A rather adventurous fellow Canadian artist, Sarah Lacy, wrote a remarkable post on why some of us paint realism and how we are sold on seeking out the secret of success. Just as abstract artists receive the criticism that abstract art is without skill, realist painters are often disparaged for merely copying the world. I’m not sure we as artists entirely choose how we paint. I think something that Sarah called the ‘rhythm of our DNA’ pushes us to find our unique style and so we do what we must.
Self-help books abound claiming to have 10 steps to a better you. We spend a lot of time focusing on what we think we should be rather than taking the time to focus on who we are – our own rhythm. I find the attitude that we must ‘fix’ ourselves by eliminating our flaws irritating because it distracts us from honing our strengths and sharing our gifts. It promotes the illusion that we can perfect ourselves into both experts and polymaths.
We waste time trying to become better at things best left to others and, as a result, neglect – or worse – abandon the very thing that makes us remarkable. The rough edges are where innovation actually happens. To normalize or make us all the same, we do to all of our detriment. We talk about tolerance and the acceptance of others while we are intolerant of our own humanness. This can transform into violent judgement of those around us.
The belief that there is a ‘quick fix and then we’ll all be OK’ is dangerous.
The best things take time and there is no such thing as an overnight success. If we are wise enough to recognize our strengths, the scary part is acknowledging that we aren’t born masters and that if we are to master our strength, we must sacrifice something and foster the habits that will take us to mastery. The joy that we can feel when our attention is where it belongs improves our sense of belonging in the world and trolls are seen for what they are – those who are afraid they might fail if they risk exposing their strengths and so sit on the sideline heckling those that do. They think they can scare you into being like them. And maybe they can.
My fear of not measuring up has kept me from testing my boundaries and forming the habits I need to go to the next level.
Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” is one of my favourite albums of all time. The song “Time” is one of those ones that changes in meaning. I first loved the album at 5; first understood the meaning of the lyrics in my teens and their urgency in my 20’s.
Kicking around on a piece of ground in your home town
Waiting for someone or something to show you the way.
It is easy to believe our passions should arrive like some divine revelation. That inspiration is perfect, constant and natural.
And then one day you find ten years have got behind you.
No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun.
It’s not. Some days are easy. A lot feel like work. And then the temptation to procrastinate takes over.
Every year is getting shorter never seem to find the time.
Plans that either come to naught or half a page of scribbled lines
Start now. Keep going. Don’t stop.
Last week, I was challenged in Bert Seabourn’s class to paint a portrait. Instead of the usual expressionist painting to work from, he handed us a photo of an asian model. I had NEVER painted people. I stuck a tiny blurry face in the back of one of my recent paintings but never a real face. (Do you know which painting? I’ll send a free set of 5 art cards to the first person in the comments to tell me which painting it was.)
I was petrified. I swore I didn’t paint people. I had no interest, I said. I spent the next two hours more deeply in focus than I had in months. What a discovery! The painting on the right is the result of a two hour class and some extra fiddling the next day. When I realized that in my haste I had made some critical errors in my drawing, I abandoned it. But not the idea.
Motivated, I started on the self-portrait at the top of this post. I am a few hours in and the key is to keep at it. If I stop too long, the fear will take over. Time is short. And I’ll let you in on the secret: There is no secret. So get to work.
To believe that someone can hand us the secret leaves us both powerless and missing out on the richness that we can discover in ourselves over the course of creating a piece of art. ~ S.M. Lacy