Monday, January 5, 2015

What's Reality Between A Couple of Friends…And a Bunny? Part 3

Part 3: FEAR

This six–part series explores how our perception can advance or impede our efforts in realistic equine sculpture. In Part 1 we defined “perception,” or the ability to See, and discussed how it interplays with our process. In Part 2 we explored some of our perception's inroads that help propel our efforts forward.

The overall idea is this: our perception of reality predetermines what we absorb and apply to our clay, and being just an approximate interpretation of reality, how we perceive reality is inherently subjective. This is important to consider since this art form asks us to infuse as much objective reality as possible to reproduce a factually accurate, or "realistic" equine.

The ideas discussed in this series are unconventional to be sure, but understanding how the biology and psychology of homo sapien can help or hinder our efforts is an immensely useful tool. So while the discussions are of a philosophical nature, they do have a practical side as well because coming at these issues sideways can illuminate the subtler forces at play better than instructionals, particularly for advanced skills. Hopefully, we’re thus armed with perhaps a better understanding of what’s going on inside our heads to help us better with our hands.

The White Rabbit, lifted from Alice in Wonderland, is our metaphor largely because many of the effects we’ll explore do seem “curiouser” than most! So in this Part 3, we’ll continue with these ideas, so let’s go!


Our perception isn’t only connected to our Self, but also to our mind. So let’s think of our perception as both the library and the librarian. It’s the storage and the filter, the automatic mechanism the Self looks through and draws from to interpret the world. All information goes in and out through this primary conduit, and puts a personal spin on all this flowing data. In short, perception is the seat of our psyche.

So then there's the mind. Let’s regard our Self and our mind as two different things because it offers this useful idea: think of the mind as the processing interface that transfers what's contained in the library to our hands and so into our clay, a bit like a bookmobile traveling from the library to the neighborhood. It’s our mind that consciously picks reference photos, selects workshops and materials, and makes deliberate creative decisions and judgement calls about the strategic, practical aspects of our process, but its our perception that points it in those directions. Said another way then, the mind is the seat of our logistics.

Can you see the trap in this set up? Yes—our mind can only draw from the direction provided by our perception. The bookmobile can only get its books from the library, and can only take those specific books the librarian permits. This is why no amount of additional information fed to our mind can improve our work. For instance, it’s why we can fail to make significant breakthroughs despite workshops, instruction, experience, or study. It’s why we can continue to make the same mistakes despite media or critique. It's also why we can get left behind in the marketplace. The mind is simply the wrong target—it's merely the grunt, the muscle (that makes the hands the lackeys). To avoid these unwelcome situations, we instead have to adroitly target The Big Boss, and that's our perception. So adjust that and we automatically adjust the mind, the hands and the clay. 

Information is simply information. Critiques, instruction, charts, text, photos, diagrams, discussion, ideas, demonstrations—it's all just raw data. Oh, let's be totally honest here…it's all complete garbally gook until our perception can make sense of it, right? Anatomy charts bewilder beginners for this reason. And horses are darned confusing to sculpt when we first start, aren't they? Our perception just isn't prepared (yet) to handle all the raw data, and so our hands flub things up in the beginning since our mind is forced to guesstimate. 

This doesn't mean we're incapable or untalented! It just means our perception is unprepared—and that's normal as newbs. All of us start with butterflies in our tummies and a crease in our brow! And to be fair, this effect follows us throughout our career in various ways as it’s part of that journey we're tasked to engage again and again. So it's not just about the raw data when it comes to learning, is it? No, it's even more about learning how to process that raw data that really counts. That is to say how to absorb, integrate, and apply it in ways meaningful to our specific needs.

To do this, however, we have to convince our Big ol' Boss that the new data is worth considering—but that can be a hard sell. It has its own idea of proper operations, correct expectations, and trusted connections, and isn't so hip on new, potentially threatening things. This is why that ol' Boss' reaction to "incredulous" new information is often a kneejerk, “WHAT!?" And sometimes followed by a balk.

Our perception prefers to know what its dealing with at all times, and so much so that if unable to marry incoming information with its current interpretation of reality, it can ignore it either as an off–hand rejection at worst, or a rationalization away at best, particularly if the delivery is unpleasant. But on the other hand, easing our perception's reactionary nature relaxes its grip on what it covets, allowing it to consider new information regardless of where it comes from or how its conveyed. This tactic also helps our perception to come to learning opportunities fresher, eager, and more impartial, maximizing the effect of the experience. 

"Every creative act involves…a new innocence of perception, liberated from the cataract of accepted belief."
~ Arthur Koestler 

One way we can calm it is to approach each sculpture like we were beginners, open to anything and without much presumption. The burden of success, popularity, or our past achievements can weigh us down with expectation, too. If our Self is too wrapped up in that baggage, we’re going to put our perception on the defensive, and that’s the last thing we want. So take a deep breath and just let go.

Take heart though—recognizing the hair–trigger nature of our Self let’s us anticipate its reactions, too, especially under stressful conditions because the more we understand ourselves, the more we can predict how our Self would react. For example, if we think to ourselves that this piece has to be “perfect,” that’s our worry talking, isn’t it? If we think our sculpture is going to be unbelievably difficult, that’s our insecurity talking, yes? If we believe that we're just going to meet with the same frustrations and troubles, that's our self–doubt rattling in our ear, right? So instead, just let go. Just do. The more neutral we keep that little voice in our head, the more likely we are to pick up on tidbits that could help us. Passion is good—hold onto that! We should just make sure that energy is channeling into our hands in a useful way.

Realistic equine sculpture benefits when we learn to keep our perception propped open like a window, to let in fresh air, especially when it most desperately wants to shutter up. The ability to stay relatively neutral—despite circumstances—lets us gather up gems of insight that could come from anywhere or anyone, too. Because—hey—if everyone interprets reality differently, who knows where that missing key insight might come from, right? It could come from a passing comment by some bystander, or a child could make a quip that holds some valuable truth. We have to play the long game.

That resistance we all feel when our Self gets riled is really just an automatic, preservative tripwire, just like when our hand recoils from a hot stove. But all input is neutral until confirmed or discredited by valid reasons, and with discipline and persistence, this impartiality becomes a habit that prods our curiosity to ask ever more probing questions. It also lends the strength and audacity to find the answers no matter where they lead because if we’re doing our research properly, it’s going to lead us into rather curious venues. For instance, perhaps we take a course on equine podiatry or dentistry. Maybe we study kinetics or robotics. Maybe we take a dissection class meant for veterinary students. We may read about the physiology of muscles or hooves. Perhaps we immerse ourselves in comparative anatomy. We could take a class in equine acupuncture or massage, or even riding lessons. Perhaps art classes like woodcarving or painting could open up to new ways to inform our hands. Heck—maybe we teach a class since one of the best ways to learn is to teach! There are many different ways to come at realistic equine sculpture that don’t seem obvious, but may hold that special nugget meant just for us. 

As our perception gains more options then—as our library amasses more books and our librarian releases more of them to the bookmobile—we can make more informed, varied, inventive, and strategic creative decisions. As such, our body of work deepens and becomes more provocative and captivating, and not only because of improved technical accuracy, but because of our renewed purpose. With so many unfurling choices at our fingertips, creative possibilities bloom and we gain new pathways to explore our subject, our clay, and our potential. Talk about confidence and inspiration!

With this under our belt, we aren't just treading the same old path repeatedly with the same old habits, ideas, and worries either. We've got fresh new ways of looking at things, and now we can back up our creative choices with evidence and practical experience, taking our work to new levels of authority. We're out there reaching new milestones previously unimagined even on our most ambitious day, and creating work with a truth and substance that speaks to the soul. Through all these efforts to reclaim, reinvent, and reimagine, our work becomes truly ours. Being spoon–fed is fine as a newborn, but we must learn how to feed ourselves to mature and grow.

Yet many artists don't realize this. Instead, they believe that simply gathering more information translates into advancement; that just stuffing more data into the head is akin to learning. But don't we usually end up stuck, confused, or nagged by a feeling that we're missing something important when we do? Don't we feel a bit lost, or incapable with this rote tactic? So we stuff our head with even more information trying to compensate, but somehow just seem to end up in the same place again and again. Or maybe we're even making new mistakes with the new information! Meaningful progress can be rather elusive with this game plan, with the resulting frustration either driving us into a frantic cycle, or souring us on new information altogether. Either way, our wheels spin faster and faster. 

"Heightened perception is the goal: becoming more aware of how you see, not just what you see.”
~ Michael Kimmelman

Here’s the thing: input cannot gain a foothold if it cannot first nestle in our perception. So if it's not so much the information itself then, what could trigger our perception's compulsive filter into action and so quickly? Let's think about this…what is it about new information that could make our Self so reactionary? Why would its default setting be defensiveness when faced with unfamiliar data, even when it may not necessarily be the data itself?

Hmmm…could it be more about the implications of that information? Could it be how our Self would be “threatened” by that data? What's validated or criticized? What would our Self have to admit if the new information was absorbed? What could it avoid or circumvent if refused? How much can our Self absorb and still remain relatively intact? What can be rationalized away, or distorted to fit its interpretation of its own reality? What's at risk? What's to gain? Our Self processes these and similar questions every time we're presented with new input, but it just happens so fast and so far under our radar we don't realize it. It's alarmingly easy to forget that our reality is just one of many versions. All this may not seem like such a biggie on paper, but it’s ominous stuff for our psyche.

Consider this…let's say we're deeply enamored with a favorite breed, perhaps the Paddle–Footed Puddle Pony. (Yes—I made that up.) We're so wrapped up in Puddle Ponies, in fact, that our Self along with our authority, self–worth, status, and life–purpose are fortified by it. We’re known for our loving sculptures of Puddle Ponies—we’ve made quite a name for ourselves, indeed. With so much at stake, our perception wouldn't be terribly objective, will it? If vexing new information compromises Puddle Ponies then, it would likely compromise our Self, too. Or if a critique of our Puddle Pony sculptures was given, that can cause our perception to throw up defensive walls. When so much of our Self is invested in Puddle Ponies, it's possible uncomfortable truths won't be so welcomed.

The fact is, however, we can observe this effect everywhere in those who feel threatened, with openly opposing information interpreted as actual affronts to someone's version of reality. The socio–politico–religious landscape is fraught with this phenomenon, for instance. Life isn't always an arena of clashing philosophies, but a cavalcade of clashing realities, some which may have a Self so deeply entrenched that to question its reality is to literally question it. The power of that compulsion is strong, isn't it? It should be—that's our psyche pushing back—and it can become overwhelming without maintaining perspective. And that can be a problem for our work.

Here’s the thing: whenever we invest ourselves in something, our Self has a tendency to stake a claim on it. And the greater the investment, the more adamant the claim. As equine artists, we’re probably already deeply immersed in three particular worlds typified by Self–soaking: the horseworld, the art world, and our own world. That’s a triple whammy, and with so many pressures, there’s plenty of opportunity to become inordinately devoted to such a point that we lose sight of our long game. 

If we aren’t very careful then, this triple–threat immersion can put our perception into such a deep conflict of multiple interests, it has to defend multiple fronts of our Self and its claims. This can intensify our perceptions's filtering activity, causing it to become even more resistant and dogmatic, and without us realizing this kind of reaction is happening. It's simply our reality. The power of cults is a good example of this situation, as is the entrenchment of the Big Lick in the Tennessee Walking Horse industry.

We've probably encountered this effect in our adventures already, and probably pulled ourselves our of that nosedive in time. No small matter to be sure! This effect is almost characteristic of the horse world as seen in the steadfast belief in many fabricated breed mythologies or outdated color doctrine. We also find it pervasive in the exaltation of breed type to the point where nonviable, unsound features are lauded as ideal—the Quarter horse and Arabian horse halter arenas being classic examples. Many of the modern show ring philosophies behind purebred dog breeding are good examples as well. Likewise, we may encounter artists who emphatically defend their work when technical errors, problematic technique, or mistaken notions can be plainly illustrated by facts.

This is the danger of an unaccountable perception, of a Self allowed to believe whatever it wants in spite of objective reality. There’s good news in this, however. How? Well, since our reality is both interpreted and dictated by our perception, we can change our reality by changing our perception. 

“If you learn something too well, it will get in the way of your perception of reality.”
~ Darby Bannard

All this illustrates why learning to tweak our perception at will is uniquely helpful for realistic equine sculpture. When we can hold our personal tenets more lightly, we can tinker with our perception as needed to change our reality to better maintain our forward momentum and benefit our long game. We’re also put in a better position to make independent decisions consistent to our informed values, and that reinforces our conviction. 

Even so, this constant monitoring asks much of us. This is because we’re asking our perception to work in opposition to its prime directive—instead of working to reinforce our interpretations, we're asking it question them. But this is one of the best ways to root out our blindspots, dated techniques, or mistaken ideas about our abilities.

We should be kind to ourselves in the process, however. Our perception doesn't mean to be such an obstacle but, all in all, it's actually helping a conscious, emotional creature navigate a dizzying, conflicting world. Imagine having to reinvent reality every new moment? How could we survive a single day? How could civilization survive? It would be like dementia, blipping in and out of different realities at random. It's our perception that constructs a pathway for our nature and nurture to interact with the world, but that also means we aren’t just interacting with different people, we’re interacting with different interpretations of reality. Each of us represents a wholly different and complete universe, cooperating and coexisting.

Yet while our perception allows for all this, it’s also the very reason why our perception is so darned resistant. To protect the Self, it can block contradictory realities while simultaneously reaffirming it's own. It can cherry–pick desired tidbits from contradictory realities to contrive false compatibility or unjustified rejection. It can be a bit of a tyrant, too, reacting as an instinctive, impulsive shield. It also covers its bases brilliantly. For example, it can convince us that resources that reaffirm our own version of reality are equally undeniable even when fatally discredited by evidence. Political pundits, the antivax movement, and the cult of the celebrity are good examples. And the idea of cognitive dissonance is a good example of just how powerful our perception can be in this regard, and what lengths it can go to protect its engineered reality. 

It takes an accountable perception to pull up from these common traps, to deliberately bring decisions into the conscious, level–headed state for tinkering. And it takes gumption to research with objectivity to find what’s actually true instead of just believing what we want truth to be. In turn, it takes quite a bit of cheek to go against the grain of peer pressure and accepted belief, and it takes courage to imbue what we learn into our clay, especially when our revelations may be misunderstood, or even rejected as “wrong.” Moxy is always needed to challenge misguided convention, especially our own.

All this means that when our version of reality isn't what’s happening to us—or what we think should be happening to us—cognitive dissonance can result. If strong enough, it can punch right through our perception’s safeguards to directly shock the Self…and the Self has only one primary reaction for this: fear. And the greater the shock, the greater the fear. 

Fear comes in many forms, so we may not recognize it at first. It can vary from something as subtle as a mildly annoyed "hmmmm?" to an all–out counter attack to a total dismissal of an idea entirely. Belittling, anger, defensiveness, dismissiveness, bragging, envy, insecurity, subterfuge, pretension, patronizing, boorishness, denial, and hostility are also forms of fear. And because it’s an automatic default, managing our fear is a learned skill for the most part, which becomes increasingly critical the longer we’re established only because we have more to lose. 

And that’s a lot, certainly. Especially so since all our developmental plateaus are born of our perception’s fear response. Fear of the new, fear of the unconventional, fear of change, and fear of admitting our methods may be obsolete, fear of rethinking how we do things…these all contribute to high–centering our growth.

Fear also drives us away from the essentials needed to take our work to the next level. In this form, it can turn the technicalities of anatomy into something “too scary” to attempt, causing us to fall back on the easier aspects of conformation and breed type to compensate. Fear can even convince us that conformation actually overrides anatomy as our perception rationalizes its fatal misstep. Fear can blind us to the reasons why our work may not sell as well, too, or inhibit our ability to identify our problem areas altogether. If we find ourselves rationalizing why our work is being outpaced in the market, that’s our fear of introspective self–critique at work.

All this, of course, makes grappling with our fear a tricky task only because it's not a knowledge gap or a lack of skill or talent, or even inexperience we're working against. It’s our own deep–seated aversions born of the ardent belief of how our reality should be, not what it actually is. It’s a conflict of interest nestled within a conflict of interest, and that’s some potent juju.


This topic isn't often discussed when it comes to creating art, is it? Yet fear plays an ominous role in realistic equine sculpture thanks largely to the intense demands involved. Heck—they're intimidating, aren't they? I sure think so! Even still. 

Because right from the start we have outrageous standards to meet and a formidable bar to clear, don’t we? And the loftier the goal, the higher the bar! There's no shame in admitting that. It's completely natural to worry we're going to fall short of our intentions, especially when comparing our work to other’s, or to our maddeningly complex subject. We know instinctively we've chosen a challenging art form, and while we start our exploration buzzed on excitement, hope, ambition, and optimism…let's be honest here…we're also haunted by trepidation, doubt, foreboding, and insecurity every time we start a new piece. We're human after all.

Realistic equine sculpture is no simple thing. Every artist, no matter how gifted or experienced, always struggles with fear in some fashion. There's just so much to getting it even halfway right, it's a lot to take in and even more to put into clay. Horse folks also tend to be vocal in their opinions, don't they? Oooo boy…especially about believability and quality. We know, before we even start, that our work will be scrutinized by a sophisticated public emboldened by exacting expectations. And because the living animal serves as a direct comparison, there's no hiding errors when faced with such an example.

Realistic equine sculpture also tends to favor perfectionism, and perfectionists tend to place inordinate pressures on themselves. This love–hate relationship with perfection can generate pieces of breathtaking realism and life to be sure, but it can also breed corrosive self–doubt and the sabotaging tendency to leave unfinished what we start, both of which are still more manifestations of fear.

Fear can also cultivate a habitual interpretation of form that acts like a security blanket, offering a bit of convenience when faced with such a daunting task. It’s understandable though, isn’t it? When faced with our complicated subject, the comfort of formula and routine becomes inordinately tempting. For example, we can become so dependent on the artifice of anatomy charts that we’re driven to meticulously render each minute structural detail the in the equal, sharp focus found in an illustration. Similarly, the creative crutch of an invariable approach to muscle definition is a fearful means to contrive stricter rules for something that’s organic and quirky. Trying to reconcile the messy nature of living anatomy is no easy task, that’s for sure! 

It can go the other way, too, as our fear can plunge us into letting too much go by us. Contrived stylization or simply “fudging it” can be means to mitigate the daunting chaos of living anatomy with our clay and in doing so, we can end up expressing anatomy too ambiguously. Fleshy looking bone and bony looking flesh are good examples.

Now add conformation into all this and we now have an even more imposing proposition, don't we? All those features that establish "quality" and breed type are now part of our already complicated equation! What's more, conformation is also entangled with reputations, status, legacy, identity, history, and ideas about worth, trendsetting, and tradition in both the horse and art worlds. Many artists have even built highly successful careers catering to a specific breed or sport, and that kind of personal investment carries with it an emotional load made even heavier by a sharp–eyed public.

Add into this commissions and working with clients who may have very definite ideas about the depiction of their prized champions, and so can be particularly tricky to skipper. More still, we have to weigh everyone's different idea of perfection, and sometimes it seems like we've been thrown to the wolves, doesn't it? Trends, fashion, peer pressure, and fads can sway favor any given year, too, and they may even run counter to our own aesthetic, values, or goals. It's quite a gauntlet to run, make no mistake.

Adding fuel to this fire, some folks adopt an unapologetic militance about their favored breed or sport, which is fine—passion is good. But passion indulged without perception, inspiration exercised without perspective, can lead to questionable choices validated in the show ring and the studio. They can also stoke our fears even more by compelling us to grasp onto our incentives too tightly.

Oh, but it doesn't end there! Now sprinkle in the very human proclivity of “more is better” (or the fear of “not enough”), and we find another worrisome feedback loop, one that usually generates increasingly extreme expressions of type or structure. This effect can actually be found in both the show ring and the studio, each reinforcing the other in mutual admiration. Many nonviable features of modern halter horses, or abusive training methods, for example, are classic examples of what these feedback loops end up endorsing.

Fear can also set a trap for sculptors, jurors and collectors alike because a certain look to sculpted anatomy that gains wide approval can then condition everyone else to do the same. Yet we may find that these “approved” interpretations aren’t as realistic as they could be, and so adopt other means to more closely interpret our subject, only now we’re going against the gestalt of what's deemed “correct." The sculpting of hooves is a typical example, as is the "cat clock" nature of equine eye movement.

And so we come to the strongest fear–induced temptation in realistic equine art: objectification. On the surface, it may seem like this has nothing to do with fear, but metaphorically tip it in the light just a little bit, and its nature is revealed: it’s simply the fear of creating a subpar example. Getting back to that perfectionism streak inherent in this genre, sometimes we can get so caught up in creating that “perfect” specimen that we begin to idol worship, we start to turn our conjured idea of “perfection” into an icon, a paragon of form only. In the process then, we can forget the deeper current of empathy, substance, and inherent dignity of the individual soul we're depicting. We can even elevate conformation—particularly points of type—into such a high status that they begin to override good biological sense or actual realism.  

This isn’t to say that points of type aren’t important—they are—but it’s to suggest that when they become the overriding motivation, we can get ourselves into unnecessary trouble. Devotion to our subject is commendable, and diligence in conveying what’s preferred is laudable, just as long as we do so in an informed, honest, and respectful manner that pays hommage to this gracious animal.

There's an important difference between reverence and reducing our subject to aesthetics. If we don't appreciate being held to the Barbie® standard, as through our worth was measured only by our looks, why demand the same of our subject, particularly when so many modern ideals cause harm? The demand for the everexaggerated "classic" head in the Arabian is a clear example. This animal’s evolutionary story began long before our ideas of conformation and type arose, an idea to keep extraclose in the studio.

"Everyone is prejudiced in favor of his own powers of discernment…"
~ Pliny the Younger

Chances are, however, portraying breed paragons may have been a motivator to take up realistic equine sculpture in the first place. Indoctrinated by the real horse world that tends to practice objectification as a matter of course, this preoccupation with “perfect” can remain, and be such an influence as to become what is “realistic” all by itself. That is to say, conformation and points of type become the overriding determinant of “realisitic” in lieu of anatomy. This failure to make the necessary paradigm shift from real world to realism can cause us to apply incomplete criteria to clay, compounding and protracting our blindspots.

Mash all these ingredients together, and we cook up a steaming pot of hot, bubbling fear, don't we? Our eager naiveté may be the most common—if not the most efficient—incentive for gorging on that thick, percolating stew, but it's our fear that fuels the fire that cooks it. Objectification can only prevail when we’re deficient in biological understanding, yet this animal deserves our spunk, right? And we owe it to ourselves as well, yes?

When we don't mediate our fear, we're doing ourselves a disservice, personally and professionally. On one hand, we've immediately assumed we're incapable of understanding what we believe to be "too difficult," and that's a serious bummer. To think ourselves so inadequate that we don't even give ourselves a decent shot just doesn't seem right, does it? Because each of us are capable—each of us has a locked–up potential just waiting for a key! To let our fears be the ones to dictate for us, to determine how we relate to a subject we love and admire so much, doesn't need to happen. Each of us can be free of our fears, but only if we follow our subject where he leads. 


But that's no small thing, is it? When we take up tool and clay to realistically capture this animal in sculpture, it's not just a matter of learning the various techniques. That's the easy part! Beyond even the hows, it’s the whys in art that often prove more challenging…and fewer whys are trickier than those found in realistic equine sculpture. 

When we start sculpting, we probably come to it loaded with an outlook cultivated in the real horse world. Ordinarily this would be fine if not for its imposition of preprogrammed ideas that impede the new kind of fearless perception we need in the studio.

For example, we cannot take for granted what the real world can such as anatomy, biology, behavior, anima, character, physics, cause and effect, along with many other factors. The living, breathing animal already presents those in life, but no such circumstance exists in our clay. That means we have to pay attention to every tiny bit only because we have to recreate all of it clay, from scratch. What judge will ever have to determine if a horse's leg is built anatomically correct? Sure, they'll have to determine whether that leg is conformationally correct, but they're never going to have to decide if it's an equine leg!

To do that with any degree of fearless objectivity then, we can't have what we've become habituated to overlook in the show ring transferred into our clay, becoming what we still overlook in our sculpture. We cannot, in this sense, get "stuck in the real world" and weight only those things horse judges evaluate because we have to focus on so much more. And nevermind that we have to wrangle all this while also developing our new skills and new methods! Small wonder why fear–induced shortcuts are so tempting, isn’t it? But "the only way around it is through it" when it comes to conquering our fear.


Fear is a funny thing, isn't it? It takes so many routes to lead our perception astray, and all its hidden traps are instead interpreted as validations of our interpretations. And we're discussing it for one very important reason:

We can't thoroughly consider another interpretation of reality if we fearfully resist letting go of our own. 

If we wish to develop new possibilities in our repertoire, we'll simply have to venture into new distressing territory to challenge our perception—head on. We'll be uncomfortable for a time, sure…scared, unsure, indignant, maybe even offended. Perhaps a bit combative. At that point it’s time to git our gumption on! Max out our moxy! Muscle through it!

"Positive change always encounters resistance, conflict, and obstacles. We must embrace difficult and heated situations in life, for that is the method of igniting our reactions in order to transform them."
~ Yehuda Berg

Our Self will be asked to face and admit some uncomfortable self–realizations as it sheds its fearfully–grasped reality. When this happens, its evolution will filter through our perception and into our work, and—trust me—it'll be a thrilling experience! For this one simple truth…

We must change ourselves for our art to change.

This metamorphosis is one of the gifts offered by this animal, to be welcomed, pondered, and shared. We’ll start to contemplate our Self as we strive to portray the Self of another, particularly one with such a different reality. Our nature, baggage, motivations, values, biases, sacred cows, fears, and goals will be brought to bear as much as our process, tools, materials, and references because when we reassess how and why we're doing things, our task takes on a very different timbre. 

"Pride and ego get in people's way, it gets in the horse's way."
~ Ray Hunt

So we have to let our defenses down. All of them. Our Self must take a back seat to openness, awareness, curiosity, and humility to lessen our perception's grasp on its biases and presumptions. There's no other way. Let this happen without fear and we gain the thoroughfare to explore into the vast, new landscape of this marvelous creature.


Hey—all this seems to be getting away from the point of perception! And—wow—it all sure seems to promote rigorous self–doubt! What gives? Is it a veiled insinuation that we're all fundamentally unable to pilot our own progress? That no matter what, we still don't know what we're doing? How insulting! Not cool!

Oh, no no no. Fear comes in many forms, and it can sneak up on us, like the reaction above. Each of us are capable of creating without fear, and able to forge our own creative destiny—we just need to give ourselves more credit. And if we learn to acknowledge and dissect our fears, they lose their power, don't they? And we’ll likely find the hidden keys to unlock our real abilities along the way, too.

"Art that serves an artist best is an experiment in expanding awareness."
~ Peter London

Because if we're recalibrating and amplifying our perception properly, and really digging around in our heads, we gain a measure of Self–awareness. What’s that? For this series, we can think of it as…

Reaching a point where we consciously understand and manage our perception's whys and hows in order to make informed, deliberate, fearless creative decisions.

It may seem odd, but Self–awareness is as necessary to realistic equine sculpture as our hands, eyes, tools, techniques, and inspiration. A kind of inward acuity, it improves our ability to tweak our perception at will, in any manner we wish. To do so, it lets us gauge our work more freely against new ideas, which in turn lets us navigate our motivations, quirks, strengths, and foibles with less reactionary resistance to maximize our creative outcomes. 

For instance, we can begin to accept that another artist's interpretation of musculature is more skillful than ours, and then learn from it objectively. Or perhaps we've reached a point in our development where typical avenues of education fail to offer the creative components we need, and so must venture out to unorthodox means to expand our understanding. Or during our research, we find that conventional, popular ideas are fundamentally wrong, and we can’t be afraid to challenge them through our work. Or maybe we have a sneaking suspicion that we've been sculpting some body part wrong this whole time, but knee–jerk defensiveness would only get in our way of exploring that possibility. Similarly, an astute critique from a colleague may have pointed out some errors in our sculpture, but rather than throw up resistance, we explore their ideas earnestly in the hopeful belief that their reality could be more helpful than ours.

"Skill is less important than awareness." ~ Graham Collier

Attaining more realism in our work then is partly about becoming fearless, isn't it? It takes a dollop of daring to uproot the hiccups in our perception to boldly plant seeds in unknown territory. To admit difficult truths and amend them takes a goodly amount of gumption. And to believe we're capable of so much more takes a bit of boldness, ‘tis true. But we are capable. Giving ourselves the freedom to take the chance will let us whack that creative curveball home! All insecurity ever got anyone was more of the same.

"Your chances of creating deeply hinge on the quality of your awareness state."
~ Eric Maisel

Success shouldn't make us complacent but rather compel us to dissect ourselves even more to really root out what's given us that measure. There's always the next hill! That’s a critical step for staying fresh because… 

The truth is our own self–imposed paradigm
can be the most stifling.

Once we start shedding our fears, we can recognize new truisms, two of which are particularly relevant to realistic equine sculpture.

For one, we open ourselves to this animal’s experience on his terms. His internal universe, biological fundamentals and immutable individuality come to the surface rather than being garbled by our own. We can acknowledge that our subject's perspective, experience, interpretations, and priorities—as both an equine and an individual—are quite different from ours, but no less valid. This helps us to realize just how gracious, cooperative, and accommodating this animal really is then, and how much we take for granted. It's much harder to objectify the equine when we perceive his insides just as much as his outsides. 

Even still, leaving our reality behind allows us to more authentically convey his reality…and the same goes for the realities of other people. It's easy to believe other people are simply clueless, lazy, or talentless, or perhaps acting out of envy, resentment, or spite, especially when we're feeling belittled or threatened. It's said the best defense is a good offense. But these fear–induced reactions can cause us to shut out the possibility of more accurate realities only because it may be we’re the ones who are wrong. How do we know unless we investigate? To recalibrate our perception, it's smart to consider if other people are right. Without our fear, the delivery of information won’t matter so much as the information itself.

Yes, that can be a bitter pill to swallow, but the fact is that just because we believe something to be absolutely true doesn't make it so. Belief and truth don't always overlap in our perception unless we train it specifically to do so.

“In a controversy the instant we feel anger we have already ceased striving for the truth, and have begun striving for ourselves.” ~ Buddha

With a well–trained perception, however, we can differentiate between the cacophony of opinion to absorb what's beneficial for our work, plus we gain a more serene frame of mind for dealing with the noise. Because—yes—there's a lot of noise out there, isn’t there? It comes with the territory, stoked by any number of motivations. The trick is tickling the chaff from the grain to identify the helpful bits, and that one humble step opens up a wealth of waiting possibilities and corrective insights. Only those who can take this step thus become able to objectively discern fact from fiction, truth from opinion, critique from attack, insight from ignorance, biology from harm, aptitude from convention, observation from insinuation, truth from peer pressure, and veracity from propaganda.

It's curious that our goals are reached first in our head and not in our hands, isn't it? Learning to trust ourselves by developing a trustworthy perception is one of the best gifts this art form has to offer. And that's a big deal in realistic equine sculpture for sure. We've got a really big job! Not only do we have to sculpt an anatomically convincing equine, but a life–like one as well. For that reason, our technique should go beyond precision to correctly mimic flesh, bone, hide, horn, and hair, plus we have physics and narrative to contend with as well. We also have to imbue our clay with emotional weight so our sculpture connects on an emotional level. Underlying all that, portraying this animal responsibly is important, too, since our art can advocate for the equine in ways that plant seeds of change. And the final kicker—we have to translate all this in 3D with consistent technical accuracy and skill throughout.

"The instinct that pulls us toward art is the impulse to evolve, to learn, to heighten and elevate our consciousness. The Ego hates this. Because the more awake we become, the less we need the Ego."
~ Steven Pressfield

Every sculpture requires this daunting task, and a well–trained perception makes it fearless and defensible. Developing a perception that’s confident, reliable, and adaptable frees us to make bolder, more ambitious creative choices and lets us trust those decisions no matter the scope of the design. That’s a happy return for all this hard work, isn’t it?


That was a lot to soak in, wasn’t it? Well worth it, though! In the next part, Part 4, we’ll dissect another facet of our perception, our pattern recognition response, that hardwired system that organizes reality for us. It may seem like an odd topic for realistic equine sculpture, but it’s a primary player in our studio.

So until next time…fear not!

"Ego is responsible for clouding the mind on the conscious level. It is far more difficult to access that part of oneself where the creative thought begins when one is attached to a certain outcome, a certain standard." ~ Carolynn Doan

Recommended Resources
THE METHOD, THE MADNESS AND THE MYSTERY, ongoing blog series, Sarah Minkiewicz–Breunig
PAINTING CONVENTIONS; FACT OR FANTASY?, Part I and II, Sarah Minkiewicz-Breunig (RESS article)

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