Sunday, March 2, 2014

Superb Advice on Artmaking for When You are in Doubt


[INITIAL NOTE:  The art above was created after all of the good advice below for the next page of my joint sketchbook with Raena.  It is also posted at our joint blog 2'nFro .  If you would like to comment on the art, please go to that blog to do so.   I'd love to know what you think.  And if you have input on the words in this post, please comment here at Dan's Canvas:  Have you had similar experiences?  What do you think of these artists' advice?]

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Pssst.  Here's a secret.  I've been in a bit of a funk, artwise.  I am trying new things.  They mostly aren't working.  It may be that I am in some kind of transition period.   That is the hope.

I was feeling a bit down about it and then, as often happens, the universe gathered to counsel me.

First I heard an interview with Thom Yorke of Radiohead here, and he was talking about how he creates.   To paraphrase as advice (and applying it to painting):

Paint to the spot in the middle of your head.  Do not consider merit, technique, goals, and the like.  Just paint.  You are just one of the latest of a vast family of artists in the history of man.  You are a pebble falling down a waterfall.

Then a quote on Belinda del Pesco's blog:

"If you find yourself asking yourself (and your friends), 'Am I really a writer? Am I really an artist?' chances are you are. The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death." - Steven Pressfield

When I commented that I needed that quote about now, Belinda generously sent me an e-mail, and said:

".. I hope there is no doubt in your mind that you’re an artist, through and through. I read an excerpt from a book about creativity (of all types: writers, painters, musicians) and the common current in the blood of every artist is a heightened sense of *feeling*. Like a high-resolution sensitivity to beauty, sadness, elation, mood shifts in a room, light, color, aroma, sounds, etc. I see evidence of this in your work, and your words. Being an artist has nothing to do with output (although the same book talked about enormous satisfaction in the act of creating, like a release, in the same way a good cry makes us feel better), and it certainly shouldn’t be validated by modern measurements associated with financial or exhibit “success” in the art world. You’re an artist. Plain and Simple."

Wow.  Thank you so much, Belinda.

Then, finally, I was listening to the latest podcast of  Modern Art Notes, and learned about a letter that Sol Lewitt sent to Eva Hesse when she was feeling much the same.  Here is big chunk of it [warning for the easily offended: profanity and references to private body parts are a small part of this, but the words are so profound that you should read it anyway!]:

"..Just stop thinking, worrying, looking over your shoulder wondering, doubting, fearing, hurting, hoping for some easy way out, struggling, grasping, confusing, itching, scratching, mumbling, bumbling, grumbling, humbling, stumbling, numbling, rumbling, gambling, tumbling, scumbling, scrambling, hitching, hatching, bitching, moaning, groaning, honing, boning, horse-shitting, hair-splitting, nit-picking, piss-trickling, nose sticking, ass-gouging, eyeball-poking, finger-pointing, alleyway-sneaking, long waiting, small stepping, evil-eyeing, back-scratching, searching, perching, besmirching, grinding, grinding, grinding away at yourself. Stop it and just DO!

From your description, and from what I know of your previous work and you [sic] ability; the work you are doing sounds very good “Drawing-clean-clear but crazy like machines, larger and bolder… real nonsense.” That sounds fine, wonderful – real nonsense. Do more. More nonsensical, more crazy, more machines, more breasts, penises, cunts, whatever – make them abound with nonsense. Try and tickle something inside you, your “weird humor.” You belong in the most secret part of you. Don’t worry about cool, make your own uncool. Make your own, your own world. If you fear, make it work for you – draw & paint your fear and anxiety. And stop worrying about big, deep things such as “to decide on a purpose and way of life, a consistant [sic] approach to even some impossible end or even an imagined end” You must practice being stupid, dumb, unthinking, empty. Then you will be able to DO!

I have much confidence in you and even though you are tormenting yourself, the work you do is very good. Try to do some BAD work – the worst you can think of and see what happens but mainly relax and let everything go to hell – you are not responsible for the world – you are only responsible for your work – so DO IT. And don’t think that your work has to conform to any preconceived form, idea or flavor. It can be anything you want it to be. But if life would be easier for you if you stopped working – then stop. Don’t punish yourself. However, I think that it is so deeply engrained in you that it would be easier to DO!

It seems I do understand your attitude somewhat, anyway, because I go through a similar process every so often. I have an “Agonizing Reappraisal” of my work and change everything as much as possible = and hate everything I’ve done, and try to do something entirely different and better. Maybe that kind of process is necessary to me, pushing me on and on. The feeling that I can do better than that shit I just did. Maybe you need your agony to accomplish what you do. And maybe it goads you on to do better. But it is very painful I know. It would be better if you had the confidence just to do the stuff and not even think about it. Can’t you leave the “world” and “ART” alone and also quit fondling your ego. I know that you (or anyone) can only work so much and the rest of the time you are left with your thoughts. But when you work or before your work you have to empty you [sic] mind and concentrate on what you are doing. After you do something it is done and that’s that. After a while you can see some are better than others but also you can see what direction you are going. I’m sure you know all that. You also must know that you don’t have to justify your work – not even to yourself. Well, you know I admire your work greatly and can’t understand why you are so bothered by it. But you can see the next ones and I can’t. You also must believe in your ability. I think you do. So try the most outrageous things you can – shock yourself. You have at your power the ability to do anything."

31 comments:

  1. Oh wow! I was just coming back to make my comment on your previous post and I find that you've already done another! And you've really thrown me a curve ball! I was coming back to tell you (because I've been letting it percolate, to decide exactly what I wanted to say about your last post and about all the art you've been doing that you say 'only a mother could love) that I think you are doing the best thing you could do if you ever want to find your voice...your 'you'. I think you are going to make great strides very quickly simply because you are taking risks and experimenting and pushing yourself so far beyond your comfort zone. I applaud that. That takes courage. My ego interferes with that. That said, I think the work you post for us to see is always great and always interesting and always makes us think. This one does have me worried. My mind doesn't work very well in abstract...my ego, again, gets in the way. I think too much. And now you will be forcing (in a good way?) me to face that fear. Stop and just DO! I love this post. And your last one too. I saw your link to Lisa a week or two before your post and had been spending a lot of time over there. Wonderful! I am trying to not be tight, but every time I try to leave a brushmark, I find myself going back to blend it out. I now have much to think about. This sketchbook is really starting to push us! Much better to be pushed than to lie stagnant! Now we're getting somewhere...

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    1. So sorry to be so late to react to your comment and everyone else's. I blame the funk which is still sort of there, but it is amazing when I swish paint around no matter how horrid, how much better I feel. I've gone back and forth on the curve ball - at times I thought it sort of unfair, but I am glad you are excited and feel challenged! You are an inspiration! In truth, what was I to do after your wonderful evil self-portrait!? The same? I think not!! But now I have more ideas, for future pages - and I hope you throw curve balls at me too!

      Thank you for your encouragement. Yes, I am willing to experiment, because I want to find my place. And despite the different things I've tried, I don't think I've found it yet.

      Re abstract - some folks think, really think, and plan it all out. Others don't. both are okay.

      Re Lisa Daria Aye, Lisa. You can only get marks like that by painting every day without fail at 5 am. Sigh.

      And Raena - I am very, very excited about our sketchbook too!!

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  2. I tend to be ego-centrilc in that writing is something I MUST do. Photography is something I MUST do. Every once in a while it results in art.

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    1. Hah! That is so true. This painting thing is a compulsion. I cannot stop without getting ansy. And you are right, I figure every 10 or so, is a good one, maybe. I'm trying for every 5. How does Celeste Bergin have a good one every darned day?!

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  3. I'll be back to re--read this. Good stuff here!

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    1. Yup, it's like taking your medicine.

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  4. What a lovely post, Dan. I go through much of what is mentioned above almost everyday. It was great to read that I am not alone and some sage advice to "JUST DO!"

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    1. Great advice isn't it? In Celeste Bergin's recent post she recommended a book, The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. So I got it, and lo and behold, there was the quote that was in Belinda del Pesco's blog, above, the one about the real innovator. I hadn't made the connection. Great book so far. Thanks!

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  5. It's good to hear you talking about this Dan. For me, and I suspect for many of us who "feel" everything, talking and analyzing the "why" is necessary. "Just do" is equally important, but for me, the why needs it's own counsel. Yes! Do what you need to do and want to do. I firmly believe there are no failures in art, only progression and exploration. Failure is just a way we describe our efforts and failure is but a stepping stone toward success, or more aptly, satisfaction.
    Focus is important because we have such a limited time on this earth. Focus, believe in yourself, make your art and leave the negative shit behind. None of us have time for it, now do we? I certainly don't.
    Love you kid! Congrats on your latest lovely work. So excited to see what you and Raena do next!

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    1. Thank you Pamo. I'll add this to my list of excellent advice: There are no failures - focus, and leave the negative shit behind! Love it! It is that feeling of limited time on earth that sometimes stresses me out - I need time to get to where I want to be.

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  6. Great topic for discussion, Pamo! Definition of failure...Could it be that failure is allowing ourselves to become stagnant, to always produce the same art over and over because it is more comfortable than experimenting and pushing ourselves to grow?

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    1. Hmmmm..Pamo? (I love to be the moderator).

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  7. Raena- great assessment! I guess our individual view of failure is skewed to our way of being in the world. I agree, for me, stagnation is a form of failure. On the other hand, repetition builds confidence. Hmm. More thought required.

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    1. Thanks Raena and Pamo - great discussion! I think we can repeat and modify as we go, and we will not be stagnating. Just look at Lisa Daria's flowers!

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    1. Yr welcome Vallabhi! Thanks for coming to my blog!

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  9. This has reminded me of my favorite quote from Sister Corita Kent: Nothing is a mistake. There is no win or fail. There is only make.

    Thanks for the reminder!

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  10. Dan, Thanks so much for this. You've given me courage today to return to a "failed" painting and mix it up a bit. I know now what to do with it. (And like most of my work, it's way over there in abstract-land.)

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    1. Thank you Melissa - this post was meant to share things I had been told that I thought were valuable, and I am glad that it helped you all the way over there in abstract-land.

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  11. Dan,
    I really enjoyed this post. I think we all go through times in which we doubt our work. But that usually happens just before coming up with something amazing. :)

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    1. From your mouth to God's ears, Tiffany! Thank you!

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  12. Hi Dan, I really liked your painting at the top of the post! Wow! Did you shock yourself? I think the unsettled times are good, it means we're searching. I do try not to think about the "art" word, too much responsibility! And, too blocking! Instead, a journey of a thousand paintings starts with one, or two, or three...(OK, I'm losing it!). Paint!

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    1. You are so right about responsibility and blocking. I've been reading all these art critics, looking at the art, much of which I don't understand and probably shouldn't. You will be happy to know I have been painting.

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  13. You are an artist. That's all I have to say.

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    1. Thanks so much Sue. Sometimes I doubt my abilities, but I do not doubt my heart - you all have shown me that I am part of a wonderful community of artists.

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  14. No question about it, You're an artist!!!! Love this post, eye opening and a great kick in the pants because we all have our moments and I have kind of been going through that back and forth again. I really loved the quote "You are a pebble falling down a waterfall" and then the part"..Just stop thinking, worrying, looking over..." its all so true and something I need to hear at times. The drawing you have with the post is so fitting and I really like it, it has so much going on within it but at the same time I find it relaxing and soothing (not sure if that makes sense) . But Dan, you're an artist both with words and with colours and lines. Brilliant post and thanks for sharing that!!!

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    1. Thanks Mari!! Thank you so much for the encouragement. I am needing to hear these things repeatedly of late, but I will get through.

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  15. The image is great....I find myself looking for "things" within it. I see a french curve. :)

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    1. I have seen all kinds of things in it that I didn't intend. I think our brain tries to define. And that is mighty fun!

      A french curve!! And I don't even speak French!

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  16. Wow… I wish I had a friend like Sol… to keep me centered… oh wait I do have such a friend, his name is Dan… thanks Dan I needed that.

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