Waiting In Line
As artists, we’re intimately acquainted with the highs and lows rollercoaster ride of the creative journey. When we reach our pinnacles of success, we feel buoyant and bright, invigorated and intoxicated by our well-earned sense of achievement. So fueled, we become enthusiastically motivated for the next project, hungry to hop back on that coaster to hurdle towards our next creative joy ride.
But we can crash and burn, too.
We’ve all augured into our own dismal lows. Maybe we believe we failed somehow and so feel inadequate, frustrated, even despondent. A despairing shadow becomes cast onto everything we touch and then nothing comes together as we’d hoped. So we slump in our studios, believing the situation is hopeless in our struggle against some impossible barrier. Sometimes this feeling can be so strong, it keeps us out of our studio altogether.
This is normal.
Like the balance of yin and yang, the ups and downs of the creative process are part of our private lives as artists. Just as our greatest highs give us wings, there will come an inevitable crash landing. Periodic disillusionment in either our skills, achievements, or our direction is just part and parcel of our journey. We all get a bit lost along the way! But sometimes what’s a minor setback can instead bubble up to feel like a major catastrophe, backing us into a tight, ever-shrinking corner. What’s the result? Crushing disillusionment.
So when it comes to riding out these inescapable lows, the name of the game becomes one of coping mechanisms rather than denial. A strategy rather than stasis. Truly, our creative drive is a precious thing worth protecting because without a doubt, disillusionment is a miserable state of mind for an artist. So our ability to pull out of this nosedive is crucial for maintaining our momentum, or that’s to say, disillusionment can be managed, even overcome with a tactical approach.
So how do we keep our fires burning brilliantly when it appears circumstances want to snuff them out? How do we stay joyous and motivated even when disillusion looms its ugly head?
First, we should understand the nature of our chosen art form and harbor no illusions. Only by seeing this animal for what it is can we learn how to live with it. To that end, there are six realizations we should reconcile to keep disillusionment in perspective…
Pulling Down The Bar
Reframe Our Creative Space
When disillusion tarnishes our efforts, what was once enjoyable can feel more like drudgery, can’t it? More like a chore. But here’s the thing — being creative, having the ability and the means to make our Visions real is a true blessing. It’s also a blessing not everyone has the luxury of experiencing to the fullest, if at all. So consider this, rather than thinking, “I have to do [insert task]” reframe it into, “I get to do [insert task].” Completely changes the perspective, doesn’t it? Sometimes all we need is a shift in our view. In so many ways, context is everything especially when it comes to art. Because — hey — there have been days where I get up and think, “Oh man…not that today!” Like sanding — who likes sanding?! But then I reorient my thinking to “I get to” and voilá! There I go, sanding! Another trick I use through particularly tedious stages is envisioning a couple of days from now when it’s done, like projecting my life forwards through it and imagining how the piece will look afterwards and how awesome I’ll feel about that. That kind of carrot can really help me slog through even the most maddening steps. Or yet another tactic is to simply be literal about things and take it all in micro-baby steps. For instance, we did a massive house clean-out two years ago where we got rid of pretty much 70% of everything we owned (it’s amazing how life debris builds up after twenty years!). But the job itself was so overwhelming, it completely numbed my mind into inaction. So daunting! So what I did was to break the whole task down into the tiniest, even the most mundane steps and focus just on that one step. Like, “I will pick up this pillow and put it into the bag,” or “I will take this this excess Tupperware to the donation box.” Chip away at the whole job like that and believe it or not, you’ll be done sooner than you think. Baby step baby step baby step your way to success! So, for example, think of this approach: “I will pick up the sandpaper and sand that left shoulder,” then do just that then, “I will pick up this emery board and sand the right front hoof,” then do just that and so on. Just keep moving forwards in small incremental steps even if it’s slow going. Chip away chip away chip away! Another strategy is to reward yourself with something fun for every blecky, boring part you have to do. For instance, if you have to dremel something down a lot which is noisy, messy, and tedious, reward yourself later with, say, painting something or working on the expression of another piece or even just taking your dog for a walk. Whatever trips your trigger, make that the reward and it can be surprising just how well that works. Now if you ultimately need a break to regroup — do it! Try always to avoid forcing yourself through a piece because, for one, that rarely works to satisfaction and, two, it creates a negative feedback loop that can make us come to associate creativity with unwelcome feelings, and that’s always a quick path to systemic disillusionment. Try to always keep the creativity feedback loop positive!
The first thing to embrace then is keeping our focus oriented on gratitude and keeping The Big Picture in mind. Think of how great it’ll be when the piece is completed — because, yes, there is an end, really! — and how awesome it’ll feel. Stay on target. Stay focused on the light at the end of the tunnel. You got this.
In Our Towers
We are alone when we create because, ultimately, art is a solitary endeavor. Don’t we mostly work sequestered in our studios, quiet in our own thoughts and aspirations? Don’t we set our own goals and silently do what we can to meet them? And even if we create with others around, as in a demo, classroom, retreat, or collaboration, aren’t we still inside our own heads the moment we focus, the world narrowed down to a fine point with our piece? Probably “yes,” right? That’s because art isn’t done as a team even when there’s active collaboration going on. That nexus with the piece exists only inside us.
Art starts alone — and convinces society later.
— Douglas Davis
Each one of us also experiences our own unique challenges and responds in our own unique manner, and methods and interpretations are as singular as each artist. We also engineer our own strategies based on our own prerogatives and determine whether we’ve fulfilled them based on our own internal judgments. And only we can determine when our work is done.
The urge, ability and vision to create is a solo endeavor.
— Linda Archinal
What does that mean? That it’s all on us. The buck stops here. We succeed alone and we fail alone. When we’ve triumphed then — what a great feeling! What a high! So reaffirming and confidence-building. Yet like a cruel devil on our shoulder, maybe a little voice whispers in our ear, “Maybe you didn’t stretch yourself enough?”, or, ”Maybe next time won’t be such a success,” or ”Can you do so well again?,” or worse, “That piece isn’t as good as you think it is.” And so the balance tips to the other direction, and if you’re an overthinker — ooooo boy — now there’s a lovely walk in the park. Or maybe our piece failed outright. Maybe it just faceplanted. Hey — it happens to every artist for any number of reasons. When this happens…my gosh though…does that dredge up the most self-punishing thoughts! So much so, it can even paralyze some artists!
With this barrage, we may turn to family or friends for affirmation, support, and encouragement. As surely as they love us though, it may be difficult for them to comprehend how artists so deeply internalize their creative experience. This means that we pretty much live with either the wins or losses in our own internal landscape, even fighting our own emotional battles solo. Yet not everyone’s nature matches well with this kind of solitary psychological minefield. In fact, many artists are ill-suited for it so when they hit a low, they truly become crestfallen and can feel quite isolated despite being surrounding by loving peeps trying to reinforce their self-worth.
Of course, when one is faced with a canvas, one is no longer alone, and the sense of solitude diminishes. This can be an agreeable passage of time. In fact, solitude then becomes a kind of companion.
— Pierre Alechinsky
Moreover, sometimes we only learn whether we succeeded or failed after the fact in the arena of public opinion. It’s such a delight to have our piece strike an unexpected cord and meet with great acclaim! What a fantastic surprise! But by the same token, what a terrible shock to be so proud of our creation only to be blindsided by wholesale bashing, typically in inconsiderate and discourteous voices. Inevitably then, many artists develop a thick layer of trepidation with the completion of each piece and take a deep breath with a debut. It’s no surprise then that experiencing this kind of anxiety alone can truly be difficult for some tender souls.
Now to help compartmentalize all this, a handy tactic is to consider this concept: The ancient Greeks regarded the artistic gift as a function of a Muse. Here, there’s an outside influence, force, or inspiration compelling us to create the piece so in a sense, our piece isn’t our sole creation. Something else had a hand in it, too. Therefore, if we created a stellar piece, our Muse definitely “showed up” and helped us to rock it! But if our piece flopped, our Muse just didn’t deliver. So altogether, this perspective displaces the blame from off our identity and self-worth and onto the mercurial reality of creating art because sometimes — yeah — our Muse just bails on us! That’s normal. And that’s okay! Creativity is a total mystery that just happens to fail us all at some point. But this handy concept can help us from internalizing too deeply any perceived failure which, if left unchecked, is a guaranteed open door to deep disillusionment. So if we’re not in control so much at all, then we’re not entirely “to blame,” are we? Let’s give ourselves permission to ease up on ourselves and accept the grey area of creativity and Fate.
So, the second thing we must accept is that our chosen activity is a solitary experience. We stand alone, triumph alone, and fail alone so unless we learn to cope alone, we’re going to be in for a rough ride smack dap right into disillusionment.
Realistic art is inherently comparative, i.e. competitive. Whether we compare our new work against our older pieces, or against the living subject, or against our expectations, or against the works of other artists, we’re forced to gauge our progress through comparison. Realism simply has prerequisite boundaries we have to compare against every step of the way. And this can be a real problem as Mark Twain points out, “Comparison is the death of joy.” So this means we’re working in a genre that intrinsically invites disillusion right from the get-go.
Add to this the fact that nothing we could ever create will be truly technically realistic. We’re fallible. We aren’t DNA. No matter how hard we try, Nature will always outdo us. In essence then, we’ve set up an impossible Don Quixote task for ourselves which we’ll perpetually chase with our enthusiastic ambitions, but always falling short of spearing our coveted target. With this kind of self-defeating relationship with our work, it’s no wonder disillusionment happens from time to time.
It also means that we exist on a sliding scale of ability because our mind can comprehend only so much at any given stage of development. We simply progress at our own pace and become aware of things in our own time, which is something no amount of outside input can completely counteract. Wrap it all up and this means we’re vulnerable to our own tunnel vision, our own blindspots and biases which will keep us ever-missing our goals despite our best efforts. This is how artists can keep making the same mistakes despite critique or get stuck in a habitual rut. Ultimately then, working within realism can also mean living with self-doubt, a difficult place for creativity for sure.
In lieu of all this, the pursuit of perfection can either be a healthy fuel for improvement or douse our urge to create entirely so we need to be very clear where we stand with it. But the thing is, we all experience both edges of that sword at different stages of our journey so it’s how we cope that will spell the different outcomes.
In a nutshell then, the third thing we should accept is that we’ve chosen a challenging and meticulous art form, and therefore one often inherently frustrating, even maddening. We have to make peace with that.
Not only are our targets difficult to reach, they move! With the completion of each new piece — with each new comparison — we re-evaluate our goals and evolve. So we can’t stand around to improve — we have to get moving! Realism demands we chase after it, which is why those who settle for “good enough” can plateau rather quickly. Indeed, this genre is constantly moving forwards and unless we do, too, we’re going to get left in the dust.
Just be prepared though — we’re going to trip. Hitting the proverbial pavement isn’t pleasant and can knock the creative wind clean out of us for a time. We may feel embarrassed for stumbling and disappointed in ourselves which adds further toxicity to that emotional brew. Yet every rider must get up and start riding again, and so must we. Get back on that horse!
Or sometimes we lose sight of our target or get distracted by new ones and get lost. For instance, we can inadvertently lose sight of our initial goals as we work and so start to feel confused or overwhelmed, even a sense of defeat if we get buried by it. Yet it’s okay to change our minds, even midstride, as long as we pick new goals that are a good fit for the moment and the piece. It’s very easy to get sidetracked by lots of shiny aspirations, but if our developmental stage isn’t ready for them or we don’t stay sufficiently focused, we might find ourselves spinning our wheels between interchanging targets and right into disillusionment. Exasperation can happen a lot faster than we know! But even so, sometimes the lesson isn’t found in the success but in the setback. When this happens, learn from it, move on, and get back on track knowing there’s always a way through it.
Where you stumble, there lies your treasure.
— Joseph Campbell
Nevertheless, there are false targets out there, too. A fresh perspective can definitely take the art form to new heights, but some not so much. Indeed, I’ve seen some faddish painting techniques come and go that were certainly splashy, but not so realistic. It happens. So be careful to measure a fad against your own goals before simply accepting it all at face value. By that token, we can also create our own false targets that can steer us off course. For instance, blindspots can make us believe we’ve created a problem area when, in fact, it’s just fine, or on the other hand, we can’t see an error at all. Or if we’ve been working on a piece for so long, we’ve developed creative fatigue and so familiar aspects start to feel weird and wrong — a strange phenomenon. Plus, overworking a piece is a very real thing and so we may inadvertently destroy parts we particularly like. We may even come to believe we’ve lost our inspiration for the piece — not so — or even our Muse — definitely not so — when all we really need is a break to refresh and regroup.
So the fourth aspect we should accept is that this art form tends to most reward those who periodically chose the moving targets to stay on their toes. Stepping outside our comfort zones isn’t only fun, its necessary from time to time.
Chasing The Glory
Absolutely, soak up those positive comments! It’s not only awesome, but practically speaking, it’s necessary to counterbalance the negativity of the tone deaf, the inconsiderate, or the jerks. So bask in it, baby! You’ve earned it! All your hard work, dedication, struggles, and passion paid off! It’s important to pat yourself on the back, too, especially with your great successes, so don’t feel that it’s arrogant or narcissistic. It’s not. It’s healthy, affirming, and empowering! Know your worth and know the beauty of your abilities. That’s confidence, my friend, and there’s nothing wrong with that!
All that said though, weighting feedback does best with cool objectivity. That’s not easy to be sure, but try to get to that end of the spectrum as much as you can. Above all, keep it in context. Consider the source, beware the delivery, mind the knowledge base, recognize the motivation, weigh the aesthetic, and analyze the relevance. Think on this, too — don’t get too caught up in either the glowing comments or pummeling criticisms. Try to come back to the middle ground. Why? Well, if we aren’t careful, either end of that spectrum can create a false sense of where we are developmentally by either dragging us too low or elevating us too high. We want to keep our feet on the ground to be responsive in any direction we need to go, even when it surprises us. Now why for that? Well, one of the fastest routes to disillusionment is a rude surprise born of a false notion of where we are in our skills. We need to be truthful with ourselves and wrapped up in that is how we handle feedback. Stay as grounded as you can and take what you can use then let the rest slide like water off a duck’s back. Because if we’re to trust anyone, it should be ourselves most of all. Indeed, self-doubt can be devastatingly disorienting and disillusionment isn’t far behind. So ultimately, having our rock to stand on helps us to avoid many traps of public opinion, gives us the gumption to defend our work when needed, and gifts us with a sense of artistic self-awareness that serves our progress well.
So the fifth aspect we should accept is that while lots of positive reinforcement is great, we can’t let it go to our heads. Likewise, we can’t deflate so completely with unwelcome feedback either. Try to maintain an even keel to stay flexible and adaptive and, mostly, to stay enthusiastic. Indeed, our creative joy is our single most lethal weapon against disillusionment so protect it with perspective and context.
We act as though comfort and luxury were the chief requirements of life, when all that we need to make us really happy is something to be enthusiastic about.
— Charles Kingsley
Because — yeah — sometimes disillusionment happens because we simply lose our enthusiasm, even our inspiration. For instance, we may no longer be passionate about creating realism right now and so other art forms now are capturing our attention. Sometimes we can just lose interest in the piece itself, even get lost in the process and just peter out. The Muse is a mercurial thing that can’t be forced. Realism just may not inspire our Muse all the time. If we press the issue though, disillusionment can build as we desperately push our Muse to deliver, turning a pleasurable experience sour. If creating art becomes a chore then, something is very wrong so regroup and rethink. Because the thing is, if we’re unable to break this cycle, the feedback loop then becomes geared to process irritation and discouragement rather than excitement, and — wow — is that a welcome mat for disillusionment.
So the sixth realization we best accept is that our Muse may not cooperate all the time when it comes to pursuing realism, but forcing it usually fails. We have to go with the flow or find a way to work through it while preserving our joyful engagement.
Holding On Tight, Screaming
Okay, so now that we know a bit about the nature of our chosen art form and how it tends to invite disillusionment by its very nature...what do we do now? Be proactive! We have to actively protect our enthusiasm and to this end, we do this by developing mediating strategies — because the only way around it is really just through it. So what are some tactics? Luckily, there are quite a few…
Keep things in context. You are an artist and your artistic style and prerogative are unique. You create the way you do because of who you are — not the other way around. You’re the one and only vessel in all the Universe that your art can come through and it’s as singular and special as you are. Therefore, your worth isn’t dependent on what other people think of your art, only on what you think of your art. So never forget — the first and only person to please with your art is yourself.
Because understand that not everyone will like your work. It’s a big world out there with many different tastes and your “flavor” may not appeal to everyone. And that’s okay! So while your art may come from the heart, learn not to internalize other people’s opinions of it — either good or bad. Try not to get swept up in the squall of opinion out there or worse, get lost trying to please everyone. Your personal connection to your art is an imperative so keep others from disrupting that synergy. In short, don’t create your art based on chasing down people’s approval and don’t fixate on who likes or dislikes your work. Who cares? Stop keeping score! You’ll drive yourself crazy and, ultimately, does it really matter? No.
Instead, create work on your own terms, authentically and unapologetically. When you create authentically with joy in your heart, it shows in your work and the rest will fall into place. Yet this joy can only emerge when you create to amuse yourself, when you create in the manner you were meant to in carefree freedom. Don’t forget that the act of artistic creation is one rooted in love, joy, and introspection — cultivate them!
But perhaps most of all, give yourself time to surprise yourself. You may want to scream at how you keep hitting roadblocks or not progress as quickly as you’d like…but give yourself time. Because believe me, you’ll happily surprise yourself if you keep at it!
No person who is enthusiastic about his work has anything to fear from life.
— Samuel Goldwyn
Stay Open Minded
Disillusionment can be a symptom of being stuck. Undeniably, a rut can lead to a kind of boredom that saps passion right out of the studio and — whomp — there’s disillusionment. But if you keep your mind open and your options plentiful, you’ll constantly challenge yourself with all sorts of different directions. Keeping your skills stretched to the point of breaking, too, is far more important than many artists realize. It doesn’t have to be all the time, but if you don’t periodically push yourself beyond what you think you can do, you’re tempting apathy. Those proverbial walls are there to prove to yourself how much you really want something, right? Because every once and awhile, a piece should feel like jumping off a cliff into the unknown if even just a little bit. With this will come a kind of high, not only from this act of wild abandonment, but in each little triumph that you unexpectedly won! You’ll also find greater zeal in conquering the challenges that pop up and find they become deeper learning experiences. There’s something to be said about damning the torpedoes — you become more committed as your gumption flares up in a way no other approach can inspire. Audaciousness is such a great way to tap into your passion, and all great art is first a product of passion. And if there’s one thing that can atomize disillusionment on the first shot, it’s passion!
Make this a habit then and the more likely you’ll jump to new points of progress quicker. This is because pushing yourself opens your mind to the possibilities and in them rest plentiful stepping-stones of learning and all manner of artistic expression. More still, you’ll remain aware that you don’t know everything and that there’s always another and perhaps a better way to render reality and so you start looking for them. In this way then we create a new positive feedback loop that keeps us constantly busy-minded with our art and with this state of mind, a rut just doesn’t stand a chance of taking root. So what’s the best balm for boredom? A reachable challenge! Stay curious! Be bold! Explore without fear!
Nothing splendid was ever created in cold blood. Heat is required to forge anything. Every great accomplishment is the story of a flaming heart.
— Arnold H. Glasgow
This does beg mentioning though: Don’t confuse evolution with “selling out.” Being able to recognize the need to evolve and then knowing how to update your methods without losing yourself in the process is important. Indeed, the difference between evolutionary improvement and pandering to fad is an important distinction. The trick is evolving while still staying true to yourself and we do this by creating always tapped into our love and joy which will keep us honest and authentic.
Unless you try to do something beyond what you have already mastered, you will never grow.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
As you gain experience and develop a portfolio, you’ll find that your view of what you create may not be the same others share. That’s to say, how we see our piece isn’t necessarily the same way others see it. This isn’t a bad thing! Art is open to interpretation and the experience of the viewer, even realism, and so everyone brings with them their own unique perspective, right? That’s one of the cool things about art! So once we learn to nestle our own meaning in our hearts, we can learn to “let our piece go” to allow others to nestle it into theirs in their own unique way. If we allow our work to have a fresh new life in the eyes of other folks, too, this can circle back to inspire and delight us in wonderful and unexpected ways.
For example, some of our biggest misfires (as we may think of them) often turn out to be our most popular pieces. We may genuinely believe we’ve faceplanted when, in fact, our stumbles may strike an unexpected chord to find surprising wild success. I can’t tell you how many times the ceramic pieces I thought were the biggest fails ended up selling first and those I thought were the best just sat there! Even the chachki pieces I disliked the most ended up being the most loved by others. Seriously — it’s such a common phenomenon among artists, it’s wild! Similarly, those pieces you believe will be the hardest sells, those that you believed would flop, often become the most well-received in ways you couldn’t have predicted. Stormwatch was that way for me. I genuinely believed he would completely fail, but I sculpted him anyway and look what happened! And this happens all the time with artists. And I’ve known plenty of pieces over the years I would have bet on to be crazy successes completely nosedive, often for reasons I can’t fathom.
Don’t let this ironic twist of Fate go unnoticed — pay attention and learn. In those moments lie gems of insight about yourself, your artistic direction, your creative motivations, and how your work is perceived. Even more, it can help us loosen up creatively and learn to lean into our inspirations more for their own sake rather than worrying about how our pieces will resonate. If we can embrace irony more, the more we learn to create for ourselves and so our work becomes more genuine and distinctive. Even more though, we disconnect our expectations from disillusionment because we just throw everything into the wind. Truly, without fixed expectations but by staying open and responsive, disillusionment has a hard time clinging to our experience.
Above all though, cultivate a healthy sense of humor. Learn to smile as a first reaction rather than grumble. It’s fun to be pleasantly surprised, isn’t it? And it’s curious to be taken aback. Honestly, if there’s one thing that’s always surprising, it’s how the folks react to each new piece. Truly, more often than not, creating art is laden with irony.
Since being an artist is a solitary endeavor, we often long to reach out to like-minded peers for encouragement, support, and community. So find a supportive social group that’s healthy for you and your expectations and engage.
This isn’t the easiest thing to do though. While the obvious choice would be a large public forum, this rarely pans out well for an artist. Most public forums don’t filter members and many are unmoderated (or poorly moderated), and while other artists may be there, there’s probably many more non-artists there, too. Public forums usually aren’t limited to only professionals, either, so a significant proportion of the participants aren’t beholden to a certain standard of behavior. This jumbled mix seldom creates a balanced place for an artist since you become a target to a percentage of people. Plus, not being artists, let alone a working artist, they have difficulty seeing the world from your point of view. More extreme, some may view an artist as “other” which can inevitably meet with negative consequences with that sort of objectification. Indeed, I’ve known so many artists becoming very disillusioned with their work and with the community in general through exactly this mechanism. The moment you feel an “ick factor” on a public forum then — leave. No forum is worth sacrificing your joy.
Rather, look for social media, organizations, clubs, groups, or forums dedicated to artists or the large percentage of them are artists. They are out there. This is where you’ll find folks who already share many commonalities with you whether or not they work in your same discipline. You’ll also find a different standard of behavior, not just because many of them are professionals, but because they already see the world through the same lens. You’ll also find many opportunities and insights there that can keep you interested and growing in your creativity in more targeted ways.
Another option is a small private mailing list of close friends or family, whether involved in your art or not. You can create such a list or be lucky enough to join one. Small, private forums often are much better than large and public ones because when you have a private party with close friends, it’s less likely to implode.
We all need encouragement and support from time to time so find the right place, invest yourself, and you can reconcile your isolation as an artist while also absorbing inspiration from other dynamic minds. This one-two punch is a clean shot to knocking out disillusionment!
We cannot create in a vacuum. If we don’t keep tabs on our development, we can go sideways which invites eventual disillusion through frustration and discouragement. We need reference points to measure where we’ve come from, where we are, and where we’re going because while artistic evolution can be rather chaotic, making sense of our progress needs a bit more order all the same. So take periodic stock of your body of work and analyze it with a cool, objective eye. Notice the things you still like about it as well as those things you’d rather change, and especially those things you regard as learning experiences. Sometimes, if we’re very lucky, we’re even able to notice a previous blindspot, too. Absolutely, the ability to objectively analyze your work is crucial. And it’s not just for your own journey, either. Others are assessing your work, and with differing degrees of insight, so if you’re unable to defend it, disillusionment isn’t far behind. In short, you need your own rock to stand on in order to expertly manage feedback as well as know where you want to take your goals.
Above all, maintain quality, even in work you may regard as “quickies.” Quality never goes out of style! Use quality materials with sound methods and work on meticulous craftsmanship to ensure a collector’s investment. When we take pride in our processes, we validate our sense of self-worth and that the time we devote to our craft is time well spent. However, quality doesn’t mean just good quality materials — it also means good quality interpretations. Remember that realism is constantly being pushed out farther and farther so unless you’re staying current with the evolving standards, you can become frustrated by the reception of your work over time.
Don’t take praise at face value. Decide for yourself what excellence is and challenge yourself to meet those standards. So consider setting new quality goals from time to time because the process of reevaluation should ultimately result in stretching yourself artistically. But also cultivate humility. Only by jettisoning our pretense can we recognize our hiccups while also valuing our successes without letting them go to our heads.
Every new painting starts out as a comeback.
— Joseph P. Blodgett
Boiled down, good work earns genuine and enthusiastic approval, and therefore self-generates success. When you stay on top of your game, your sense of satisfaction stays high and your motivation is always primed. Plus, you’re able to indulge your whims and new directions more than if you’re always scrambling. In short, good work makes an artist’s life much happier.
I don’t think of myself as making art. I do what I do because I want to, because painting is the best way I’ve found to get along with myself.
— Robert Rauschenberg
Dating or Marriage?
It’s helpful to have a clear understanding of why you chose equine realism as an art form. It’s not enough to say, “Because I like it,” either. It’s no easy discipline and so a compass fixed on deeper meanings will help us boldly forge ahead on track despite the potholes. So dig deep. Once you’ve nabbed it then, revisit it from time to time to affirm your commitment because it’s deceptively easy to get sidetracked in this genre. Also take stock of your goals — do they further your commitment or contradict it as you grow? The more they diverge over time, the more it becomes time to rethink your reasons why.
The day is coming when a single carrot, freshly observed, will set off a revolution.
— Paul Cezanne
You also need to decide if you’re creating within this art form just for casual fun and a low-key hobby, or more as a hardcore personal challenge, even as a profession. Whichever motivates you will determine how intense your involvement will be which has a direct bearing on how you manage disillusionment.
For example, if it’s just for fun and frustration erupts, it’s much easier to walk away because the level of investment is far less. In a sense, it’s more like dating than a marriage. On the other hand, invested dedication requires far more energy and commitment like a marriage. More is on the line and so our creative undertakings take on a heavier weight because the stakes are higher and the standards more intense. While this focus can propel our progress to dizzying heights when it’s a healthy relationship, it has the potential to leave us vulnerable to disillusion if the relationship turns sour. Therefore, “married” artists sometimes have to work harder to keep the relationship a happy one. In other words, if more invested folks don’t actively strategize to keep disillusion at bay, they’re going to suffer burn out, psychological fatigue, resentment, frustration, despondency, even strong feelings of inadequacy. Intense investment simply means more intense tactics to combat the side effects.
Yet while all this may seem an obvious realization that comes with the territory, too many artists neglect make this kind of distinction. Inevitably then, they end up in the wrong kind of “relationship” which has only one outcome — disillusion. For instance, some want the fame that comes with “marriage-level” work but are unable or unwilling to dedicate themselves to that kind of intensity. As a result, for example, we can hear the frustration in the complaint, “I guess I just don’t have what it takes to create top quality work!” Conversely, other artists may have achieved “marriage-level” status but revert back to “dating” for whatever reason and then wonder why their reputation suffers. This outcome can be heard in the embittered comment, “People used to like my work — what do people want nowadays? People are just stupid!”
There’s no shame in choosing a more casual involvement over an intense one — one isn’t better than the other, only different. And there’s loads of room of all sorts of motivations of all kinds! The point is to be very clear of what you want to invest and if your expectations align or disillusion isn’t far behind. So whether you want to take your commitment to the next level, ratchet it down a notch, or even get a divorce is up to you. Just understand that how people respond to your work often mirrors your relationship with it.
You can accelerate your development by giving yourself a fresh set of challenges, or the same set viewed from a different angle, every day. Explore a different path – if it’s a dead end, explore another.
— Paul Foxton
Don’t minimize your efforts or talents! Respect yourself and your abilities. Value what works in your art and seek to make it truly bloom. And there are small miracles in every piece so learn to recognize them to give you something to build on. Because really, if all you do is find fault with your work (or fault in other’s work), you’re creating a worrisome feedback loop. That kind of downer grind isn’t only unhelpful on many levels, but it tends to attract people who have nothing positive to offer which only feeds a negative vibe towards disillusionment.
Now on that note — yes — practice makes perfect, that doesn’t mean you have to kill yourself in the process, does it? No! When it comes to art, things come in their own time and cannot be forced. Just let it happen and don’t be so hard on yourself. We can only tackle what we’re ready to tackle and only absorb what we’re ready to absorb at that moment. Knowledge bases and skillsets take time to develop and everything is a process of building blocks. Be patient and kind to yourself. As my good friend, Ed Gonzales says, “each horse is practice for the next.”
Likewise, practice patting yourself on the back. No — seriously. Learn to recognize what you got right or what challenges you tackled and take a moment to appreciate that. It’s through stretching our skills that we find motivating progress so feed that with some self-congratulations and — yes — even if we got too enthusiastic and bit of more than we could chew and faceplanted. Especially then! Hey — it happens to all of us at some point so don’t beat yourself up so much. Take note, be proud that you were so bold and forward-thinking, and simply rethink the problem in another way. Who knows, maybe that will switch on a new light bulb! Progress and innovation may require pushing envelopes to the breaking point, but they’re also full of beneficial sideways surprises so don’t let discouragement keep them from you.
Nevertheless, don’t let weak areas slide for the sake of your self-esteem either. Doing so really isn’t a means to prop yourself up but a surefire way to be disappointed on some level later. Sure, it’s easier to say, “Oh well, my body shading is nice enough to make up for the blobby white markings,” but if you don’t attend to habitual problem areas in your work, that can erode your self-esteem over time. So don’t shortchange yourself. Give yourself the opportunity to wow yourself with how talented you truly are!
As we grow as artists, not only does our art evolve, but we should expect our goals and interests to evolve, too. This is normal. Don’t be afraid of it! Really, just because what you did in the past was a winning combination doesn’t mean that evolution will lead to ruin of your reputation, customer base, or livelihood. And if you do lose a few collectors as a result, chances are you’ll gain others anyway, right? And maybe a couple of collectors may grumble, but is your artistic journey about you or them? Creating art is a kind of Schrödinger’s Cat situation: You won’t know if change is good or bad until you actually open that box, so to speak. So open it! With art, change is good more times than not so why deny yourself an unrealized potential because of anxiety? And worry over what? Be true to your big ideas — you had them for a reason! And the truth is if you’re fearful and resistant to growth, you risk plateauing and eventual disillusionment isn’t far behind. Explore, expand, experiment, imagine, reimagine, and stretch as you wish — it’s good for you and your work.
When you are through changing, you are through.
— Bruce Barton
Explore and Seek
To that end — actively explore! Try creating work in entirely different styles, genres, or with other subject matter. We can’t ignore how demanding and sometimes confining equine realism can be and our Muse may need variety every so often so set out a buffet.
Along with that, consider some field study and field trips. Attend horse shows and stables, even snap some reference photos. Visit galleries, museum exhibits, and art shows. Go on studio tours or visit foundries. Attend or host retreats, classes, and workshops. Try other art forms and experiment with new media. For example, try sculpting a bust or bas-relief if all you’ve done is full-body sculptures, or try pastels or color pencil if you’ve only worked in oils or acrylics. Sculpt a dog or antelope, or maybe even a Pegasus or Unicorn! Think outside the box! And hey — take some art classes, even in some creative outlet, interpretation, or skillset totally different than equine realism.
Nothing changes until something moves.
— Albert Einstein
Because here’s the thing: Expanding your creative options can recharge your motivation and refresh your eye in exciting and unexpected ways. You may discover a lot about yourself, too, which certainly is a big boost to your motivation. Don’t be afraid then of getting a little crazy with exploring wildly different creative outlets because there’s no wrong choice here. Whatever tickles your fancy — pursue it! Truly, everything you experience will inform your studio!
Most of all, don’t be concerned if your attention becomes increasingly drawn to these new options — there’s nothing wrong with that! In fact, you may find a need to develop these other options parallel to your realistic work to keep your creative energy burying the needle. And it’s okay to “leave home” to return later — nothing has to be permanent. That’s the exciting prospect of learning and art — we don’t only have to stay open-minded about our art but about ourselves, too! You have a tremendous amount of potential locked up on there — let it out!
Not in the shouts and plaudits of the throng, but in ourselves, are triumph and defeat.
— Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
If you find yourself daunted or unmotivated in your studio, rethink your work load. Perhaps just shuffling pieces around may be the trick. Really, sometimes it’s better to put aside the piece that’s really hairing you out and work instead on a less stressful thing. Think about it — you can either waste time procrastinating or endlessly fighting a problem piece, or better use that time and energy to work on something else more productive at the moment. Heck, just picking up something more inviting to work on can be enough to get us over a hump. Pace yourself. Work your way up to those pieces that make you want to scream and only when you’re ready with a positive frame of mind. If we try to slog though a troublesome completion, we’re just conditioning ourselves for disillusionment.
So consider having lots of little sideline projects waiting in the wings to fiddle with when you need an injection of low-pressure or experimentation. Maintaining the sense of fun in the studio is great in so many ways, especially to keep our spirits up and creativity geared forwards. A happy studio is a productive studio! In a nutshell then, if you reach a road block, don’t stop! Simply take a detour and explore the new path. Whatever it takes, just keep moving! For instance, when I get exasperated with a piece, I’ll detour and work on illustrations, writing, sketches, or artistic exercises. I’ll explore my references and horse books, looking for more inspiration. I just switch gears in the knowing I’ll return later with a fresh eye and renewed enthusiasm.
To look backward for a while is to refresh the eye, to restore it, and to render it the more fit for its prime function of looking forward.
— Margaret Fairless Barber
Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder
Sometimes all you need is a vacation from the studio. Let’s be honest with ourselves — as artists we tend towards a workaholic attitude, don’t we? What’s better than doing what we love to do? Well, doing more of it! Yet this can inadvertently cause burn out or a frazzled state of mind because we all need a break from time to time, right? Taking periodic steps away really does help to maintain a strong sense of motivation by creating a healthy balance between you and your art. Thusly refreshed then, your head is often swimming with new creative ideas because your subroutines just needed to work outside of a single-minded focus. This means our downtime is just as important as our active time! It’s a little counter-intuitive but so true that applying our mind to other interests can often result in better work later.
Getting Out Of The Studio
Similarly, don’t sacrifice other facets of your life for your art — your “other” self is as important as the self in your studio. Family, friends, pets, extra-curricular activities, and even travel all play significant parts in your life that support your art life in systemic ways, practically and emotionally. Indeed, a well-balanced life contributes to reinforced artistic motivation because balance offers distance and perspective which are essential for mediating disillusionment. Balance also provides inspiration and new ideas, infusing freshness and innovation into our body of work. And most of all, balance reminds us that while we may be artists, we’re also so much more than that, too! We’re multi-faceted, fascinating individuals with vibrant, interesting lives and so our identity is so much more complex than just the life in our studio. So basically, balance pulls us out of our art-heads so we can reorient our identities and ambitions to remember all the good stuff that motivates us so well. Truly, working in your studio with blinders on and without breaks only gives disillusionment the opportunity burn you out, numb your Eye, exhaust you psychologically, or push you into creative fatigue. So go out and experience life with loved ones! There’s no better cure for a funk!
Pulling Into The Station — We Survived!
Being prepared and ever-vigilant against the quiet intrusion of disillusionment is active duty. And it can take a lot of honesty and introspection to stay aware enough to spot those moments it can pounce. Because know it or not, every day in our studio is actually a series of motivation-induced moments strung together by a continuum of passion. Each moment inspires the next and so it goes until we complete our piece. Good strategy works to protect that delicate chain of emotional events to keep them tumbling forwards with love and zeal. And while each of us experiences disillusionment periodically, how we work to reclaim our happiness speaks a lot about our dedication. Truly, we reaffirm our commitment with each new piece we complete and in this way, each completion is a statement of sorts. Yet there’s no shame in admitting you may no longer find inspiration in equine realism for a time or even permanently. Just don’t let disillusionment keep you from being creative altogether!
Art is a very joyous obsession that has one large drawback – the frustration that is involved with the middle of the process, when things can go either way.
— Travis Bowles
Just remember the yin and yang. Our darkest moments give us the opportunity to take pause and change our direction to see ourselves and our art in a new light. In reality then, our disillusion really is a kind of gift without which we may never be given that moment to grow. So when we feel at our weakest that’s really our moment when we can find our true strength! Don’t be afraid to reach deep down to rediscover yourself and your art. There are great things in store for you if you’re willing to see The Big Picture and reconsider your strategies. Creativity is really about movement, of “moving around” in our ideas, skills, and expectations so the moment we “sit still” is the moment we open the door to disillusionment through plateaus, creative fatigue, burn out, and all the rest. Keep moving!
Ultimately though, the best strategy to squish disillusionment is fully understanding yourself as an artist — knowing what keeps you motivated, engineering a studio life that cultivates those motivations, and then bounding after those carrots in earnest. This will lead you always to artistic happiness and enthusiasm, or as Elizabeth Gilbert would put it, you’ll always “find your way home.” If there’s one thing that can conquer disillusion then, it’s holding the love for creativity and our subject closest to our hearts. Love always points the way so follow where it leads because believe it or not, you’ll love where it takes you and so will we!
Happiness is inward and not outward, and so it does not depend on what we have, but on what we are.
— Henry Van Dyke