Monday, July 31, 2017

Days Like These (oil on canvas, 2017)



One of the most difficult aspects of the art making process for me is the necessity of having to face one’s true self and the stark contrast between the innate perfection and the inherent flaws that we will inevitably find therein. When we attempt to execute something that proves to be beyond our abilities, we are forced to confront our technical limitations. This confrontation could potentially cause us to either work harder to overcome those limitations, look away and ignore our technical deficiencies whilst continuing to work in the same manner, or capitulate and stop trying to make art altogether. I have never liked the word “talent” as it suggests a natural technical facility that one is born with. My experience has shown that ability comes, not from an inborn gift, but from long hours of study and practice in the face of continued defeat. If there’s a natural gift, it’s merely the tenacity that enables one to keep working despite repeated failures.

In addition to the technical deficiencies that every artist must confront, if we want to make work that is original and authentic, we have to find the strength to be ourselves and allow that to come through in the work. This sounds simple enough, but when one has spent years (or decades!) learning by emulating the masters in their chosen medium, resisting the temptation to hide behind someone else's ideas and personality can be be a formidable challenge. And when we make work that is truly authentic, we are essentially putting our inner selves on display before the public and risking both ridicule and (possibly worse) indifference, either of which can prove to be a significant blow to the artist's self-esteem, potentially hampering one's ability to continue working. We also risk excessive praise and adulation which can oftentimes be an even greater obstacle to our development and productivity as we struggle to live up to what we perceive as an unattainable expectation of greatness.

Sometimes, if we've worked hard and consistently, good work happens, but not without the inevitable failures – the bad drawings that litter the studio floor and line the trash cans and the paintings that no one ever sees while they make their journey from our easel to the landfill – that cause us to not only doubt our choice of vocation, but even our personal value. Indeed, being truly authentic in our work is one of the greatest obstacles that an artist must face. It certainly is for me. When I took up art again after a hiatus almost twenty years ago, I went through periods where I was terrified to go into my studio for fear of facing the demons that were in there. I still feel that way sometimes and only through sheer will and dogged persistence do I keep working.

Someone asked me once, "How do you know if you're an artist?"

I replied, "Try as hard as you can not to be an artist and then you'll know."

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