Study for portrait of Vincent Van Gogh by Francis Bacon, 1957.
For several years, John has curated the work of landscape artists for a cyber art show that he shares with his audience of landscape painters on Facebook. Every week, he asks his followers a question. A recent question was: “If you had to pick just one thing that being an artist has taught you, what would it be?” The question elicited over a hundred responses, such as:
Don’t self promote. It’s embarrassing and self-defeating.
Perseverance, persistence, and patience.
Not to be an artist. I quit six years ago.
Never stop learning and pushing your boundaries.
There will always be someone who is better than you. Don’t compete.
How hard it is to be an accomplished artist. I sometimes think I’ll never get there.
Admire, appreciate, and understand other’s work.
Don’t compare yourself to others. Comparison is the thief of joy.
Midweek, John posted a comment in which he said that he had observed only about 2 percent of the population are truly artists and another 10 percent consider themselves creative. Everyone else just likes to paint.
I was quite surprised that John thinks so few of his artist followers think of themselves as creative and even fewer see themselves as artists, but I don’t disagree with him even though I have come to other conclusions. That’s what he’s observed and what he believes. John explained his reasoning this way: “TRUE artists suffer. They struggle to fit in. To get enough money to eat and live. To find time enough to create what is burning them up inside and to get recognition in an indifferent society and world.”
That was Van Gogh’s life story. It’s a story and a mindset that many painters, writers, poets, sculptors—artists—have adopted, though. It’s a belief that is worn by many, perhaps the majority, like sackcloth and perpetuated by its repetition. It’s a belief that is passed from generation to generation. But here’s the thing—beliefs are nothing more than thoughts that people continue to think, and as long as people continue to tell each other their stories of lack, they will continue to manifest and share those experiences.
Tell a different story. Chronic attention to unwanted things holds you in a place (through the thoughts that you think) of disallowing what you really want.
Everyone is creative. If you doubt that is true, take 15 minutes and recall/make a list of things you’ve created (brought into your life) because you imagined/thought of something that you wanted for yourself. The Law of Attraction says that “that which is like onto itself, is drawn.”
I’ve been painting roses like the one pictured here for the past three weeks as homework for a class, “Finding Inner Peace through Painting Roses” that Dennis Perrin offers online. I’ve felt many things while standing in front of my easel and working really hard to paint roses, but feeling peaceful has not been my state of mind. Dennis has offered many demonstrations throughout this time and I’m still not getting it. I’ve felt frustrated, impatient, inept, disappointed, and not close to understanding how to find peace or paint roses.
Every time I try to paint them I’ve wondered What is their secret? To be fair to myself, I’ve learned many other things as I’ve painted. I’m more confident today about mixing paint, seeing values, and I have a new “palette discipline,” which simply means keeping color values together rather than being indiscriminate and haphazard about where I mix a pile of paint. The color value piles on the palette match the color and values in the painting.
I’m acutely aware that I’m still missing the simplicity of the act of painting roses, which are by their nature full of complex details. I’m making it too hard. So this morning, I decided I need to take a break, to step back and look elsewhere for guidance.
While going through a drawer in my bedroom this morning, I found a small notebook. The first entry was made in September 1994. The last entry was made in October 1998. On one of the pages, I’d written the following quote:
Deep within each of you, you will find real beauty, virtue, and goodness. It may be hidden very deep inside of you, but have faith that it is there. You can find it when you are willing to search within with real determination. For you draw to yourself what you hold in your thoughts. Think the very best and you will draw the very best to yourself…Realize how much you have to be grateful for. Surround yourself with beautiful things and beautiful people. See the light in everything and everyone. Let your light shine brightly from deep within you and know that nothing from without can extinguish your flame. So keep your lights burning brightly so you can blaze forth, pushing back the darkness. Be light and let it shine forth from you.
I think I’ve found a thread that if I follow it, I will be able to paint the rose. I’ll post it when it’s done!
Are you waiting to be ready before you share what you know? We humans often think that we’re not ready to share what we know or what we do, because someone else does it better and, well, we’re not quite good enough “yet.” That kind of thinking is the result of comparing yourself to others. And since thoughts are what create beliefs, if you think you’re not good enough yet, well then you don’t believe that you are.
I’m a student in a studio class that’s offered by a man who routinely gets paid $15,000, and often more, for his paintings. He does beautiful work. He’s also a great teacher, and every week he shares his expertise with me and his other students. I will never paint like my teacher paints, because I’m me. I’m different. My hand is different. I hold my brushes different. My brush strokes are different. My eyes see color differently. I choose different subjects to paint. It’s my very differences that make me uniquely different from my teacher.
You’re unique, too. So don’t compare. Share. Share what’s unique about you, because you’re the expert. Never mind what you are not. Decide on what you want and stay focused there on yourself and your flow.
The success of any creative effort depends on your expectations and how ready you are to do what you want to do.
What are your expectations for yourself? For the outcome of your effort? How prepared are you to meet your expectations?
There’s often a gap between where you are and where you want to be, what you can do and what you want to do. In other words, you may not be ready to do what you want to do. But don’t let that gap stop you. Just start where you are now. Ready, set, go!
Yes! If you feel desire (and we all do), you are a creative person. We tend to confuse “creative” and “talented,” and they do overlap, but they’re not inter-changeable. You can be talented and creative. You can also be creative and have little or limited talent, which I define as “an aptitude or skill.” The desire to create something, anything, is all you need to be creative.
For a week, keep a list of the times you cause something to happen.
Shakespeare’s Hamlet is contemplating death and the unfairness of life when he says that. He goes on to say:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them: to die, to sleep
No more; and by a sleep, to say we end
the heart-ache, and the thousand natural shocks
that Flesh is heir to?
Hamlet is thinking about his father’s murder and the expectation that he will seek revenge, but he hesitates. For far less dramatic reasons than Hamlet’s, we have to make decisions every day about “being” in this world. We experience heartache and shocks to our being—who we are—because we live, and like Hamlet, we often wonder if it’s worth it to “take up arms against a sea of troubles.”
I told my parents I wanted to be an artist when I was in my early teens. My mom was silent on the subject, but my dad let me know what he thought. He was against the notion because, he said, “You can’t earn a living as an artist.”
It was easier then, as it is now, to earn a living wage by working for someone else. Some part of me abandoned the artist who lived inside and got on the merry-go-round that’s life. I went to college and then went on to earn a master’s degree in education. The question that fueled my desire to learn was: When most people hate what they do and often dislike who they work for, why do they tolerate a system that requires them to do what they’re told to do, what is expected, every day of their working lives? I paid $35,000 for the answer. But why do you think we learn to be other than we are? Because _________ (fill in the blank).
It often seems easier to do what is expected of us, to ride the merry-go-round, but is it? What did, or do, you want to create? Is there time in your life for you to do whatever it is that you need to do? Who do you think you are? Does the last question irritate you? Why?
A lunar eclipse occurred this morning (January 31) when the sun and moon were on opposite sides of earth. Our earth actually blocked the sun’s light from reaching the moon. For a brief time, the reflective moon was darkened as it passed through the earth’s shadow.
A bit of trivia
In ancient times, astronomers in Babylonia studied events that occurred around eclipses (there are a minimum of four eclipses every year), viewing them as omens that would impact humans in the months to come. According to these ancient scholars, eclipses could predict the death of kings. If Jupiter (the planet associated with kings) was not visible during the eclipse the king could die. FYI: Jupiter was visible in the predawn sky today during the eclipse today.
What astrologers have observed about lunar eclipses
The moon is at its fullest during a lunar eclipse and immediately after the eclipse it begins to diminish in size until it completely disappears about fourteen days later. Not everyone is equally sensitive to lunar activity all the time. But some of us will notice events occurring (in recent past and in the months ahead) that can be described as coincidence or even omens of what is to come.
The sun was in Aquarius and the moon in Leo during the eclipse today. If your birthday falls between January 28 and Feb 3 or between July 28 and August 3, you may be experiencing changes in some important relationships. If this is happening to you, you may also be thinking about what you can do or need to do now. These thoughts and any emotions attached to them are behind the urge to create something new.
I used a photo of settlers moving west during the 1800s because those folks who decided to create a new life had to make decisions about what to leave behind so they could make the cross-country journey. Their wagons could reliably carry about a thousand pounds, but many people packed their pianos, good china, and furniture in addition to all the food and supplies they needed for the months ahead. Once on the trail, they had to decide what was more important—their dream of a new life or their possessions. The trails west were littered with all that they had to leave behind if they wanted to survive the trip.
If you’re feeling the need to create something new, you need to decide what to abandon so you can survive and reach your destination. You may feel resistance to leaving what you have behind, and that resistance will limit your ability to create what you’re being urged to create for yourself.
An essential aspect of creativity is not being afraid to fail. ∼Edwin Land
I painted in my twenties and thirties. Then I put my paint box on a shelf in the basement and went on with life. The “idea” of painting sometime in the future never left me, but as time passed, fear set in and I began to believe painting—an activity that I loved—would remain shelved, like the supplies I’d left in the basement.
Three decades passed. I felt the urge to paint a couple of years before I actually picked up a brush and mixed paint on a palette or applied it to a canvas. But by the time I acknowledged to myself that I wanted to be the artist my younger self had believed in, I was too afraid to paint. So instead of painting, I got interested in polymer clay.
I didn’t want to use the clay to make jewelry or cute animals. I wanted to paint with clay. I searched the internet for examples and artists who used clay the way I wanted to use it and found few who had tried. In the meantime, I learned about the tools clay artists use and I started making small landscape clay paintings. The one above is 4×4 inches. I developed some skills with the medium, and then I hit a wall. I couldn’t make the clay comply with my vision. Clay, like every medium, has its limitations.
Working with the clay had shown me that I wanted to paint landscapes. I also knew I couldn’t realize my vision using polymer clay. I needed to use paint. So I put aside the fear of failing and began again to paint. My “clay period” showed me some things about myself. It was an important and necessary step to take. But I’m so glad I decided to move past the fear, because that decision opened doors to new communities of people, new experiences, new confidence in myself, and it reconnected me to my joy, which is painting.
What brings you joy? What do you want to try doing? Don’t let the fear of failure stop you from trying.
I joined artist Mary Glikerson’s 5-day challenge last week, and finished five quick studies (see here) for the challenge. The challenge was to paint for a set amount of time—20 to 40 minutes—and to stop when time was up. The intention: start a daily practice. All my studies took 40 minutes, but I plan to keep trying to get closer to 20 minutes.
It was a fun challenge, and it caused me to remember things I’d learned before and discover new things, combine objects in different ways to solve problems, test my skills with mixing and placement of color, and so much more. The work strengthened my creativity muscles, too.
A blank canvas IS uncertainty. I feel it every time I set up to paint. But the only way to move from uncertainty to less uncertainty is to try (and maybe fail). And that’s the beauty of deliberate practice—it’s intentional practice. There is no expectation to complete work, only to practice.
We can work with a coach or teacher, who will assign things to practice doing. Or we can design our own deliberate practice. Each session is an opportunity to practice doing what is difficult and finding answers to overcome limitations.
A man I know has spent his entire adult life becoming exceptional. He is a world-renowned astrologer and a couple of years ago he began sharing his knowledge on Facebook for free. Now in his seventies, he wants to give back to those who have supported and sustained him and his work. In one of his very early astrological posts, he shared that he felt concern about what he was doing because not many people were clicking on “Like.”
Using the Like button on Facebook is one way we express our approval.
So when we post something, such a photo of our artwork, we tend to keep track of the number of Likes the post gets. Lots of Likes means lots of love—and approval. Seeking approval is in our nature; it might even be tied to our basic need to survive and thrive. But seeking approval can also make us feel vulnerable and to question whether or not what we have to offer is good enough to be valued by others. When my astrologer friend mentioned his concern about not getting a lot of likes, he was questioning the value of his work.
It’s common for writers to avoid writing, because someone else has already written the same kind of story and gotten it published. The insecure writer will say to him or her self, “why bother.” Fear of rejection (the opposite of approval) and the feeling of not being good enough are always behind the “why bother” attitude.
We want to matter to people, to be “liked.” And we want what we create to matter, as well. While wanting to matter may be human nature, it also contains danger. Maslov’s hierarchy of needs is a theory Abraham Maslov proposed in 1943. He had observed that people exist on five basic psychological levels. The most basic need is the physiological need to survive (food, clothing, and shelter). After basic survival is the need to feel safe, which is followed by the need to belong and feel loved. When these needs are met, we feel good about ourselves in the context of our lives—we feel valued in the world. The danger that I mentioned exists when we depend on others to determine our value, which may be one of the best reasons to heed the advice: Make your art and let it go. Detach from the outcome.
At the top of Maslov’s hierarchy of needs is self-actualization. According to Maslov, “What a man [or woman] can be, he [she] must be.” I agree, and I think that’s what the urge to create is all about. Emotions are fickle though. Some days we feel awesome. Other days not so great. We want and seek approval from others. The strategy that leads to personal success, I believe, involves recognizing and valuing ourselves and what we do for as many hours of the day as possible.