Sunday, July 18, 2021

The Perfectionist Paradox

 


Let me get this out of the way, but really, you probably already know this, right? I’m a dyed-in-the-wool perfectionist. “Hi, my name is Sarah…” <raises hand> From the moment I started customizing back in 1987, I was holy hannah bent on creating the very best work I could to the exclusion of any sort of rational justification. It simply had to be perfect. Go perfect or go home. And I’m still that way, in fact, even more maniacal about it than before because I have 30+ years of distilled, refined insanity behind me. Perfectionism is simply a part of my process now, simply a way that I think when it comes to my artwork.


Yet because of this fixation, I can drive myself to near breakdown trying to get something to “click” — to feel perfect. It doesn’t just have to look perfect, see…it has to feel perfect. Deep in my gut, it has to feel as though this is the way the piece was meant to be, this was how the Universe intended this piece to pan out, down to the square 1/8” landscape. So if a wrinkle isn’t just so — if it doesn’t click — it has to be redone…over and over and over until it does. This is what I mean when I say I “sculpt by feel.” It’s not that I’m sculpting on a whim or loosey-goosey — I try to follow those biological rules to the letter — it’s that each little fiddly bit has to feel as right as possible in my own little perfectionist heart. And that’s a tall order — a piece has to please the Universe, as I like to think of it, and it also has to please me. Phew!


However….


My work isn’t perfect. No one’s is. It never could be. Not ever. Not even 3D printing from a live scan. The only thing that can ever create a perfect equine is Nature. Only the living creature is perfect because DNA always bats last. Everything we sculpt, print, or paint realistically then will be flawed no matter how hard we try.


And that’s the Perfectionist Paradox.


This is something we have to reconcile otherwise we’re going to go mad and even just stop, right? We have to find a way to keep going despite this Sisyphean predicament. How do we do that?


“The most dangerous way we sabotage ourselves is by waiting for the perfect moment to begin. Nothing works perfectly the first time, or the first fifty times. Everything has a learning curve. The beginning is just that — a beginning. Surrender your desire to do it flawlessly on the first try. It's not possible. Learn to learn. Learn to fail. Learn to learn from failing. And begin today. Begin now. Stop waiting.”

- Vironika Tugaleva


Well, for one, we can recognize that the benefits lie in the struggle itself. The pro-active learning, the innovation, the experimentation, the learning of discipline, patience, diligence, and persistence, of discovering how to be kinder to ourselves and others, and of course the grand things that can come with dreaming big. We also place more worth on quality workmanship and intent, on originality and our Voice because perfectionism asks for a new level of devotion that cannot deny these things, indeed, that must embrace these things. Perfectionism also adds nitro to our developmental fuel, injecting a kind of urgency and expectation that drives us to improve faster and in more significant ways than a more casual effort would require. And if we weight the effort more than the product, each piece simply becomes a learning experience, practice for the next. In other words, rather than a period at the end of the sentence, each piece becomes a continuum, propelling us along at ever-increasing speeds. Perfectionism is simply the conduit by which we improve our work to the highest potential we can at that moment. 


“The seed of your next artwork lies embedded in the imperfections of your current piece.” 

- David Bayles 


And that’s an important concept to always remember — “at that moment.” We can only ever create as perfectly as we can in our current learning curve, right? This is why our past work shows our newbness and why our future work will be better. Perfectionism only works in the present with the piece we’re creating right now, and that’s actually a lot of freedom in there, to create in the present. Let go of the past, don’t dwell on the future, just put a full effort into the present and we’ll glean the most out of what that piece has to teach us. And we’ll also learn how to be gentler with ourselves I think — I hope — because if we accept that the moment is all we can do, we can accept a lot more of our foibles with generosity and humor.


And to brass tacks it, too, having some degree of perfectionism is inherent in every creative process. Even the most casual creators have a smidgeon; otherwise they’d never declare “done” with anything. Even if we just slap paint on a piece haphazardly in random colors and call it a day, we’ve still exercised a measure of perfectionism. If we hadn’t, that piece would never be finished, right? By the mere act of establishing some baseline of “this is good enough, I’m done," that must beg for a degree of perfectionism in there somewhere. We have a concept, we try to accurately express it, and we declare it done. That’s an exercise of perfectionism. The trick then is to manage it better so we don’t become a slave to it.


“There is a difference between obsessive perfectionism and taking time to create something that is the best you can offer. Knowing what needs to be better and stretching to improve yourself is what separates the mediocre from the marvelous.”

- Suzanna Reeves


So it’s not perfectionism itself that’s a potential problem, it’s how we relate to it that can spin it out of control. But that’s good, yes? This dynamic puts the power back into our hands because if the issue really is us, we can change our relationship to realign back to its benefits. How do we do that?


Well, fully accept that none of our work will be perfect, for one. We have to fully realize that and, in fact, revel in it. Instead, meditate on this: That anyone takes up tool or brush to create anything wholly new from their heart is a miracle in itself. The artistic act is one of such beauty and power and mystery, it’s a marvel every time it happens. Think about it — it’s the Universe recreating its own dreams for reals. Pretty amazing stuff! So to see the profound magic in creating is to recognize where its true worth is to be found. Hold onto that. 


Also fully realize that we’re going to be terrible at what we’re doing when we learn something new. Sure different people can have a higher baseline — what we’d refer to as “natural talent” — but in the beginning, we’re all struggling. And some may struggle more and longer than others because not everyone learns in the same way or speed. But that’s not the point, right? The point is to get a little bit better with each piece, to learn from our mistakes, to vet new methods and concepts, to stretch our expectations and ideas, to rethink and reevaluate, to do all those things involved in what we’d think of as “improvement.” When we do this, we’re going to learn more than just about arting, even better, we’re going to learn a lot about ourselves. To art then is to also and inevitably engage in a journey of self-discovery as we explore what we’re made of and what moves us. We are the process and our piece is simply the pathway. So one of the ways we get into trouble then is forgetting these things and framing our piece as something so unreachable at that moment, we’re just setting ourselves up for failure. Baby steps! Maybe have one or two big — but simple — goals for each new piece and leave the rest for later. We usually aren’t ready for all the information at once — things take time to process and grow into each other. Improvement is better achieved with building blocks and happy surprises than with unrealistic goals out of sync with our current skills. Small bites, well chewed. Yes — we all want to be creating at the level of that amazing artist we admire, but just remember their abilities took years of very hard work, sacrifice, and emotional investment to develop — they had to go through the hard won process of improvement and so do we. We’ll be far more invested in our efforts and successes through this as well.


Also understand that our work is the sum of its good points and the sum of its quirks — just like us. In many ways, those quirks contribute to our artistic style which, of course, plays so well into the distinctiveness of our art. Now we may work to mediate these quirks to achieve more technical realism in this clinical art form — as is the prime directive — and this is exactly how we gauge improvement. How close to the real deal can we get? Well, we pluck out ever more quirks, leaving the technicalities behind. But even if we get super, nutty close, quirks will still be present to make our work as unique as a fingerprint. And that’s actually a pretty cool thing! Hey — if all our work looked the same, wouldn’t our genre lose some of its flavor? And if the equine means so many different things to each of us, wouldn’t having different ways of expressing this splendid creature also appeal to those different aesthetics and prerogatives? There’s strength and vibrance in diversity! Quirks aren’t such a bad thing, are they? Well, given they don’t compromise things too much, of course.


Reset our motivations. Arting must first be joyful — it must fulfill us in a positive, inspiring way, or we’ll stop. Always — always — focus on the fun! And this joy is rooted in love — we must love what we’re doing or we’ll stop. All inspiration, all process, all effort, all sacrifice is rooted in this and what actually gets a piece finished. Stay centered on this, no matter what. Even when we want to throw the piece into a dumpster and set it on fire, stay centered on this. And well, on the flip side that level of extreme emotion speaks to our dedication and passion, right? And it’s already showing us “the way home” to quote Elizabeth Gilbert. So always follow those breadcrumbs back. Try to stoke our fires with that clean-burning love rather than impossible perfection and we’ll stay on track. And this is so important to lean on because…


Perfection is immensely intimidating, so much so it can even shut us down before we start! In this way, perfectionism can be a self-fulling trap and the only way out is to accept that perfection isn’t the endgame, it’s a means to an end. It’s a light to follow but one we’ll never catch…and that’s okay. Everyone makes mistakes! Everyone is creating imperfect work! If they’re okay with that, maybe we can be too, yes? And always — always — remember that imperfection in our work isn’t a personal reflection on us. It’s not a failure of our character but merely an inevitability of being human. And that’s not such a bad thing is it? It’s actually rather beautiful when you think about it — our frail but hopeful humanity has such passion for its Vision that we work to bring it into existence with all the effort, emotion, and sacrifice that requires. It’s an act of love and devotion and joy! Embrace that and worry about perfection later and in proper context…and just start. Let the joy of creating a new piece sweep you away and fall in love with it. People ask often ask me what’s my favorite piece, and well…it’s the piece I’m working on right now!


“Always dream and shoot higher than you know you can do. Do not bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself.” 

- William Faulkner


Recognize that perfectionism has a tricky way of exhausting our Eye and so can ramp up a false sense of frustration quickly. That’s to say, by fixating on things too long, because we want things to be perfect, we exhaust our Eye and so areas of our piece that are actually fine will start to look weird, unfamiliar, and incorrect. Sometimes the effect is so strong, the entire piece can be distorted in this way. What’s the inevitable outcome? We’ll just end up spinning our wheels with never-ending “corrections,” getting ever more exhausted and upset since we’ve simply fixated on things too long. This is to expected though when chasing perfection which is why there are many workarounds such as putting the piece aside for a time to “fresh Eye” it later or a more diligent use of calipers to do more “Seeing” for us. Diving into more references and research is another. Artistic exercises such as sketching, practicing and exploring alignments, planes, and anatomical structure can be helpful here as well. Looking at our piece backwards in a mirror is a very handy trick, too. Playing our with photos of our piece in a photo editing program like Photoshop is yet another, and a particularly useful one. If we can get our Eyes to look at the issues in another way, that often helps break the cycle. But ultimately, we also have to know when to say “enough.” When we let the Universe decide for us and let things just be. Because here’s the thing: This is a cycle, almost a syndrome, a fixation. Sure, there can be areas that bug us — that’s part of the process of finishing our piece — but this can spin out of control into a cycle that will trap us with false errors, so be vigilant. There’s a big difference between getting stuck on a piece because of a knowledge or skill gap and getting stuck because we’ve gotten lost in our process.


“Understanding the difference between healthy striving and perfectionism is critical to laying down the shield and picking up your life. Research shows that perfectionism hampers success. In fact, it's often the path to depression, anxiety, addiction, and life paralysis.” 

- Brené Brown 


Understand that perfectionism can become a form of procrastination, can’t it? It’s an impossible goal, so what better excuse to not even start in the first place. Really, if we aren’t creating, we aren’t making mistakes, right? But if we accept that everything we do will be imperfect, we’ve opened ourselves to the possibility of creating beyond our expectations with a happy surprise, a moment of serendipitous learning that often just appears like a gift from the Universe. And that’s what a lot of folks don’t know — some of our progress comes unexpectedly, out of the blue often through a mistake or a sudden new way of thinking or Seeing. If we aren’t working though, we’re actually denying ourselves of this very real potential — because it will happen, but only if we give it a chance to happen. So get out there and take epic imperfect actions with every piece!


“Too many people spend too much time trying to perfect something before they actually do it. Instead of waiting for perfection, run with what you got, and fix it along the way…”

- Paul Arden


Likewise, beware that perfectionism can turn into a form of avoidance, a manifestation of fear. Setting this lofty goal for ourselves is great and all, but it can be very intimidating if it’s blown out of proportion. We avoid this mistake by learning to set challenging goals that are still within our grasp, and we only learn what’s chewable with experience— so keep doing! Creative honesty with ourselves is so important because it actually helps plot out a path for progress that doesn’t only make sense to us, but gives us reachable baby steps that result in tangible success that builds our confidence. And with confidence we build competence and with competence we go where we want to go. Likewise, if we hit a wall, please don't assume then that it was because we're inherently incapable! That this is a clear example of how our fears were right the whole time! No. It simply means we bit off more than we can chew for right now so simply set it aside to allow our knowledge base to catch up later. That's all. No biggie. It happens. I've done it several times! So work on other pieces, do some artistic exercises and research, play around with other things...let those subroutines do their job. 


“At its root, perfectionism isn’t really about a deep love of being meticulous. It’s about fear. Fear of making a mistake. Fear of disappointing others. Fear of failure. Fear of success.” 

- Michael Law


Yet how do we gauge “perfect”? When do we know when something actually is our idea of “perfect”? Every artist has a different way to go about this so there isn’t one way. As for myself, I know when to call “done” when every bit of a piece cannot be finagled any further. When every tool stroke that could ever be applied has been applied, when no part asks for just a little bit more tweaking. When things are “just right” and it all fits together and falls in place. In short, when it feels done. It’s a mysterious state for sure — ambiguous and hard to pin down — but an artist just knows when a piece is done perfectly. It’s a magical moment, really. However, it’s a dangerous moment too because this is exactly where perfectionism can careen way out of control to keep us fiddling to overwork the piece. Yes — overworking is a thing. A very real thing. If ever I learned something after 30 years of sculpting, it’s knowing when to stop to better avoid overworking an area. Really, more times than not, our initial impulses — our first few tool strokes — are the better choices and so “improving” them with fiddling can refine them into a diluted or muddled version of themselves and they lose their organic quality, clarity, energy, and power. I can’t tell you how many times I ruined an area, even an entire piece, by overworking it! Go with your gut, flow with the energy, and learn to keep that energy contained in each tool stroke even if that means backing away and leaving it be. Trust the process! It’ll all come together later, and if that area still bugs you, address it then. See, if we get stuck in one place trying to perfect it — and probably overworking it — we’re going to hit a wall of exasperation. We become too focused on one aspect and we lose sight of the big picture. Keep things in perspective! If some area is bugging you — that’s okay, it happens all the time! Just keep going, move onto other areas, let the piece come together more as a whole then re-evaluate. Because I also cannot tell you how many times I’ve had to redo an area I loved because it was part of a larger correction that had to erase it! Everything we do now can be redone later if we so choose, that’s the beauty of artistic creation. Whatever we do, we can undo and redo at any time so don’t let unchecked perfectionism distract you.


“Perfect” also means different things to different people. Indeed, what is “perfect”? Sometimes not even the artist knows! And sometimes the artist doesn’t even see the exceptional work they created but fixate on those parts they believe are flawed. “Perfect” can be so subjective! And it can be so invisible. And here’s a crazy thing about perfection — the more “perfect” an area is, the more invisible it becomes! That’s to say, it lacks the big errors that would make it jump out at us. Oh, the irony! Now that does beg this: If that’s the case, then by definition “perfect” must mean that a piece matches the real thing so closely in structural features and coloration and effect, side-by-side photos would create complete confusion. And let's be real here — pun intended — that’s true. That’s the goal right? Photo-realistic equines in 3D? However, we’re also talking about art, and art is a big messy amalgam of style, technique, innovation, motivations, imagination, and possibility. Will we produce photo-realistic pieces? We’ll get darn close! Will everyone value them the same as “perfect”? No. See, what may be perfect to one person may be flawed to another, and all dependent on where we are in a learning curve. There’s also the component of personal taste and aesthetic, and of different goals and motivations. And we all know the adage, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” right? So no matter how perfect we think we’ve made something — and even if it is objectively darn near perfect — someone out there won’t hold to that…and so be it. They’re simply at a different point in a learning curve or have different aesthetics or goals. Conversely, we may believe something we’ve done is pretty well perfect, but an unknown blindspot has actually shot us off our mark right under our radar, and someone else without that blindspot will spot it quickly. Or perhaps they have a blindspot that interprets what we have right as wrong! What does this mean? That “perfection” is a concept that’s inherently flawed because humans are flawed and so evaluating perfection is flawed. So learn to stop chasing it when it ceases to serve us. Perfectionism can so quickly turn into tilting at windmills if we let it take over, so keep it centered as the process, not the purpose.


Likewise, “perfectionism” can mean different things to different people, too. What is it exactly? Think about it — how does one define the state of “perfection” when everything we create is inherently imperfect? And is perfectionism inherently good or bad? Because there are plenty of people out there who think perfectionism is awesome and plenty who think perfectionism is evil incarnate, and so there’s plenty of conflicting ideas about where it belongs in our arting. So while many may think it’s creating a piece without flaws, that’s really just one facet of what it can mean to us. It’s also one focused entirely on the end product rather than the process. So can perfectionism be about different things? Is it reaching our goal? Is it learning something new? Is it conquering a challenge? Is it achieving a state of clear in a joyful process? And what about the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi? Or on the other hand, the Japanese concepts of Dō or kaizen? Many times it’s the act of striving that’s all the perfection needed!


There’s this to think about, too: Is the state of being “perfect” actually a real thing then, or is it a subjective ideal we simply construct to have a goal? In a sense, yes to both, at the same time. That’s the funny thing about perfection, it’s both a real thing and an arbitrary concept, and oddly enough, especially when it comes to realism. If we “know our stuff” we can clearly see when a piece has more technically correct areas and when it doesn’t. The technicalities of realism simply give us more objective baselines for comparison. Simply put, the living animal is our objective goal of perfection. He’s real, he’s factual, he’s tangible. Likewise for artistic technique in our art form because sloppy methods or newb mistakes aren’t always so easy to overlook. Yet on the other hand, even a hypothetically truly perfect piece won’t be to quite a few people who’ll find flaw with it somehow for their own reasons influenced by differences in their knowledge bases, aesthetics, and prerogatives. For example, many of those fabulous hair-by-hair flatwork paintings of fuzzy animals could easily fool us at first glance. But to me, some can look forced because of the introduced error of regimentation and artifice in areas when instead, nature is defined by “organic chaos,” a quality excruciatingly difficult for the human brain to mimic, especially when it comes to repetitive actions like painting hair-by-hair. Even a snowflake is “messy” under magnification compared to how perfect they’re so often rendered in art. Then consider the issue of scale and proportion, which can throw things off, even subtly. A pencil can only get so sharp or a paintbrush so fine. And I remember being rather creeped out at Madame Tussauds because while those wax figures sure looked real (and were technically stunning), they weren’t quite in that unique way close calls can miss. So to me, some of these things careen into the Uncanny Valley rather than serve as examples of abject perfection. Again — everyone is different! And conversely, we’ve all seen the flawed piece showered with kudos as “perfect,” too. For instance, someone’s sculpture of a lion may look so real to my eye because I’m no expert in lion-ness, but when that same artist sculpts a horse, I See errors so I know that lion also has flaws only I’m blind to them. Wrap it all up then and curiously perfection is a real thing as embodied in the living animal but also a fantasy since everyone Sees that animal differently. Now one could argue then that a machine could create perfection because it lacks human foibles, right? Wrong. Sure, a machine can be far more clinical, but it’s only as accurate as its programming or technology or construction — all of it human-made — and none of which can match Nature in complexity, nuance, and detail. Yes, it can look darned close but when you really know what you’re looking at, you see what’s not there due to the limitations of technology. This is why perfection will always (so far) be the goal and never the endgame in realism and why, quite literally, the only “creators” who make perfect horses are breeders! But all this is a wonderful thing, isn’t it? In all this magical messiness is the potential for diversity, discovery, curiosity, innovation, and surprising ourselves as we strive in the try. So like the speed of light, even getting close is pretty amazing!


In the end then, think of perfectionism as a tool, a means to an end rather than the end unto itself. It’s just like a screwdriver, a hammer, a computer, a paintbrush — it’s just a tool. We can therefore do what we want with it, right? We can pick it up to move forwards or we can put it down just to play or we can throw it clean out the window when we experiment with new things. Perfectionism should also be thought of as a process of renewal — renewal of our love and joy, of our Vision, of our goals, of our inspiration. It’s best when it’s rejuvenating rather than debilitating, so stay focused on the positives it provides and manage it away from its negatives. Also try to detach ourselves from our work a little bit. Yes, our art is a form of expression, but it’s also something we just do and not necessarily always a personal reflection on us. Indeed, if we can’t stand back from it a little bit, we’re going to literally paint ourselves into a corner and close ourselves off to progress. How? Well, we’ll just lose that necessary flexibility for rethinking things by making things too personal. And there’s this, too — our work should take on a life of its own. In many ways, we can think of a piece as an energy — an “inspiration” — that’s trying to make itself real through us, and sometimes we just have to step back and let it unfold and exist on its own terms. Sometimes we’re just vessels. So while we may have this “perfect” vision in our heads, it’s often better to remain open to new possibilities of perfect as the piece evolves in creation. Along those lines, think about reframing our efforts — even our successes and failures — away from ourselves and instead more about whether our Muse showed up or not. Because sometimes it goes into overdrive or it just doesn’t show up at all! That’s normal. Every artist has unexpected triumphs and bad art days. Our Muse truly has a hand in taking us closer or farther away from our goal, so don’t be too hard on yourself if you come up short. Life is a mystery and art is even more mysterious.


“Healthy striving is self-focused: "How can I improve?"

Perfectionism is other-focused: "What will they think?” 

- Brené Brown 


Above all though, be kind to yourself. It may be very tempting — and it’s very human — to denigrate yourself in the face of failure. Resist it. Give yourself space to make mistakes or fall short or just fall flat on your face. That’s part of the process, too! The important part is getting back up and back at it to give it one more try. Each piece will test your resolve and in new ways, so the point is to keep going, not necessarily always being “perfect.” In this, we can think of perfectionism as a Path, a Way towards the improvement we crave and if we keep it in this framework, it’ll remain our reliable workhorse rather than an angry, stampeding T. Rex. Also actively praise yourself and your efforts. Seriously. Take moments where you recognize and acknowledge what you’re doing well with a piece and take stock in how far you’ve come — because you have come very far, and with such moxie and panache! Pat yourself on the back every so often — it’s good for you and you art. 


On the other hand, there’s this, too — every artist, every single one, will work on a piece that ends up simply being a lost cause. For some reason, it just fails despite our best attempts. Our Muse just doesn’t show up. And that’s okay! So it’s important to recognize when this point has been reached so we don’t end up in a perfection trap trying to save it and drive ourselves bananas. Learn to be okay with starting over from scratch or putting a concept on the back burner until something about our knowledge base can play catch up. Sometimes it’s not the right time for an inspiration to be born.


“Embrace being perfectly imperfect. Learn from your mistakes and forgive yourself,

you’ll be happier.”

- Roy Bennett


And lastly, I don’t know if anyone has told you, but I’m very proud of you. You’re full of beautiful potential and there are people who love you and your art. Even those folks out there you don’t know, even those potential peeps who’ll go bonko when they do discover you and your art. Some things in our psyche can be geared to grind us down and stop us, but please know that your potential is wholly unique, so special, and has no limits. Just believe in yourself a little bit. Just a little bit. Because a little bit is all it takes. You’re so much more than you suspect and your art is so much more worthwhile than you believe. You’re doing better than you realize. It makes perfect sense!


“Isn’t it a relief to hear that what might not be perfect for you might

be perfect for someone else?” 

- Neeraj Agnihotri


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Friday, July 2, 2021

Demonslaying 101 Part VI


We’re back with Part VI of Demon Slaying 101, the wrap up. Since Part I we’ve explored different psychological quagmires that can get dredged up every time we create, focusing on the three seemingly most common ones of imposter syndrome, negative bias, and self-doubt. The thing is, these three can manifest in different ways with different artists which can make it seem like we’re each an isolated psychological island. We’re not. The challenges with creating art are similar and so the emotional load we each carry — our fears, doubts, anxieties, and regrets — is similar. So while our course is ours alone to sail, we sail a crowded sea! So many little boats. We’re kin. We're the same tribe. And therein we have a support system, but only if we’re willing to reach out and share of ourselves, yes? We can share our coping strategies, hard-won insights, and nuggets of wisdom to patch each others’ boats and come to see that even the very seasoned of us still struggle. Our battles are shared battles and there are ways to do battle better.


This, too, is critical to understand only because those demons never truly vaporize and never fully shut up. We can muffle them, we can sit with them, and we can even use their words to fuel different outcomes, but they’ll be periodically noisy in our heads. Part of our progress then is learning how to continue despite them and all established artists have mastered that hard-won, unspoken skillset. In this though, each and every one, whether they know it or not, has made a choice: To accept the noise rather than quit to avoid it. And they face that choice again and again. Yet consider this — which is actually more powerful? The love of creating our art or the discomfort that’ll inevitably come with it? As Elizabeth Gilbert remarks in her TED talk, the love of her art was stronger than the pain of her failure and so always “called her home.” May you always find your way home. For this then, I highly recommend these TED talks — seriously, listen to them closely and take them to heart:


Elizabeth Gilbert

Success, Failure, and the Drive To Keep Creating

Your Elusive Creative Genius 


Brené Brown

The Power of Vulnerability

Why Your Critics Aren’t The Ones Who Count


Now in that spirit, let’s reconsider these demons because if we just spin things a little bit, they become a backwards reflection of some pretty fantastic things! For starters, they prove that we’re intent and conscientious artists who are passionate about what we do. Hey, if we weren’t, we wouldn’t beat ourselves up so badly, would we? Nope! We’d be indifferent and bang out shoddy workmanship and hit artistic plateaus without a care. That says a lot of great stuff about us and our art, doesn’t it? Similarly, these demons steer us away from becoming arrogant, dismissive, or from taking things for granted. Really, it’s not such a bad thing to stay a little shook, to second-guess ourselves every so often, to have some uncertainty and doubt filter into our process. It keeps us honest, hungry, resilient, and quick to reconsider things, and that means we remain pliable, adaptive, evolving, and authentic. Confidence is a fine thing to be sure, but unchecked confidence risks a kind of hubris that invites chronic blindspots.


Even so, these demons can be brutes, can’t they? But in giving us a beating, they also show us how to be gentler with others, to become more generous, empathetic, supportive, and understanding. Imagine how much nicer a community we’d have with more of that? This isn’t to say that beating ourselves up now has an excuse, but if we pay attention to the bigger lesson as we ease up on ourselves, it wouldn’t have been in vain. Because, let’s face it, while we’re punishing ourselves, we’re also given the power to stop, right? To learn to be kinder to ourselves as well in turn? To cut ourselves some slack, too? It starts with a choice — as these things always do — and that choice can be shaped into a habit which can then grow into a frame of mind. Just keep at it.


Furthermore, if we learn to harness these demons to check and balance our progress, we gain an inner dialogue that can more strategically guide us. Really, our inner voices are our first chorus of critique, aren’t they? So why not put them to work! Because if we can more objectively evaluate our work and establish goalposts with their input, don’t we have the unprecedented opportunity to make huge leaps forwards? What does that mean practically speaking? Well, turn that inner critic into pro-active study, into research, exploration and artistic exercises. Don't just take it sitting down — convert it into action! For example, workshops, classes, seminars, and even visiting sculpture gardens and museums are a terrific way to gather buildable ideas for our inner critic to chew on. So yeah — okay — we don’t like what these demons are saying? Prove ‘em wrong! Or even better, prove ‘em right! Better? Yes! It means we made a precious mistake and — bam! — we’ve just learned something. So think of our inner demons as a gaggle of opportunities we can tap into for growth, artistically or personally.


These demons can also help us find new ways to gauge self-worth by teaching us the perils of seeking validation from others, shaping us into more confident, composed, centered artists. Because the thing to remember is this: The problem isn’t that these inner voices speak, it's how they speak, how strongly, cruelly, and persistently they speak that’s the real issue here. Everyone has inner doubts, but those with particularly harsh, loud, and insistent inner voices can become paralyzed, for good reason. So learn to manipulate them and we do that by dissecting what’s fueling them deep down. Did someone plant a bad seed in our childhood? Did we have a surprising failure rock us to our core? Did we lose our joy along the way — how? Have we gotten swept up in trends that don’t mesh with our sensibilities? If we’re feeling behind the times or overlooked, is that our insecurity talking instead of our reality? The thing is, these inner voices can also be thought of as a warning bell, an alarm that’s telling us something is very wrong in how we’re doing things. In this way then, these demons can actually lead to a reconciliation with those distracting things that impede our happiness to strengthen our dedication to our art in the long run.


It’s also crucial to remind ourselves that it’s going to take a lot of tries to take even one step forwards. None of it — the learning curve, success, fame, innovation — will come easily. In fact, some of it will come quite by accident or as a surprise, and a lot of it will come with curiosity, sacrifice, persistence, discipline, moxie, and hard work. There’s a lot of chaos involved in all this — nothing is predictable and so nothing should be expected. Always go into anything in this activity with intention without expectation. Stay as open as we can. Create work that we love to create and have fun making folks happy, but always remember to enjoy the experience and to learn whatever tidbits it offers along the way. That’s it. Yes, it’s fun to daydream about all those ribbons and even hope that one of our pieces will finally put us on the map, but it’s a crazy world out there with a lot of great work and a lot of different opinions. There’s also a lot of opportunities to explore all these things in different ways so stay open to happy opportunities that can help us share and grow. And talk to other artists about these issues. Get these concerns out into the open to raise awareness and find connection because we can find a lot of strength and wisdom in each other.


It also bears mentioning that creating great art rests on something unspoken: Sacrifice. A lot of it. We don’t talk about this often enough. Our development isn’t just what we put into it, but what we’re willing to carve out — time, money, resources, energy, or anything else we have give up to more fully invest ourselves in our task at hand. Indeed, we have to buy the materials and equipment — and good quality ones. We have to put in the time — tremendous amounts of time. We have to pour in the energy, discipline, and focus — inordinate amounts. We have to invest in our libraries, travel to classes, and pro-active research and innovation — oodles of it. And all that’s gotta come from somewhere, right? Even from our social life and family life and our ability to buy other things. Can we do this? There is no right or wrong answer here — we each have our thresholds — but how we answer can sometimes pre-determine the nature of our progress. Because if we cannot make those sacrifices, our development can be slowed and we need to make peace with that. Honestly, there’s just no way we’re going to progress at the same rate as someone who can more fully sacrifice what’s needed to make those leaps. For example, I’ve sacrificed an active social life to develop my art — that was deliberate. I’ve also invested in my reference library and in travel to workshops, classes, and retreats rather than buying other things. I’ve burned countless hours in research and study, and artistic exercises as well. And because teaching is a great way to learn, I’ve also sacrificed tremendous amounts of time, resources, and energy writing educational articles and blog posts and helping to run RESS. Every step forwards isn’t a manifestation of what I put into it then, but also what was sacrificed to allow that step to happen in the first place. Not enough folks understand this equation and so get frustrated when their development pulls up short compared to others. This isn’t a reflection of their skills per se, but an indicator of their investment level. Because — yes — traveling to that expensive class may be just the ticket to our improvement, but unless we can do that, we’re going to get stuck behind our own learning curve for a longer time. And that’s okay! Not everyone can just throw life into the wind, especially if we have families, work schedules, pets, financial limitations, and other obligations. The point then is this: Our assumed “ineptitude” isn’t necessarily our innate abilities but is probably more a function of those life constraints that keep us from making those sacrifices that would lead to developmental leaps. Quite literally, "that's life,” not us, and we need to keep from beating ourselves up for the wrong reasons.


Altogether then, our ultimate outcome all depends on how we want to react to these inner demons— and that first starts with a choice. We have to choose to keep going every single time we hit a bumpy road or even fall down. Get up. Dust off. Keep going. Again and again and again. Do that often enough and all that internal turmoil will begin to morph from an obstacle into fuel. All that unease and doubt can transform into conduits for confidence, better forms of validation, a healthier sense of self-worth, a way to foster gratitude, and a wiser approach to all this. They become a call to action rather than a robber of intent. Ultimately, those artists who prevail with any degree of sanity have found a way to coexist with their demons by developing counterbalances to stay centered. And those artists who excel even further have found a way to turn each of their fears into an asset that propels them forwards. For instance, fear of failure turns into research which morphs into creative exploration that ultimately accepts failure as part of this cyclical process. Or the poor feedback we get that makes us feel worthless, overlooked, or angry, we turn that energy into letting go of peoples’ opinions and the need for their validation to dive deeper into creating work that pleases us more freely and enthusiastically. Or instead of fretting over another artists’ success while we meet with crickets, work to develop our Voice more robustly to make our work more distinctive and exciting. Or if that monster self-doubt starts yakking again, we moxie up to meet the challenge, throwing down a gauntlet in front of ourselves. Heck — maybe even decide to do something completely out of left field to add more fun into the mix! Sometimes creative boredom can masquerade as a pesky action-stopper because it’s certainly amazing how heady inspiration can bulldozer right through any lingering sense of dread. So it’s all about conversion of the negative into a positive. Instead of denying that energy, transform it! Absolutely, if we can convert negative energy that impedes us into something positive we can use, we reestablish mastery of our experience and hopefully regain enthusiasm in our work. We’ll probably even end up happily surprising ourselves! 


Because here’s the thing — your art needs you. It simply wouldn’t exist without you creating it. No one in the full breadth of the Universe past, present, or future could ever be its pathway — you are its one and only conduit. That really important. That means something really special. So believe me when I tell you that your art matters. Even when things seem so pointless and devoid of joy, it still matters. In fact, it matters even more. Hold onto it closer and even if you don’t trust in yourself, trust in your art. Because as it needs you, you need it, right? For your own deep reasons, your art feeds something wonderful inside you, fills you up and makes your inner light shine just that much brighter. It really doesn’t matter then what others think of all this, does it? After all is said and done, other voices are really just incidental. This relationship has only always been — and will always only ever be — between you and your art. You represent a beautiful duality, a marvelous symbiosis of you and this astonishing, unique energy within you. You give each other strength, affirmation, meaning, and purpose. Meditate on that for a moment to remember just how amazing and precious that is.


Yet despite being bonded with our art, the act of creating something can still exist on a precarious edge, a fine tightrope to walk every step. That urge, that joy for arting can be endangered so quickly and easily, can’t it? Even just one careless comment — even from within ourselves — can inflict a pile driver of damage. And when that happens, that’s a very real crisis that speaks directly to our humanity, to the very root of who we are. Sure, we can tell ourselves “I’m just being mean to myself again,” or “I shouldn’t take things so personally” and perhaps that works at times. But in those cases where these fail, we need a first aid that only comes with a fuller understanding of our internal landscape as it relates to our art. In a very real sense then, we’re tasked with strengthening our bond with our art, entwining that connection so strongly and densely that it’ll weather anything life could throw at it. We need deep roots. So in this way, our art asks us to get to know ourselves better, doesn’t it? Asks us to work on reconciliation, on acceptance, on exploration, of rethinking and revisiting, and a host of other personal discoveries that help us reveal more of what we’re made of and who we truly are. As such, our art invites us to become more authentic versions of ourselves so it can be a more authentic version of itself — and it will always welcome us with open arms no matter who that authentic you turns out to be! As we do this then, we may learn to identify those thoughts, habits, lifestyles, and arenas that harm us, helping us to stake out a new inner peace and balance. Sometimes those parts of ourselves and our lives we don’t need anymore can camouflage themselves as a distracting demon — dump those aspects and we dump those demons, too.


When we get to this point then, we’ll probably find a goodly wad of chutzpah — because we need it. Lots of it. Guts. Daring. Spunk. Moxie. Grit. Tenacity. Audacity. Cheek. Pluck. Call it what you will, but it’s the nitro needed for our fuel. Because joy isn’t enough. Joy won’t protect us from the negativity onslaught but crumble, even disintegrate. What we need is something much stronger, something deeper, something when fostered to full robustness, becomes indestructible. We need love. In the deepest sense, creating art is fundamentally an act of love which is why it feeds the soul so beautifully. It’s why arting can be such a sanctuary, a rehabilitation, a re-fueling. So feed that love and we feed our art, right? But what we may not know is that love itself needs huge chunks of daring to really make it go boom! Just like it takes a tremendous amount of courage — of a willingness to make ourselves vulnerable — to love someone, arting does, too. So to keep our courage up, let’s remember five things. First, our art needs us just as much as we need our art. It needs our energy, our tending, our love, and our dedication — it cannot exist on its own. And in return for life, it offers us so much more — and we’re worth that. So second, our art is worthwhile —  we’re worthwhile — even if our demons insist that isn’t so. They’re lying. Our art is truly worth fighting for so get back into the arena and start swinging! Third, more people than we know are rooting for us because they love our art. They may not always speak up or we may not always hear them, but trust that they’re there and they’re waiting in bated breath to see what we crank out next. Fourth, being able to practice our art is a blessing, a gift. Yes — it’s easy to short-change ourselves because self-love can be really difficult at times granted, but we must remember that it’s through our art that we can find healing in all this, too. So just keep creating. And fifth then, understand that the more we art, the easier arting becomes, and the less we art, the harder it remains. So the solution for a dry spell? For fear and doubt? Just do art. Take a big gulp and do more of it. Creativity feeds on itself, inspiration propagates itself, discipline refines itself, and moxie shores itself up. Feed all that with love and our creativity becomes unstoppable, even by those demons trying to tackle us.


“The most authentic thing about us is our capacity to create, to overcome, to endure, to transform, to love and to be greater than our suffering.”

~ Ben Okri


So protect that creative conduit and nurture it into unbounded growth! It’ll take work, it’ll take dedication and self-gentleness, and it may even make us uncomfortable at times as only the journey of self-discovery can, but trust the process. That light at the end of the tunnel was never a train, it was our art leading us with a lantern urging us onward. Don’t stop! As Churchill advised, “When you’re going through Hell, keep going.” When we’ve got a strong bond with our art, a better understanding of our authentic selves, a hefty dose of gumption, and a bold trust that we can make it through, we become the train plowing right over our inner demons.


Becoming demonslayers instead of hapless victims of our own design is just as crucial as learning how to use clay or pigment. In some ways then, the more telling — but backwards — measure of personal success in our niche perhaps can be achieving a robust amalgam of coping mechanisms because it means we’ve done something of note and we did it boldly and courageously. We “showed up” as Brené Brown would put it. And in doing so, we’ll learn that our boat is ours to navigate in our own waters, and with some insights and learned choices, we can ride out any stormy sea with relative ease to preserve our creative joy. 


So ultimately, our inner demons only have as much power as we’re willing to give them. But the thing to remember is this: They’re never going away because they’re the other side of the coin of our creative joy. All life is balance, right? So here’s the thing: Our inner demons may be manifestations of our darker selves, but that doesn’t mean they’re our more truthful selves. Cynicism, doubt, and negativity isn’t a function of being more genuine or more grounded in reality. Indeed, if they’re the other side of the coin, then there’s optimism, hope, and positivity on the other side that’s just as valid, right? Don’t let those demons dictate your reality! Don’t let them convince you that they’re speaking the real deal because, by definition, they cannot. Always wearing blinders, they simply can never see the full breadth of who you are and what you’re made of and how amazing your talent truly is. So if they start welling up again — and at times they will — remember this absolute fact: For every awful burden they bring, there’s a counterpart that’s just as true and real only we’re forgetting about it. Remind ourselves more often of those wonderful things as a habit — seek them out, focus on them, internalize them — and it’s brilliant just how quickly our creative frame of mind can change. It’ll take effort and constant vigilance, of course, but we got this. Sail n' slay on!


“Your art doesn’t exist to support you. You exist to support your art.”

~ Kiki Smith


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Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Demonslaying 101 Part V


We’re back again in Part V of Demonslaying 101, a discussion on those psychological challenges artists face when creating their art and presenting it to the public. This is a rather complicated set of issues to be sure, but they do tend to distill down to similar ingredients only because creating art boils down to similar ingredients. So let’s explore more in this Part V…


Now let’s talk about the white elephant in the room: Competition. Our niche is wholly unique, isn’t it? There’s just nothing else like it and that’s pretty cool! But the mere act of injecting competition into our arts places an enormous — one could say ominous — weight of pressure on our artists. Not that’s there’s anything wrong with competition! It’s done a lot of amazing things for our arts and people really enjoy that aspect of it, which is awesome. The point is then that we need a firm grasp of the realities involved and an arsenal of coping mechanisms or we’re going to get into big trouble fast. Because here’s the deal: Humans are competitive by nature. Know it or not, even the non-competitive really are. That’s because the drive that feeds competition can take many forms from competing with others to just stretching a little farther in our knowledge base. That drive to seek more, to achieve more is even at the root of our curiosity, for example. “How far down the rabbit hole can I take this?” is really just another way of saying, “I want more.” Many direct that drive into formalized competition like we see in our genre, but some artists aren’t so well served by adopting that for themselves all the time, and for some, not at all. See, turning our colleagues into competitors, into opponents, begs problematic outcomes if we aren’t very careful. For one, it can create an antagonistic environment for creativity and social interaction. When our aim is to blast away our peers with armfuls of ribbons to find self-worth — even in good fun — we’ve gone down a darker path. And what happens when that fails to happen? What happens when we’re the ones being blasted? It cannot be overstated how important it is to disconnect our self-worth from a ribbon, as counter-intuitive as that may seem in our genre. Honestly, when our system has no consensual standards is reason enough, when there’s no judge training is another. The real crux is this though: Ribbons are just manifestations of someone’s mercurial opinion which may have nothing in common with our knowledge base, our Eye, our goals, our artistic sensibilities, or a care for our journey. Again, placing our self-worth into the cheese grater of public validation only invites disappointment at some point. Can we process that well enough? Second, competition brings with it the inevitable outcome of comparing our achievements with those of others. We can see their awards stack up, can’t we? We can see the fanfare over their wins as the crowd heaps on kudos, all of which makes the lack of these things for us howl even louder. In turn, believing that we’re overlooked and ignored can lead to resentment, anger, and bitterness — how could it not? And it’s depressing if we come to believe we’re simply not as talented as our peers. What a toxic brew! Unless we can navigate our way through these reactions then — particularly with shows that really matter to us — our arting is a train wreck waiting to happen. And third, defeat is always inevitable. Nothing wins all the time, forever. There will always come a time when our work won’t win, or even place well…or even place at all. What then? What will we have to fall back on when that happens? When our self-worth is founded on public opinion — sure — that can fuel us for a time, but it’ll inevitably backfire. Are we prepared to cope with that? Then fourth, building our self-worth on competition is a slippery slope since every opinion out there has a different idea of what our best work actually is. What’s more, our own opinion of what our best work is may not jive with public sentiments, and lemme tell ya, that’s an odd place to be! So add it all up, if we can seat our self-worth into a form of competition that serves us more directly — such as competition with ourselves — we’ve gained a measure of poise and control. Yes, we may like to show our work as a means for feedback, which can definitely be useful, just be sure to maintain a healthy perspective on the nature of that feedback — it’s not gospel, it’s not written in stone, it’s not the end all and be all of the world. It’s just one opinion. So always keep things in perspective and learn to glean what useful tidbits can be found, and let the rest slough away.


Now — yes — certain pieces and certain artists tend to rise to the top. There is some measure of consistency at times. Yet in the grand scheme of things today, these are more rolls of the dice than bankable outcomes, aren’t they? Plenty of extraordinary pieces by esteemed artists don’t win or even place, and with quality so high today, it’s becoming harder and harder to predict which will win the big satin. Again, many artists find it better to inflect competition inwardly so they’re really competing against their past work, against themselves. Then meditating on their relationship with their work, the nature of it, the making of it, the purpose of it, the advancement of it brings with it a more trusty, positive support system because it addresses why we’re doing all this in the first place. Seating our self-worth into our journey instead of someone else’s journey — through their opinion — just seems a much better prospect, doesn’t it? Doesn’t mean we shouldn’t consider theirs when it serves us — because it can — just maintain perspective. Regard everything from a step back. The fact is, too, that our work is 100% truthful. It’ll clearly show when we’re lazy, hurried, or struggling, when we hold back or go full bore, when we hesitate or jump in recklessly, when we’re confused or confident, when we’ve made developmental leaps or our knowledge base has gaps — it’ll show the truth of our process over every inch. Pay attention to our past work along with our references, artistic exercises, solicited critiques, and pro-active education, and we gain everything we need for useful feedback.


“To the critic, art is a noun…To the artist, art is a verb.”

~ David Bayles


Each artist throughout history could write a library of personal journals on the making of their art. There’s just so much stuff to that experience, it would fill page after page if we were so inclined. To pare it all down really then, all art is autobiographical — every tool stroke, every creative choice, every bend to a leg speaks of the artist’s internal landscape. Yet at no point will a critic (or judge) truly know the full breadth of that landscape with any given piece. Ultimately, they’re only ever interested in the finished product and how it’s seated in The Grand Scheme of Things. To the critic, our art is an object, a personally-removed thing plunked down in front of them for evaluation against their own sensibilities and prerogatives, their own independent measuring sticks. As such, the artist and the critic exist in very different worlds that while they do have some overlap, they’re essentially at odds with each other. Consequently, we can make the mistake of assuming that the artist’s opinion on their work is subjective whereas the critics’s opinion is objective, but the truth is far more complicated. We’re human. Biases, knowledge gaps, sensibilities, prejudices, fixations, obsessions, tastes, and any number of factors all influence the nature of an opinion, even that of the critic. Indeed, if the purpose of the critic is to evaluate a given work without the full backstory of its process, then by definition that opinion is incomplete at best, or arbitrary at worst, right? Now it could be said that this is all but inevitable for the critic’s position — and that’s true — as scooping up the full backstories on each piece in a show would be a monumental task that would simply bring it all to a screeching halt. The critic has to pare things down just to get their job done. What’s the takeaway then? To keep all this in mind when our work is judged. They don’t know the whole story, do they? And perhaps we don’t want them to know it all. Sometimes the artist wants to keep some things for themselves. Plus, if the audience is largely only interested in the finished product, so shouldn’t the critic who serves it? We also have to consider this — people will like or dislike our work for their own reasons. It’ll simply affect people based on their own sensibilities, not ours, and that’s a fine thing. So think about leaving the door open for people to interpret our art on their own terms — learn to let go of our experience so others can have theirs. In many ways then, being an artist asks us to clutch tightly onto each work in the very act of creating it but when it comes to display, we’re asked to let it go. This strange place we’re plopped into time and again can never be truly reconciled, only tolerated. Like with Stormwatch. His narrative was thusly: He’s an escaped nondescript ranch horse which is why he’s a gelding and his feet are reforming into their wild form. He’s an old soul in transition, attuning to his new-found freedom and power symbolized by the wildness and force of the storm winds whipping around him, so many possibilities swirling around him now. But his freedom comes at a price — he’s responsible for his own wellbeing now, that daunting prospect rumbling in the dark storm clouds above. Is he shook? Nope. He’s Mr. Cool Cucumber, taking it all in stride. His time with humans has taught him a level-headed stoicism that will serve him well in his new life. And a curious new life it’ll be as he won’t fit into either a bachelor band or a family herd. Will he be forever a loner? Or perhaps he’ll find new friends in unlikely places? Maybe. But he’s not a Mustang. He's not a Brumby. Never was. Yet some people have ignored his actual narrative by insisting he is, even turning him into a stallion to force the issue. The true nuance of the piece has been completely lost on some — and I have to let that go. I know what Stormy means to me, but I have to let him mean other things for other people. It’s not easy, but there it is. And so it is and will be with each piece we ever create.

 

On that note, writer Henry James formed three questions in relation to an artist’s work. What was the artist trying to achieve with their piece? Were they successful in this? And finally the whomper: Was it worthwhile? Yikes! To have it all distilled to this is rather daunting, but the truth is this is exactly what we need to be asking ourselves with the completion of each piece as a means for improvement and introspection. We’ll have our own answers, of course, but here’s a tip — let some time pass before applying these questions. When we’ve just completed a new piece, bask in the awesomeness of that! We’ve earned it so wallow in the achievement! Then as the weeks, months, or even years go by, reconsider it. It can be hard, but applying those questions — with some distance — will do our growth good. This exercise also reaffirms our commitment to our art, a sentiment we’ll definitely need to lean on during tough times in the studio. Indeed, if there’s one thing a demon hates most, it’s us remembering and embracing our dedication to our art.


Our chosen art form is founded on technical accuracy by definition, which is quite the challenge, of course, but learnable with study, practice, curiosity, discipline, and keen observation. It’s also a fascinating dance between abstract interpretation and organic reality since how our subject appears in real life can be quite different from how he appears on an anatomy chart. (And for a discussion on those issues, check out my blog posts Now About Those Anatomy Charts Parts I & II.) That’s because in life, anatomy is messy and surprising, full of curiosities and novelty as organic structures leverage and articulate, morph and jiggle, stretch and pull, smoosh and goo, pooch and squish, and twist and bend. So while —  yes — the skeleton can only articulate within set parameters, when it comes to flesh, we’re talking about smooshy, organic, responsive variability. Likewise with color and pattern, there are genetic tendencies and markers — yes — but there’s also a lot of surprising life in between! This means we have to learn the biological rules and also how to bend them — which is a lot to juggle — but it’s a dance that’ll get lost on some folks. The truth is some just won’t notice all the little touches we put into our work in this regard — they don’t See them on the living subject and so won’t See them in our work, or worse, they may assume our work is wrong because of it. This is particularly true of work that portrays life’s eccentricities, serendipities, or moments since prevailing sensibilities tend to be rather conservative and conventional, “safer.” Our audience has actually been conditioned to favor conventional formula, a baseline version of “what looks right” as a default. It’s totally understandable though because life is, well…it’s a big subject. For example, the preferred way to convey anatomical structure is with smooth surfaces and highly defined, formulaic musculature even though this is an artistic style among others. Anyway, so there isn’t too much room for options or even portrayals that hug realism closer like, for example, with hide textures (butt wrinkles, anyone?). Moreover, that watered down version also has a hard time perceiving the highly technical precision needed for areas like the joints, legs, hooves, or head, or all the little details and esoterics that add so much life and factuality. Only a geek looking for these things is going to infuse them into their work as something of value and really only another geek is going to See them. But that’s the thing we’re going to have to reconcile: We may geek out on anatomy or color and pattern or breed characteristics or whatever, but some folks just won’t See it. Oh, they have some inkling that something might look right or wrong, but for the finer points of it all, it’ll go right over their head. Some may even pushback. And that’s fine! It’s okay to geek out and it’s okay that others don’t get it. That’s life, right? It’s an educational opportunity really if we think about it, and it’s a chance to push boundaries out even more. But — yes — it can be frustrating to put so much effort into all those little touches that add so much flavor and realism to then have our work misunderstood. But again — who are we creating for? An authentic artist will create the work they’re called to create despite it all. It’s not easy, but creating disingenuously is even harder to live with.


Now as for our past work — which can often cause those demons to really screech — don’t worry, it’s common to cringe at our earlier pieces. It’s normal, natural, and expected. New work is supposed to supplant the old and supposed to show our past newbness. Just remember this: As much as our old work may make us shudder, there’s always — always — someone out there who absolutely loves it for their own reasons. Let them enjoy it untarnished. And hey — we should be kind to other artists, right? Well, that includes our younger selves too! We were very different artists back then who deserve just as much courtesy and compassion as we show others now. There’s this as well — every single piece we did, good or bad, was a stepping stone to where we are today. Each one contained essential lessons for placing us exactly in our current learning curve and that’s worth some respect, right? Let’s face it, the learning curve for this art form is massive and unending, convoluted and complicated, and asks a heckuva lot of us every single time. So be kind to ourselves every step of the way. And here’s the truth of it: Only we can create the art we do. Since the Big Bang, no one has existed just like us — we are wholly unique therefore so is our art. No one — even if they studied our work and tried to duplicate it — could ever create it exactly as we do. Only ever a facsimile, they cannot make the same choices in the moment, the same tool strokes, act on the same spontaneous whims like we would. Our work is wholly us and will only ever exist if we create it. That’s important. When those demons try to convince us of all the awful things they insist then, remember that and hold it close as impetus to keep going.


Our demons thrive on isolation, that is to say, they wield more power if they can convince us that we’re alone in our struggles. But they’re liars! The truth is that every artist shares them in some form. And though we may be a captive audience, that doesn’t mean we can’t yell back or, even better, that we can’t muffle them. Now granted, that’s not so easy as our demons intimately know all our most vulnerable fragilities, those hottest buttons to push and they push them enthusiastically at the slightest provocation. But just remember this: Whatever they’re screeching to us, they’re screeching to someone else, too. Probably many others, in fact. And doesn’t simply knowing that shift the balance of power back into our hands quite a bit? Strength can be found in solidarity! Really, their power is definitely diluted if we know it’s the same old sad song for pretty much everyone. For example, when they sneer that we’re a failure because we made a mistake…well…so what? Everyone fails! Everyone makes mistakes! And everyone has a little voice in their head that’s going to belittle them for it on some level. Heck, I can guarantee Leonardo da Vinci had to bark back at his! Or when our demons try to convince us that we’re just not as talented as so-and-so, know that everyone — even the most gifted among us — looks up to someone else’s work as an unattainable goal. Yearning to have someone else’s gifts is a universal and very human thing to do. Similarly, our demons can torment our muse, leaving our inspiration tattered and floundering as we struggle with motivation. Yet every artist’s muse fluctuates during the process every now and again — it’s just a normal part of arting. Those demons can also be quite convincing when trying to get us to quit, when they beat us down so much, we just want to give up. But we’ve all been pushed to the brink at some point, even those who seem to create so effortlessly. Now what does all this mean? It means that we’re always one decision away from blasting past our demons because so many prove it is doable every day. If we need to reach out for support then, there are many out there who fully understand our struggling headspace. We’re all sailing the same sea! Time for a yacht party?


Let’s end it here for Part V then in Part VI, we’ll take what we’ve discussed and reconsider these demons in a new context. It’s interesting how just a little bit of a spin actually results in some welcome and surprising new interpretations! In the meantime then… Party on, Garth!


“Have no fear of perfection, you’ll never reach it.”

~ Salvador Dali


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Friday, June 25, 2021

Demonslaying 101 Part IV

 


Welcome back to Demon Slaying 101, a discussion about the internal battles artists can face when creating their art. We’ve covered quite a bit of ground already so let’s just careen in for more in this Part IV! Let’s go!…


From the near beginning, humans have made art. Before just about every other artifice of human endeavor, there was art. We’re driven to create because we’re a creator species. And though our art will never be perfect, there’s something about making art that feeds us, suggesting that our vulnerabilities are part of our creative process, too. They’re not separate factors to be deliberately carved out but to be folded in as part of our Voice and what helps to make our art so special. In this sense then, our vulnerabilities are really strengths, aren’t they? As Brené Brown observes, “To create is to make something that has never existed before. There’s nothing more vulnerable than that.” So to realize that making art is an act of tremendous vulnerability is to accept the imperfections in our art and, in so doing, also realize the fragility of the creative experience. In this, only those artists who can make themselves vulnerable, who lay themselves bone bare each and every time, will be the ones to grow. What does this mean? It means taking risks again and again, in whatever form that may mean to us. It’s also an affirmation that it takes a lot of courage to present our work to the world which is probably why every artist — no matter how successful — takes a deep breath before a debut, the normal, rational reaction to this act of laying ourselves bare. Without a doubt, established artists are a tough, plucky, scrappy bunch, able to take a brutal beating every single time to get up and do it all over again and again. So isn’t this a call for our niche to be kinder? More thoughtful with our words and reactions? If we want our artists to advance and our arts to thrive and innovate, we need to give them a safer space to be vulnerable. What does this mean? Perhaps chill on the harsh or careless commentary and call out those who do it. Maybe encourage more non-competitive outlets for sharing their creations. Ease up on the uninvited “critiques” that can compromise their confidence and sense of safety. Think about cutting them more slack and giving them more space outside of our own expectations. Remember, too, that like beauty, perfection is in the eye of the beholder so just because a piece may not be our cup of tea doesn't mean it’s a bad piece.


“There’s a myth among amateurs, optimists and fools that beyond a certain level of achievement, famous artists retire to some kind of Elysium where criticism no longer wounds and work materializes without their effort.”

~ Mark Matousek


Now let’s talk about another misconception — that great art and great artists have a mysterious magical ingredient that elevates them to high achievement. Now while this is absolutely true, here’s the deeper truth of it: That magical ingredient isn’t universal, it’s not the same for every artist or work. The fact is each art work and each artist contain their own unique magic, a magic specific to them and only them. The magic of another artist wouldn’t work for us because its not our magic and ours wouldn’t work for them, it’s not theirs. We should stop comparing ourselves to other artists and their achievements then because their magic and journey are meant for them — and only them — and have nothing to do with us, and ours has nothing to do with them. We don’t lack their magic and we don’t need it. We have ours and it’s special and beautiful and no less important. Embrace our magic — it’s ours alone.  


“Comparison is the death of joy.”

~ Mark Twain


Now yes — yes — it’s really hard to keep from comparing ourselves to others, there’s no doubt about that, especially in our comparison-based genre which is founded on reference materials and comparative placings. But here’s what’s happening in our heads: It’s our demons, our worst aspects, that are compelling us to do this because it feeds them so well (and there’s that negative bias again!). Indeed, don’t our worst emotions emanate and amplify from doing this? So why appeal to our worst aspects when there’s so much more to us than that! We have our great attributes, right? We have our passion, our enthusiasm, our eagerness to learn and improve, our joy when creating, our enthusiasm for helping others, our happiness in seeing others succeed, and any number of positives dwelling inside us, too often untapped. Why not feed those instead? So when our demons start making us think, “So-and-so’s paint job looks so much better than mine, my work sucks,” or “I’m such a loser because I didn’t get into that contest,” or “People like Suzy’s work so much more than mine — they’re so stupid and I hate her!,” or “Why can’t my work be as good as so and so, I’m just not talented enough,” and on and on…and on…it’s time to switch it up. Instead frame things this way, “So-and-so’s paint job looks so much better than mine, I wonder what I can learn from it,” or “I didn’t get into such and such contest because the jury was looking for other things than I was interested in creating, oh well, I had fun making it,” or “People like Suzy’s work a lot, isn’t that great for her and what can I learn from it?,” or “My talents need a bit of a tune up to take me to the next level, what can I do to get there?” Make the conscious decision to reframe our experience and make this a habit, and “snap the job’s a game!” Because here’s the secret: If magic isn’t universal but instead unique to each of us, then fixating on making another's magic ours is an imaginary futile goal. It’s going to fall short eventually, even blow up in our face. Instead then, we’re better served by focusing on things that are real — our magic — and seeing what we can do with it. So when we feel second rate — and we all do at times, it’s perfectly normal — dive into our magic with greater enthusiasm and find ways to tap into its well to make it burst forth with even more power. So the answer to this problem? Well, we’ve had it all along! We’ve always had those ruby slippers. And like Elizabeth Gilbert would say, “There’s no place like home.”


Similarly, it’s smart to be careful with our own expectations. Each time we start a new piece, we have this envisioned notion of it — our perfect concept — and throughout the rest of the process, we chase it with our materials and skills. That’s our job, right? But what we do have to be careful with is how we expect our process to flow and how the outcome will pan out. Maybe we wish it to be effortless and that the piece literally creates itself — and maybe it has in the past. Maybe we expect our vision to be realized with 100% faithfulness — and maybe it has in the past. Maybe we predict that our work will meet with wild acclaim and success — and maybe it has in the past. Yet efforts built on one-sided expectations can lead to disillusionment and frustration so stay open to all the possibilities, even the painful ones, to remain grounded. And, truth be told, the proof is in the work, isn’t it? Everything we need to know to improve our skills exists as an open book in our portfolio if we can approach it objectively, without emotion, fear, or judgement — emotional expectation. Further still, the lessons we’re meant to learn are contained only in our work, each piece pointing the way, with our last piece pointing most true. So if we can clearly study our portfolio without emotional expectations, we can ferret out what our work needs to perhaps prepare ourselves a little bit better.


Now can we talk about the myth of “not taking criticism personally”? As much as this is offered as a balm, it’s actually problematic because it's disconnected from the reality of creating art, it ignores the human condition, and it shores up bad behavior. Here’s the deal: Artists are hard enough on themselves already with their inner demons constantly yappin’ in their heads which makes for a lot of noise between their ears. And with all that incoming commentary, well…art by committee rarely pans out well. So adding more distraction into an already cacophonous situation isn’t necessarily helpful but hurtful, and it can actually demoralize an artist if bad enough. Yet we see it over and over — when an artist is at their most vulnerable sharing their piece, in jump the self-important critics trying to “help” or the careless comments that just get blathered out. Wrong! This can beat down an artist so much, they may dump the piece altogether. The thing is, no one ever fully knows an artist’s headspace with that piece so usually the best policy is to just provide a safe, positive space for them to share it. The public already has such never-to-be-pleased expectations of an artist’s efforts so why add to the racket? Because — yeah — the act of creating and displaying our art is an act of tremendous vulnerability, so how in the world are we not supposed to take criticism personally?! As such, it’s typically better to keep criticism to ourselves unless specifically and personally prompted by the artist at that moment; otherwise, only offer positives. (And in the case of a constructive critique, there’s a very specific set of parameters for delivery and unless we practice them, just keep mum.) Preserving an artist’s untarnished joy in their process is more important than “correcting” any flaws. Why? Well, chances are our unsolicited “correction” will come when they’re not ready for it which can jam their anxiety and tension into overdrive, a state that will actually compromise their long-term progress. Odds are though that they’re going to figure things out on their own in their own time — when they're ready for it — so if we give them the safe space to do that on their own terms, their enthusiasm is preserved to keep them happily moving in that direction. Because here’s the thing: If they routinely get bonked when they share their work, that negative feedback loop can be crushing and guess what some are going to stop doing? A positive feedback loop in a safe place, on the other hand, preserves a more open emotional landscape making them not only more enthusiastic in their work, but also more at ease with rethinking and reevaluation for improvement. Truly, if they know they’re safe “out there,”' they tend to take more risks in their studios. And hey — if we think the piece has flaws and could be better, the solution is an easy one: Create one ourselves according to our own vision. Don’t like it? Do it yourself. And we’ll learn really fast what life is like on the other side of the door. (For more discussion on the artistic temperament and criticism, check out my blog post, Pickled Art.) So artists, don’t be afraid to set boundaries and expect others to respect them. Because — yes — we deserve boundaries and, in fact, staying creative may demand it. Now if anyone gives us a hard time for that, ignore them and stick to our guns. Chances are, it’s precisely those malcontents who would have become social blisters anyway, right? So while having our own rules of engagement will mean that we’re selective, it will protect our mental wellbeing and keep us happily arting. Through these rules, too, we learn to avoid those social spaces notorious for being toxic even if they’re immensely popular. We’ll also actively curate our social media to block or boot the tone deaf, presumptuous, or destructive. Our rules also inspire us to be quick with praise and encouragement to become a cheerleader for creativity and likewise role model to help set the tone for our community. Now — yes — there will always be “that guy” in every crowd and sharing our work will inevitably bring with it criticism and careless talk. That’s just life and art, and learning how to process that is a necessary skill, too. Even so, we can still build safer spaces for ourselves that are supportive and compassionate, and full of those who recognize our humanity rather than objectify us.


In kind with this, we learn at an early age that others have the power to strip us of our humanity, leaving us open to bullying, ridicule, baiting, or other dehumanizing treatment. As artists, we re-learn this hard lesson again and again but with ten times more power, especially in this niche which has a lingering propensity for objectifying its arts and therefore its artists, turning them into “things” to be talked about and treated without any real courtesy for the human beings involved. Honestly, people can talk as though we aren’t even there, saying whatever they want without a care for our feelings, hardships, realities, or triggers. So we pour ourselves into our work with the pesky suspicion that it may never be accepted or understood, or even worse, that it’ll be blasted without a thought for us hearing it all in the background. Or on the other hand, if we take risks, if we push convention, formula, or standard expectations, be ready for vocal pushback and disapproval. This can cause some artists to believe they’re actually considered a joke, or that their work is unwanted or subpar, even in decline, when in fact the opposite is true. There’s this effect, too — every artist has a bad art day; every artist will create pieces that aren’t as good as the rest of their portfolio. Even the most talented among us. That’s just part of being human and the nature of creating art. Yet how people react to that one wanting piece can nearly break some artists, even compromise their desire to create in our niche at all. So please give artists room for their vulnerabilities since a lot more may be riding on any given piece than we know, or that piece’s creative circumstances may have been especially difficult. Because we all yearn for understanding and acceptance, yet every time we display our work, we hand over that power to an audience prone to deny it, even pile on dissatisfaction. It’s a terrible Catch-22. Honestly, sometimes an artist can feel like a beaten dog at times. So artists, what’s the solution? Well, just keep making our art on our own terms. Strange how that works, but there it is. Our work may be the target, but it can also be our sanctuary, so lean into it and try to ignore the rest the best we can. How do we do that? Again, nestle deeper into our arting, letting our journey become the loudest part in our heads. If our art is the full expression of our humanity, just keep expressing it stronger through our work when others try to pry it off. Just “art out loud” louder. In the end, we’ll attract a base that appreciates our authenticity and we can focus on them instead. And never forget that there’s always someone out there who adores our “flawed” work all the same. Hold that close to heart. And keep this in mind: Obnoxious toxicity is loud and aggressive by nature, making it seem like the majority opinion out there. It’s not. So for every bit of ugliness we encounter, know that there are many others who love our work who aren’t speaking up or “yelling” as loudly. Trust that they’re there.


Similarly, catering to the opinions of others can fill our head with other voices (often conflicting voices), the dreams and imaginations of others, the priorities of others, and the vision of others. As such, our authenticity and trueness to our vision, precisely what’s needed for our own creative well-being and distinctiveness, can be spun off course or diluted. In this way, too, the diversity and innovation of our art form can be compromised, even homogenized as the demand to conform to conventional tastes of what “looks right” or what "should be” can be quite strong. Too many cooks in the kitchen and committees making camels and all that, and often with conventional ideas that don’t account for reality’s eccentricities, moments, or possibilities. To tell the truth, our community’s tastes can lean sharply towards convention when it comes to such things, like the expression of anatomy, conformation, style, and whatnot, for three primary reasons. First, many have been conditioned by OFs that — by their nature — have to conform to certain baselines for mass production and for marketing to the widest audience. This conditioning also favors certain stylistic interpretations — like smooth, even surfaces and sharply defined musculature — as “correct” when in fact they’re just possibilities within a spectrum. Second, the horseworld tends to be quite conservative in how it likes horses portrayed. We just have to look through breed mags for a good sampling of this effect. And though that makes sense from a real horse standpoint, this influence in our niche can be strong at times and cause some creative friction. Third, even after all this time, general anatomical knowledge still has a ways to go and so some folks tend to default to familiar territory, the safest portrayal, as a means to feel confident. And that’s fine! Technicalities are tricky and can be really intimidating and confusing. But it does mean that, put it all together, other possibilities and the “moment” can get lost on some or worse, rejected as “wrong,” “weird,” or “ugly.” What’s the takeaway here? Artists, take it all with a grain of salt and stick to your guns. Do what inspires you and do it whole-heartedly. Because here’s the thing — if we build it well, the people who “get it” will come all the same and they’re the ones we’re meant to focus on. For everyone else then, leave an artist’s vision alone. It’s ok to offer corrections (when specifically prompted) but we shouldn’t insinuate our vision onto that of another. Respect an artist’s authenticity rather than try to shoehorn them into our own vision with a “it would be better this way,” or “I’d like it to be,” or “that’s now how I’d like it” comment. It’s not your piece, it’s not your vision. Again, if we want a piece a certain way, we should create it ourselves.


Along those lines, there’s a popular belief that if we keep plowing ahead in our authentic Voice that sooner or later the world will reward it. Persevere and acceptance will come our way eventually. And this is often true! The problem arises though when this takes an inordinately long time. Here’s the thing: The audience can be most supportive of those things that fit inside its conventional ideas and can pushback on those that challenge them — and it can also be slow to finally realize that this new thing is actually pretty cool! We see this phenomenon at times in our genre. For example, when I started creating medallions so many years ago, I was criticized as people were confused, resistant, and openly wondered why I was wasting my time with these things. I even had people actually try to convince me to stop. But look at today! There’s also been another artist who chose to depict an atypical phase of a gait for an iconic breed and got a lot of pressure to put it into the conventional pose. She stuck to her guns and banged out a stellar piece all the same. And right now, we’re in the midst of another shift as even the demand for realism is being challenged and so we’re seeing fantasy equines and artistic colors rise to the top — after years of resistance — and it’s freaking brilliant! What a a healthy, freeing development! So the point being we should cherish our Voice — nurture it, let it grow wild and free and unafraid. Don’t let anyone dictate what our vision should be — it’s ours and we should realize it in all its wonderful purity and power. To quote Joseph Campbell, “follow your bliss” no matter what. And trust me — build it and build it well and they will come. So seek to live our Truth to the fullest in our art even if it won’t immediately be understood or accepted. That’s okay. Create our work for ourselves, first and foremost, and tune everything else out as the noise it is.


Artists are always seeking evolution, growth, innovation, and expansion of their skills and scope, which can keep the creative process fresh and fun. And when we try new things, we expect to screw up in the beginning, right? Yet this can be a particular challenge with great success. We see it all the time with music bands, for example. A band becomes famous for a particular style but the moment they want to evolve, they meet with crickets or worse, rejection. So that band is literally forced to stay the same, churning the same old-same old simply to please their fan base. Is it any wonder why so many break up? Or why so many have side projects or take on solo careers? This pressure to conform to accepted expectations is stifling and intrinsically at odds with the creative mind that by nature is exploratory, spontaneous, and curious. And we see it with artists, too — they become famous for a particular work and then every single piece of theirs before or after gets judged against it in the court of public opinion. This is understandable, but nevertheless this sort of comparison can be a problem. Why? Well, it heaps on a new suffocating layer of expectation — another stifling demand to conform — that can cause friction with any new directions that artist takes throughout their career, and which have now been tarnished with hesitation and anxiety. Honestly, fear of the unknown is enough, but fear of the unknown with the suspicion that we’ll be chronically disappointing people at the same time is a lot to bear. The best policy then is to welcome each new piece on its own terms as though it was a total stand alone in their portfolio. The past is gone, it’s over — let the artist have their future in the full breath they’re meant to have it unfettered by comparisons or “but I wish it was more like,” or “I wish you'd do something like X again” yearnings. Trust me — the results will be well worth it in the long run! In turn, artists are best served by following through on their inspirations, whatever they might be, even if they’re straight out of left field. We’ve got to feed our creative explorations first because that keeps us inspired and energized. It’s easy to weigh ourselves down by chasing other people’s expectations, but we really should always start fresh in the right now, present in the creative moment, clean-slating our experience so we can be open to the inspirations that are coming.


Likewise, there’s a fine line between approval and disappointment so be careful with this want for approval, even when it comes from our peers. Why? Because no matter where we seek it, this puts a perilous amount of power into someone else’s hands. Is that really the smartest strategy all the time? Here's the kicker, too: Their aesthetic, vision, priorities, goals, and Eye are still different from ours, even if a closely matched peer. The truth is our dialogue is most pure between us and our work. Sure, it’s not a bad idea to get a critique from a trusted someone, but their reality is still different from ours, and there’s no guarantee their perspective is right either. Remember that everyone has their blindspots! So work to develop a more analytical, objective eye for our subject, our references, our materials, and our piece first before seeking outside input; otherwise we’re going to get lost in the critiquing process. Because here’s what’s not often mentioned with critiques: We should have our feet firmly on our own ground first before any critique can truly help us. What does that mean? Well, to have some kind of vantage point with our own work first, a firm grip of our aesthetic, knowledge base, and goals, or even a critique from the most learned person can confuse us and possibly cause our demons to bellow louder. A firm vantage point also gifts us with clarity, something we’ll need to infuse their points effectively. Because it’s not enough to know, we also have to do, right? The clearer we can See our piece then, the more of their knowledge base we can utilize — or chose not to, which is just as important a decision. Because if we don’t have that vantage point, it’s shockingly easy to get lost in the critiquing process especially if we have more than one critiquing source, and there’s only one place to go after that: Confusion and frustration, two things that feed our demons well.


On that note, like it or not, social media in our genre isn’t necessarily the healthiest place for artists to frequent indiscriminately. And the more popular our work becomes, the more this becomes true. The thing is, nearly all our forums, pages, groups and whatnot are actually more like a comments section we can’t turn off. And what does everyone say about not reading the comments section to well,…anything?! Yeah, that. Only it’s everywhere all the time, and lordy does it tend to be careless and brutal, with zero cares given about the human being behind the art in question. And even if it’s not about us, that’s still a lot of ugliness piling up in our psyche that’s going to fill our head with anxieties. Because artists are masters at internalizing things. We can’t help it — it’s part of what makes us artists. So we should be careful what we expose ourselves to and understand that being selective with our online interactions can actually be a survival tactic. For instance, actively curate our studio pages to weed out unpleasant behavior and don’t be shy with the delete, unfriend, or block button. Take control early and quickly, and keep an eye on it. As for the rest of it, it can actually get so bad out there that just staying away from the major gathering spaces altogether can often be the best decision. Yes, that’s a bit of a bummer, but the truth is our energies are best spent in our studio working or focused on those platforms that are adeptly moderated.


And finally, never forget the power of negative bias! We’ve already discussed how it can skew how we weight commentary, but it works even more insidiously in our studio by doubling its power in a tricksie way. How? Well, it directly colors how we see our piece by amplifying its perceived flaws while ignoring the positives. The parts we dislike are simply going to jump out at us harder and bug us out of proportion to the rest of our efforts. But the thing is, amending those areas we don’t like is exactly how we hone a piece to completion, right? In other words, a finished piece has literally been refined until no parts bug us which is exactly what makes it finished. So great! — we’ve put negative bias to good use. But here’s the tricksie part — when we’ve been working on a piece for a long time, chances are we’re having some frustrations with it. There are parts that just resist “clicking into place” either due to knowledge gaps, skill gaps, or it’s simply not our day (it happens), and so our negative bias feeds on those frustrations to pollute everything like a slow poison, turning our Eye “old and cynical.” When this happens, our piece loses its magic and starts to look strange and awkward — and lemme tell ya, that’s a very odd place to be! It feels more like a cold foreign object than something lovingly made by our own hands, and — boy — can we flip against it quickly at this point! This effect can actually be so strong, we can imagine errors where none exist, amplifying our frustration to 11 and breaking the knob off. At this point, we can dump our piece unjustly or even start to question our talents. In short, the piece falls apart. How many “bad” pieces have been trashed just for this reason? But here’s the thing — none of these flaws register on anyone else’s radar! They’ll think our piece is beautiful and wonderful! Fresh Eyes simply see our piece in a very different light, a way that’s just as valid and truthful as what we’ve come to believe. Now — yes — some pieces just morph beyond rescue and starting over is the best strategy, but there are times when this metamorphosis is more a function of our unchecked negative bias than a truthful reflection of reality. The solution? Renew the magic to refresh our Eyes. Now every artist has strategies for this (which are beyond the scope of this series), but the point being: When we get here, remember that it’s our negative bias at work and so we need to trust ourselves, trust our magic, trust our process, and trust our piece…and keep going. Gut it out. Negative bias makes it all seem like reality, makes it seem so factual and obvious, but it’s really spin, being incomplete at best or a lie at worst. It’s a bad simulation. It’s not the truth, so resist it. Reboot! It takes a lot of mental work — yes — and it’s going to test us, but gut it out, and it’s uncanny, but we’ll surprise ourselves in some happy way on the other side!


So this is the end of Part IV and in Part V we’ll continue with such issues as they relate to creating art in our unique niche art form. Until next time then…keep slaying!


“Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.” 

~ Andy Warhol



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