each and every day! Or else I get restless!

Very interesting post and comments! Thanks!

-Don said...

Now this is an authentic chapter. Showing up is what it's all about, right next to having fun.

This month is the two year anniversary of a commitment I made to myself of showing up at my easel daily. Even when I was working full-time in another job I would put in time every night painting. I found that if I'd commit at least 10 minutes to painting I'd usually take 20. If I committed an hour it would usually stretch to two... and so on... Since I made that commitment I have averaged completing about a painting a week and I think the quality of the work is better for it.

OK, breaks over... back to the easel.


INDIGENE said...

This has been an amazingly inspiring post! "Show-Up", I've posted it in the common areas of my home, to keep me on track. I can only echo the other comments here, so with that "ditto" and thank you sincerely for such a wonderful and inspiring post!

Unknown said...

Hi Peggy - Ah, you've described a transition phase that I've experienced so often. It can be a little intimidating to set a new goal or higher standard for oneself and then try to achieve it. That battle against fear of failure is a big one. But, I've seen your methodical approach and if anyone can succeed, YOU can! Keep goin' gal!

Don - you're a good example of what it means to "show up!" I've been following your progress for most of those two years, and I can confirm that your commitment has not only lead to remarkable productivity, but also amazing development in your skills as a painter and ideas. Thanks for commenting.

Hi Indigene - Thank you so much for commenting and I like your idea of posting "show up" around the house! Makes me smile :)