What Excuse Are You Defending?
If we want to do something, we won't do it by doing other things.
This is an article that is directed to all of us who find excuses getting in the way of the next important step in our lives. I am a prone to this as much as anyone else. Hopefully we can beat this beast, but awareness is a good start.
Recently I was talking to an artist who suffered with one tried and tested excuse: "I do not have the time!" was her constant refrain. To anyone who has seen her crafts and creations their immediate response would be "I want one" and "you should be selling these, they are great!" She would laugh and say ... yup you guessed it: " I just don't have the time." This has been going on for years. Of course to all those looking on it does seem that this artist is indeed very busy. If she says she does not have a moment well so be it. What a pity though because her work is superb and she loves creating things.
Sound familiar? So after all these years of procrastination due to deep fears of failure (the root issue) this artist decided recently that she could find some time. Suddenly this excuse was gone. Sure it would be easy if she cut out a few silly TV shows (used to be her reward for a busy day) and organised her chores a bit better. An hour a day was freed up. Fantastic!
Except instead of getting stuck in for an hour a day creating her wonderful works of art she developed a new excuse. "What's the point?" she would say. "It's not like I can make a living doing this. I cannot give up my day job so why do all this extra work?" This was a real doozy of an excuse. We argued the point for a bit, however she would get defensive so we left it there. Is it not bizarre how we will defend our excuse? Get all hot under the collar if anyone should dare to shed light on a flimsy excuse that we are clutching onto.
It does seem that the tendency is to always revert to an excuse no matter how much progress is made. Only by awareness and some real guts do we get past the hurdle and progress further. You may love to paint, but are terrified of trying out for your first sale. Once the sales start you are avoiding the next step - raising the bar and going semi-pro. Then next up might be an exhibition. What if no one is interested? Too busy, too expensive, not good enough, this town hates artists and so on. Go professional? Take lessons? No way - I just want to paint in my own time. All excuses.
So we can all admit to having our personal excuse. Have you identified yours? Can you defeat it? Do you covet the excuse and protect it jealously even to the point of anger?
I have read many articles about dealing with procrastination. Without fail they oversimplify it. Like a teacher might sound trying to encourage a child: " Go on it will do you good". This does not cut it for for adults struggling with the problem. Perhaps Steven Pressfield gets close to the heart of it in his book The War of Art.
Until we stand aside and flick the switch to shed light on our mind-made issue we will not overcome the excuse. When we decide to break through we realise that there was nothing there to begin with.
The smoke clears and the road lies ahead.
The Beauty of Russian Impressionism
What do you think of when you hear the words "Russian art". To the uninformed images of propaganda posters and giant politburo faces on buildings may come to mind. Perhaps the opulent splendour of Tsarist Russia? Yes all of those stereotypes can be found, but that would be a disservice to the tremendous contribution Russian artists have made to impressionist and realist art.
Freedom to Express
Since the fall of Soviet Russia the world has been able to re-access this trove of art. Impressionism in particular was well represented in Russia. Artists in the 19th and early 20th centuries studied the art movements in Europe. The thread of impressionism, namely to depict real life, nature and light was an important form of expression in Russia. One can easily imagine the sense of freedom artists felt being able to depict their friends and neighbours going about real life activities. No more restrictive academic traditions and formulas. Not to mention the political throttle that Stalinist era had brought to art.
It must be kept in mind that Russian artists in the late 1800's and early 1900's were well traveled and influenced by Impressionists in Europe too. However once the Iron curtain clanged shut after 1945 Russia and Europe were kept apart. Did the following decades preserve impressionism longer than it lasted in Europe?
Life was hard and remained a struggle for most. However when you look at paintings of rural folk depicted by Russian artists during the Soviet period you get a sense of life depicted somewhat through rose tinted glasses. Yes the artists would have been mindful of depicting Russians negatively, but there was perhaps also a sense of pride in being Russian. You may find parallels with American artists like Norman Rockwell for instance.
Restructuring Life and Art
Once the Soviet Union collapsed in the nineties the world began to see more Russian art. The beauty of this realist painting was apparent. It was also accessible at a time when Western art was for many too modern, facile or simply weird. Yes there was the whiff of Socialist propaganda buried beneath Russian art. For the most part though collectors and fans found a trove of impressionist treasure. A re-connection with the impressionists likeMonet and Pissaro that the West loves.
The Real Russian
Russian impressionist paintings have a distinctive feel and there is a sense of the Russian culture and heritage - both joyful and tragic - that radiates from some of the paintings. Artists like Ilya Repin believed that the Russian people wanted artists to depict the real Russian life. Artists who did this successfully became famous - national treasures. Valentin Serov's painting Girl with Peaches for instance was a sensation.
Russia is a huge country and of course the land, nature and the harsh elements were part of survival. Depicting Russian country life was important culturally and emotionally to the Russian psyche. Artists live Isaac Levitan did this wonderfully as can be seen in Golden Autumn below.
20th Century Impressionists
Looking to modern impressionists in the 20th century the famous brothers Alexei and Sergei Tkachev have produced stunning works. Their painting above (Children) seems to evoke so much about the fragility of life together with the universal joy of nature. Who can look at this painting and not be moved? Bold, energetic colour with contrasting lights and darks together with the emotional content makes for a powerful painting. Not to mention the genius composition and spacing of the figures, colour choices and gestures.
My Favorite Contemporary Russian Impressionists
A few of the contemporary artists that inspire me are Bato Dugarzaphov. His thick and juicy brushwork is a wonder to behold. The light in his almost abstract paintings is almost searing at times. Another artist is Peter Bezrukov who has a similar passionate approach to paint, light and brushwork. It is these artist who, for me, link directly back to the original impressionists that I love so much.
Take some time and look up more Russian Impressionists - it is well worth it.
For more about modern Russian art and its resurgent popularity read this article from Fine Art Connoisseur
What would the days be like without something to learn? A waste of time to be honest. They say wisdom comes with age, but I suspect that the lessons are available to all ages. It is more a case of what a person is ready to receive. It is only possible to receive when you ask for something and are open to life's lessons.
Here are a few lessons that have shown themselves to me in the past few weeks:
The work in progress continues. The opportunity to learn never ends.
What moment of wisdom showed itself to you recently?
An artist? You're not weird enough man!
This quote comes from a varsity friend of mine while we were discussing our futures. I mentioned art as something I would like to pursue further, which led to the above comment. This was maybe understandable in that context. After all we were studying law. Art students were more expressive - you know the clothes, the dyed hair and protests and shock art. These are stereotypes of course, but they illustrate the idea. The idea that to be successful as an artist you need to stand out and this implies an extroverted personality.
How many people aspire to creative careers in the arts, but doubt themselves because they are introverts.
Here is an amazing talk by Susan Cain on the topic of introverts giving their talent to the world.
Do introverts have a chance for real success in the arts?
We artists must be careful about accepting advice, because we might end up following it. Irony aside there is no shortage of advice, free or paid for. Artists are prime targets for consultants, advisors and marketing gurus since we tend to be thrown about on the winds of outrageous fortune. Any snake-oil salesman appears welcoming when we are low in confidence. What 10-point plan for success are we going to receive today? Granted there are a few who do know their way around the no nonsense paths of common sense. For the rest - run for it.
However there is also the advice received from people we know that makes us pause. If this is a family member then things can get very personal. Let me get to that shiny nugget of negative advice. The big kahuna that is designed to take the wind out of your sails and leave you dazed and full of questions about your own sanity. The one that says:" You cannot make your hobby into a career." This chestnut coming from someone you trust and may also love you can be the clincher. It sounds sensible too. It does not forbid you from doing your passion work. It just says keep your job and fiddle with your hobby after hours like "other people". Secure and comfortable and everyone can sleep better, OK?
What a stupid comment to make. Why not encourage people to do what they love as a career. Many people already make a living from their passion work so why not you? Why must your painting remain a hobby so that you remain in a cubicle until 65? I have been on the receiving end of this advice so I know just how insidious it is. It still rankles. Tell me my art is rubbish and I can shrug it off because everyone has their own opinion. Tell me how to make a living and there is trouble in brewing.
Let me add my own take on this thorny issue. Yes you can make a career from your hobby, but you cannot run your career like a hobby. See the difference?
Oh! the cynic will say: "Very well Mr Clever, but what if your hobby is not engineering? What if it is ... butterfly collecting eh? What then"? Very well I like a challenge. Let us think laterally. Are there other butterfly collectors in the world? Yes - then lets move on. What is linked directly and indirectly to butterfly collecting? Think of all the kit required, books, DVD's on the subject, naturalists, holidays for fans, B&B's near places where butterflies migrate, clubs, eco-tourism and so on. I am pretty sure Sir David Attenborough collected butterflies and he seems to have done very well for himself.
Point is what these cynics are trying to say is they do not believe that you will make buckets of money from your chosen path. This too is simply a product of their own limited thinking.
So why do we not encourage people to do what they love for a living? One of my earliest memories is one of being complimented by a stranger over a cartoon that I had drawn. I was six or seven and I distinctly recall how pleased I was at the time. A drawing book has accompanied me since then. My school books were doodle ridden things. Anyone who knew me knew that art was numero uno in my life. Even at varsity I was the guy designing the residence T-shirt and the varsity bumper stickers. I studied law by the way - typical!
There is always time to discover that your passion is meant to be your life too. Thankfully I have had that opportunity and so can you.
Let me know what you think - can we make our passion into a respectable living too?
Try Something New!
Have you had one of those days that just seems to be the day before tomorrow? You know the day that just was ... nothing really. Maybe tomorrow is better. We know the cliches about adding spice to life and "a change is as good as a holiday". But without really getting ourselves committed to these steps we simply fall back into neutral, coasting along.
So lets do something new. Why not? We are not going to sit around and wait for things to happen. Let us make them happen! Take up the challenge to do something new for 30 days.
Suggestions: Paint outdoors ___ times a week. Take art lessons. Do a painting a day. Take up yoga and meditate on art. Be grateful for three things a day and write them down. Whatever, but start now.
Here is a great video from Matt Cutts about getting into action. It inspired me today when I needed a reminder to get back on track. So back me up here and take up your challenge too.
Do you want to share what your challenge is? Telling someone what it is can really help to commit to the task. Go for it!
World Art Day
Finally there is now an official World Art Day! 15 April 2013 will be the first world art day. Appropriately 15 April is also Leonardo da Vinci's birthday.
Let us all get our art kit together and do something creative this weekend as a reminder that we are part of a long journey of artists. Long may the journey continue.
To quote from the official website:
Many persons could be tempted to start their first art collections and many artists young and old would stand more chances to be remembered and commemorated on such a day when the whole World would be thinking and breathing art. We envision a day in which every museum and gallery of the World with open-night events that would last till midnight… Besides the economic boost it would provoke, special affection and respect to the art world. Art and Artists would become dominant on that day and wrong doings of censorship and other even greater evils would be much harder to defend with the weight created with the “World Art Day”…
About time too!
What artist would you commemorate as the greatest?
The only limit is the one you set yourself.
In Part one of this topic I had a look at breaking an attachment to art sales. In Part two I want to look at getting into a professional mindset. Yes quality, subject matter and output of work is all relevant to producing professional quality art. There should be an upward trend in every artist's career. This covers many areas from the actual paintings, studio practice, business knowledge, marketing and study. Art is an ever developing subject and passionate artists will be happy to grow in knowledge. The good news is that passionate artists can do all of these things well.
So how does an artist make sense of the many demands on creative time and ensure that all bases are covered.
Here are a few thoughts:
Get less busy: Being busy is not the same as being effective. Forget multitasking. Get some focus! The only way to do this effectively is to cut out time wasting activities like excessive computer usage, cell phone and e-mail fixations, retail therapy and so on. I know all too well how tempting it is to browse the net about anything art related. It is procrastination - pure and simple.
Estimate the time you spend on other media sources and aim to cut it down by fifty percent. Check e-mail at a couple of set times a day. Need an online timer? Try E.gg timer .com. Put the cell phone on the other side of the room. If you can remove the computer from your studio altogether I know that work time will benefit - guaranteed. Practical? you decide on this step because it is a tough one for many.
As buzzwords go I think the one about "getting intentional" is actually useful. What is your intention with your art career? Once you have this verbalised and written down you can get a clear vision and work towards it. You can focus on the important things.
To produce more paintings of better quality you will need to:
Now to put this into practice you need to do the work. Identify what you love to paint. "I paint everything" is not helpful. "I want to be an superb landscape painter" - this is more helpful. Now what will it take for you to paint awesome landscapes? Aside from canvas time you will need to study master artists, take lessons, read more, attend a workshop and connect to other artists for sharing of ideas or experience. Repeat for the rest of your career. This is actually the fun part.
Each day holds the prospect for something new. New learning, new experience in art. Some days will be BIG and others will seem dull. That is the way it goes, but with passion and belief the dull days will be few. Remember not to be attached to outcomes. This is a negative mindset. Rather be attached to doing something great with your art each day. Why not! Art really is a great thing to do so celebrate this by jumping into the experience whole heartedly.
Make a time plan for your days but do not be enslaved by them. You are an artist after all so be free to change the pattern, but make it worthwhile.
Start work at a respectable time of day. Waking up at 9am on a weekday is sad. Getting up at 4am is over the top. The idea is to use daylight for creating so try not to waste this precious time.
Reject fear and anxiety. At least if you have real fear then identify the cause and get it solved. Anxiety is our imagination destroying our peace of mind. It has no place in your life so find ways to identify this and get it out of your way.
I like to get paperwork done before 8am. Then an hour assessing the previous day's work before getting to painting related activity from 9am. Painting an early session outdoors is fine because the light is usually great. If in the studio I prefer to paint from midday onwards. So until then I will spend time on other studio preparations like priming and toning panels, framing or perhaps writing for my website or workshop program.
Know when to stop. I will seldom paint in the studio beyond 16h00. There must be time to breath and enjoy time with others. Evenings are for family, entertainment and reading. Painting takes concentration and after a time my attention begins to wander. It is then time to stop and regroup for the next day. Paintings also need to rest overnight before completion. I am much better equipped mentally in the morning to assess the previous day's work. A problem resolves itself after a night's sleep. It can be sorted out quickly when you are fresh. A matter of minutes is sometimes all it takes. If rushed at the end of the day however it can ruin a painting just a quickly.
Paint for quality and impact not perfection. Canvas time and focus will result in steady improvement in painting quality. Study and action will improve business skills. The two will ensure that your career moves upwards.
You never know too much unless you do nothing with that knowledge. Knowledge with action is powerful.
Plein Air Moments
A recent visit to Port Alfred meant taking an opportunity to paint on their magnificent beaches. I took my pochade box and a few panels. It was slightly overcast with no wind - yet. Soon into painting at Kelly's Beach an easterly breeze came up from behind. I placed the pochade box on my panel carrier to keep some of the sand off, but the end result has a good many sand particles attached.
I like the end result all the more for it!
Malcolm Dewey: Artist. Country: South Africa