Everyone is Creative

Study for a Portrait of Van Gogh IV 1957 by Francis Bacon 1909-1992

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.
  • Marry well.
  • 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.

Power Play

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.

My conclusions

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.”

There’s an easier way to be

To be, or not to be, that is the question.

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?

Daily Practice is Fun!

Day 2

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.

Showing Up Matters Most

img_3286

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 Painting is the Sum of a Lot of Decisions

img_3910

Unfinished pochade study, #14 in series of 50, oil on 8 x 6-in linen panel.

The artwork an artist produces is the result of long series of decisions. Choosing colors or brushes or the type of surface to paint on are among the decisions we make, but those decisions only come after many others have been made. For example, it was chilly and windy last week, and I do most of my work plein air — on location. I didn’t want to stand in the wind so I had to think about locations that afforded some shelter and a view of something to paint. I decided to go to a nature preserve near my home, because I knew I could probably find some protection from the wind. I ended up standing in front of a big old barn, which kept the wind off me.

When we make a decision, often what happens is that decision informs other decisions. Sometimes, we end up going in a direction that may, or may not, serve us well. When we look up at what’s ahead if we keep going in the direction we’re going, it may be decision time again. This is what happened to me recently.

I started painting again last year after being away from it for more than thirty years. I’d forgotten much of what I’d once known about painting. Even using a paint brush to move the paint around on the surface the way I wanted was a struggle. When I started painting again, I decided to do plein air painting, because I love landscapes and being outdoors. It’s been a good fit for me. But what I didn’t know about plein air work is that its REALLY different from studio work. Studio work can take months or even years to finish. Plein air work is done in mere hours. Studio work, depending on the artist and style, is often refined. I think of it as deliberate. Plein air on the other hand often looks “rough,” like it’s  practice for bigger and better things, which sometimes it is. Some plein air artists will reproduce their small studies to create larger works of art in their studios. Plein air painting is also deliberate, but in a different way.

After I’d been painting plein air for awhile, I decided I needed lessons so I could learn how to paint better and faster in the field. I’m fortunate to live in an area where some REALLY GOOD plein air artists also live and teach. I’ve spent a lot of time and money learning how to paint in the past year. After a recent 3-day workshop, I was feeling kinda low about my work and the direction I seemed to be going in, which was also, by the way, the direction that I felt I had a growing commitment to continuing along. But a little voice in my head said, “You painted better a year ago than you do today.” I thought about that for awhile and finally rationalized that things often get harder before they get easier. I told myself I was learning and that everything would work itself out if I just kept doing the work.

What I was becoming aware of ever so slowly is what the differences between plein air and studio work really mean for me as an artist. One of my teachers is an excellent draftsman. He does detailed, delicate, beautiful drawings with paint and then proceeds to paint the picture. Joe’s style and technique are beautiful and his paintings sell in the $15,000 to $20,000 range. Mary, who taught the 3-day workshop, was trained in a classical style and she is skilled enough to paint highly realistic, incredible work. But the work she does today is more “expressive.” It’s still deliberate (realistic and accurate), which conveys her training, but her paintings have an energy.  She calls it “soul.” Her works also sell in the $15,000 range. I had put myself at a crossroad, and I’ve been deciding what to do now; which direction I should go.

We tell ourselves all kinds of things. We are easily mesmerized by beauty. Truth be told — I can’t be like either of these highly successful artists. I can’t follow Joe. Nor can I follow Mary. I can and have learned from them, but I believe that the whisper I heard (maybe from my creative muse) was telling me to remember who I am and to be that person when I stand in front of my easel.

The small 6 x 8-inch pochade studies I’ve been working on have been enormously helpful. I will do 50, and finished #18 yesterday. I titled it “Autumn Joy,” which is also the name of the sedum that grows in my backyard and which is the subject of the painting.

no-18_edited

“Autumn Joy” #18 in series of 50 pochade studies, oil on 8 x 6-in linen panel.

 

It’s Never too Late to Begin Again

There is an underlying, indwelling creative force infusing all of life—including ourselves.
~Julia Cameron in It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again

Julia would probably say I responded to a creative force when I started this blog. And she would be right. I was riding a new wave of creative energy that I had (metaphorically speaking) caught in late 2014. That creative force also brought me back to oil painting—a practice I have not enjoyed since leaving school in the 1980s.

In the thirty or so years between packing away my paints and brushes and finding my way back to painting, I completed a bachelor and a master degree, worked in two career fields, and raised three children. I’ve learned from many of my new artist friends that my experience of turning away from creative pursuits to do other things is a very common one. Lots of people do it.

The urge to create—write for a blog, crochet scarves, grow tomatoes, photograph flowers, paint landscapes (which I do), up-cycle flea market finds, or any of a thousand other activities, including raising a family or working—is in every person, not only artists.

Julia also says that when we open our creative channel, many gentle but powerful changes are to be expected. I agree and believe its the urge to create that keeps us interested and engaged with living. It’s also what makes us interesting, what attracts new friends, and what opens the doors to new experiences.

Before you move on to do or read something else, take a few minutes to think about where you are and what your relationship is to your creative self.

Imagine a large map—perhaps your map includes the places where you’ve gone to school, worked, and raised your family. Add to your map any places that have inspired you and fed your soul. Where were those places? When were you there? What were you doing? Try drawing your map if that will help you better visualize your journey, but keep it simple.

Now, imagine yourself moving across this map (your life). Think about the many crossroads you’ve come to. At each crossroad, in what direction did you decide to go? What did you leave behind? Where are you now? Do you feel the urge to change course again? to revisit something? Describe for yourself what you’re being urged to move toward. What do you see? What do you want to do?

It is never too late to begin again to paint or plant or do any of the things that can and will help connect you with your creative self and make you feel good about being alive.