“Are We There Yet?!”

Living WatersI recently came across a familiar post saying “When I look at all this beautiful art, I just feel like throwing away my brushes!” I have heard this despair in workshops and on countless occasions from fellow accomplished artists. I would like to speak to this sentiment. We live in a digital age of instant answers. If it takes Siri more than 10 seconds to tell us the information we are searching for, we often become restless. Voices in our heads and partners looking over the shoulder (and the checkbook) express concern if paintings seem to go backwards after a workshop. When will we get there?!

I am as guilty as the next of having “Why bother?” moments of misgivings. Okay. Actually, change the word “moments” to “decades”. After 40 years of painting for a living, I’d like to share a few insights on how to exorcise our doubt; this haunter of our artistic hearts.

1) First of all, trust in the rhythm and unfolding of your life. No one has lived your life. Time spent caring for parents or children or pushing the broom are the things that have made you who you are. You are shaped by your experiences; nothing is ever wasted. Make peace with this. The life you live gives you unique insights and authentic depth. It helps give you something to say beyond the outward appearance of things. In a positive way, you bring it all to the easel. It takes time. Be patient and gentle with yourself. Enjoy the present moment, and leave the rest to a kind universe. Angst only cripples.

North Shore Mantra 2) Remember that all is relative. No matter where you are on this journey, there will always be artists who are better and artists who are worse than you are. Comparing yourself unfavorably with others is not only a downer- it is a distraction that robs you of your clarity. Why allow a beautiful painting to make you sad or insecure? Try to replace judgment and discouragement with inspiration. Be happy for those better artists who show the way. We are all one big family. In spite of this competitive current culture, do not have beating others as your goal. They are not taking your spot at the table. There is room for you, and… a chair with your name on it. Most of the ‘cover artists’ that I admire have this humility, awareness, and sense of perspective.

3) Know the reason WHY you are an artist. If you go beyond the simple answer of superficial fame and fortune, I bet you will find something that comes from a deeper place. Re-examine your artistic aims. Know what stirs and fascinates you. What we discover when we go inward is our poetic response to life. What abstract elements make your heart skip a beat? People want to know how YOU see the world.

Spend more time developing a feeling for your subject on the front end. The deeper you contemplate what is before you, the more you will bring to your viewer. One of my favorite quotes from Emerson is this: “The power in a work of art depends on the depth of the artist’s insight of that object he contemplates.”

4) Keep growing and love the journey.

The legendary cellist Pablo Casals was asked why he continued to practice at age 90. “Because I think I’m making progress,” he replied.

Happy Painting!

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  • I had one of those “moments” yesterday… several of them to be correct! Opening my computer and checking email first, seeing an OPA post, and reading it before going to others, it seemed as if you knew what I have been going through. I actually thought why not just give up the art because I have so much going on in my life. And my thought was “I’m such a fraud. I don’t have a clue what I am doing.” Of course I didn’t stop, I brushed out what I knew was wrong in the piece and started correcting.

    Honestly I am not comparing my work to others, but have been painting for over 40 years and have been very successful. I love the success and the work of others. I know enough to realize it is only growing pains. But right now, I don’t know who I am or what to even paint. I will continue to explore that thought. I haven’t given up before, and I won’t now. I will continue to practice. Thank you for a very timely post!

  • Anne Blair Brown

    EXCELLENT blog, Mary!! Beautifully written, and I agree wholeheartedly. Thanks for putting these encouraging words out there.

  • Rosemary Holusha

    Thanks for the comments. Sometimes artists think they must do what others are doing or they will be left out of the race.
    R. Holusha

  • Debbie Bruce

    So glad I read your article! I, too, found it to be such an encouragement, and so real! Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us!

  • Ellie Harold

    I love this! I read it as a sort of “Desiderata” for painters. I will take it to heart. Thank you.

  • Carol Hopper

    What an excellent blog. I believe it is the best I have ever read. We are on a spiritual journey and every day is part of that process whether we are painting or not.

  • Ilse Taylor Hable

    Very well said!
    Thanks for you post.

  • Jennifer Stottle Taylor

    Absolutely the best article! I am passing it on to my students and followers. Thank you!

  • Barbara Young

    Thank you again for saying the most encouraging words at the right time. Carol Hopper shared exactly my sentiment: We are on a spiritual journey and every day is part of that process whether we are painting or not.

  • Suzie Greer Baker

    So insightful – After particularly frustrating days or after experiencing rejection, I’ve often gone to bed wondering, “Why I am doing this!”Then I get up the next morning wondering what I’m gonna paint next! One of the benefits of an irrational ego and short attention span. Ha

  • Thank you so much Mary. We all have those days of questioning our career choice. My best work has come immediately following emotional journeys into self doubt. No one forces me into my studio and the sun will come up tomorrow even if I paint a piece of garbage today. Every blank canvas is an opportunity to do something magical and worthwhile. If it doesn’t happen today then maybe tomorrow. When I have a string of bad days I do something different for a day…play golf…go fishing…mow the yard…anything but art. Then walking into the studio and smelling the paint is all it takes to right the ship.