This week’s butchered quote is from Andy Warhol: “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.”
This week’s blog post comes as a result of a series of recent conversations with a friend and fellow artist and is dedicated to her (you know who you are). She feels totally blocked at the moment, questioning her work and every mark she makes. I totally empathise, as will most other artists, writers, musicians etc, because I have spent the best part of the past three years feeling like this. Sometimes the feeling comes from a disappointment or rejection and is temporary. A submission to an exhibition is unsuccessful, a show that promises to be a triumph produces no sales, worse, no visitors, or completely devastating, watching others sell while our own work is overlooked. It makes us wonder if we are doing the right thing. Are we not commercial enough or too commercial? Are we choosing the wrong subjects, wrong compositions, wrong mediums or techniques? Are we just rubbish at art? Will the beam in the ceiling be strong enough to hang ourselves from? But rejection and self-doubt are part of our chosen professions and to stay an artist/writer/musician etc, we have to cultivate an elephant’s hide . . . then draw it.
The block I am writing about here is more profound than the temporary set-back, but once understood can become a positive thing, though it is hard to see that piece of wood for the trees of frustration, self-flagellation and doubt that can block our paths, sometimes for years. To be ‘successful’ (and by that I mean reaching toward our true potential) we have to change and move forward. In an earlier post I referred to gallery represented artists as not necessarily the ‘lucky few’, and the reason for that qualifier is that galleries, agents and the public find it convenient to freeze and catalogue the artist into a handy box of style, subject or medium. However, as artists, we need to advance, or our work becomes formulaic. The period of change is uncomfortable. An artist can rarely, if ever, truly express what we see in our heads. In a period of profound change, the mind moves even further ahead of what we can physically achieve and paintings feel more like marking the steps of the dance rather than dancing it. Sometimes we are so blocked that we have no ideas, or just not able, we just abandon every painting before completion. To the rest of the world we are being moody or showing artistic temperament, but in our heads we are questioning, shaping, exploring, when we are not self-denigrating. It is all consuming (spare a thought here for those who have to live with us!). It is frightening and frustrating and this is where some lose the will, revert to formula or just give up altogether. To earn the title, to push through to the other side, we have to keep going, keep making art. Even if we see our work as lacking or just plain awful, those not bound by the image in our heads may still see it as desirable or inspirational.
One day suddenly it is as though a stopper has been pulled from a bottle. A shift happens, ideas start to flow, a new technique gels and a new rhythm is found. The first painting is a seminal piece and everything that preceded it were merely studies toward it. We are creative, focused and expressive once more . . . until our next metamorphosis.
At the risk of sounding like an American motivational speaker, I will leave you for this week with another quote from author and cartoonist Steven McCranie: “The master has failed more times than the beginner has even tried”; or you may prefer Albert Einstein: “Failure is success in progress” and “You never fail until you stop trying”. Of course motivational sayings are just that and rarely say HOW to beat the block, so I will suggest some strategies for that in next week’s missive. Watch this space!