The Laws of Nature

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Making Art and Self Doubt

Art & Fear: Observations on the perils (and rewards) of artmaking
by David Bayles & Ted Orland

Returning to chapter 1, I'll pick up where I left off last time. Doubts. We have so many that can keep us from being productive in our work. And, we often have clusters or "swarms" of doubts once we open the door to them. Here are common ones that the authors identify:

I'm not an artist - I'm a phony
I have nothing worth saying
I'm not sure what I'm doing
Other people are better than I am
I'm only a [student, physicist/mother/whatever]
I've never had a real exhibit
No one understands my work
No one likes my work
I'm no good

In my opinion, none of these statements can be TRUE of an artist except for "I've never had a real exhibit" which could be true in some cases. Nevertheless, we tend to believe these lies about ourselves and, according to Bayles & Orland, this leads to:
resistance to deadlines
irritation with materials or surroundings
distraction over the achievements of others
and, whatever else keeps us from our work

What separates artists from ex-artists is that those who challenge their fears, continue; those who don't, quit.

I'd like to add something here that the authors didn't. Facing-down the swarms of self doubt that arise nearly daily for an artist takes GUTS and DETERMINATION! Nothing makes me angrier than for someone to tell me that I'm not good enough or smart enough to do something. So, why would I tell myself that?

There are all sorts of motivational stories that we learned as children. Stories like "The Little Engine Who Could," "Jack and the Beanstalk" and "The Tortoise and the Hare" taught us that perseverance leads to success and never to quit. Have we forgotten those lessons? I hope not.

Each day is an opportunity to silence doubt and give voice to our imaginations. And, tomorrow I'll reveal what Bayles and Orland have to say about "imagination."

What are your thoughts?


RH Carpenter said...

Sometimes we are strong and kick those doubts to the curb when they sneak in - other times we are more susceptible to them and it can ruin a perfectly good day for painting. I like what you said about it making you mad when someone tells you that you can't or aren't good enough - and yet we do it to ourselves all the time (of course, we've heard those things in our childhood and incorporated them long ago - something hard to get past). So - gird your loins and get into that art room/studio and fight the good fight - who knows what you may discover/create? Keep 'em coming, Kathy. This one is really hitting home (as I imagine it is for many). My word verification today was "secoeed" but I'm changing it to "succeed!"

Unknown said...

Hi Rhonda - I'm taking my mid-morning break and when I read your wonderful comment I had to log-in and respond. "Gird your loins" is great :-) That's exactly what we need to do. And, I like your word verification.

GIRD YOUR LOINS, everyone!

Eva said...

It has often amazed me when I see work by others that I would have considered failures, being praised and the artists very successful with them. I shows me that my judgment is not what I thought it was.I have found myself reexamining my thinking.Have times changed or have I been too fixed in my judgments? Can I give myself permission to "let up" and become freer in my work? Is "anything goes" okay? Forget composition, color rules and archival materials? Just do it? Not sure I can.

-Don said...

After this great little pep-talk I am ready to gird my loins and head into the studio. Succeed, indeed!


Anonymous said...

I don't like any of my work- is the worst thing I say to myself. Truth is I don't think my work is anywhere where I want it to be- but that doesn't mean I can't find JOY in my work today. Deborah's discussion of failure on your last blog post hit home- and honestly, I think it's why I've stopped working on pieces that take months on end. It's much easier to face failure on pieces that only take a week or less. I don't look at those short term pieces as failure- I look at them as calabuzoo- I like you too- I can move on now and not give up. I don't know how long I'll work like this- but after spending months on quilts and never liking any of it- it's a GIFT to be able to whip out a cartoon or draw a chair and say- well- not ready to show- but better than my last one- what's next? Come to think of it- working long was my personal set up to feel like a failure. Working short allows me to move more quickly through the failures- and I honestly even like some of what I've done! Now that's progress.
Your timing Kathy of this book discussion is perfect. Thank you! I also appreciated what Don said about not letting the creative urges build- but to work steady. While the analogy was pretty base LOL!! it hit home. Thanks Don!!

M.A. Wakeley said...

I love your words about guts and determination. In my personal experience guts and courage were built-in (as it is with everyone) but it took a life changing event for it to rise to the surface and give me the strength to do what needed to be done. For those who can't for whatever reason be strong it is only a matter of time before outside events will force them to stand up for themselves. In the meantime, they have encouraging teachers and friends (hopefully) to support them. It is such a worthwhile challenge and endeavor to help others discover their artist within and help them flourish amidst doubt.

Unknown said...

Hi Eva - I suppose we all have our standards, but those sets of standards aren't the same for everyone. Personally, I don't like the notion that just anything is "art" but I do like it when artists challenge our notion of what is art and offer new ideas about it. It keeps me interested :-)

Hi Don - go get 'em!

Hi Pam - the important point is to love what you're doing and not worry about what others think. Your cartoon are really delightful and bring joy to a lot of us! I hope you get some of that joy, too.

Hi Mary Anne - you make sense, and I agree that it's rewarding to help others discover and develop the "artist within." thanks!

hw (hallie) farber said...

I've thought about this often today. I began by thinking that I've never had fears or doubts about my artwork. But, that may be due to my not having plans or goals. Lack of plans or goals may be due to fears and doubts?

Circular thinking. I look forward to imagination.

Celeste Bergin said...

many times, in our art discussion group, there will be a person who just goes on and on and on about how "bad" they are...and how they "wish" they were "better". sigh. I am able to just bite my lip and let them vent--(who knows what I was saying when I first threw my hat into the ring..probably something similar). What I want to say to them is: quit living in your head and do the work you need to do to learn how to improve. It's easy to paint paintings (or whatever hard thing you are trying to do) in your mind... it is much harder to actually physically do it. There is PAIN in PAINTING. Get used to it! There are no short cuts.

Stan Kurth said...

If it is your hearts desire to be an artist, you will make it your life and there will be no doubt about it.

Susan Liles said...

Need to get out my book and reread it.
I always try to remember the saying, which I can't remember where I first heard it..."Leap, and the net will appear." Fear of failure, the great monster on our backs.

Unknown said...

Hi Hallie - I think you're on to something! I never thought about it that way.

Hi Celeste - I know what you mean! In the past, when I was a student in painting workshops, there was always someone like the person you describe, and I've always had your reaction to it. Whining isn't appealing and gets one nowhere.

Hi Stan - I think you're right. If we want it badly enough we'll make it happen.

Hi Susan - I never heard that quote before. Thanks!!

Casey Klahn said...

It's okay to be an artist, as long as you can make money at it.
Do you make a living at it?
The art world only wants edgy, abstraction.
People only want realistic work.
Art is a dead practice.
Painting is dead.
Artists are poor.
I'm not as good as Rembrandt.
I'll never be Andrew Wyeth.
I wish I painted better.
Look at Daniel Greene's Resume.

Unknown said...

Hi Casey - Oh, killer doubts!! Banish them :-)

Crazy Ravens Studio said...

Painter Mike Svob made the comment in class that he thought tenacity could be more important to an artist than talent. That was a spur I needed. I may doubt my talent but not my tenacity. I know I'm like a terrier at a rathole. I just have to keep digging. Thanks for the great articles.