Again and again, I need to be reminded of who I’m painting for.
It’s so easy to start painting to impress someone else – critics, gallery owners, even fans of my work. You start to listen to too many outside opinions and you forget to listen to your own.
Robert Genn says artists need to be rugged individualists. You must be your own judge of what is good work and what is bad and what needs to be fixed and what can be left alone. He insists that you can’t rely on others to decide for you, or to wait for their approval. You have to give it to yourself.
I completely agree and yet it’s the place where I always struggle. I know that painting for me is important, vital, but the temptation of approval can be overwhelming sometimes. Some days, you just want everyone to tell you that they love you.
I find that, for me, praise and criticism are equally dangerous. Criticism entices me to change my art to fit the desires of someone else and praise tempts me to rest on my laurels, convinced that my art is already good enough. Neither of these places serves me and both of them are dependent on other people.
What I’m slowly learning to do is just listen to myself. It’s hard though.
Yesterday I started reworking some of the paintings that were rejected from the gallery. I can honestly assess them and say that there are parts that need work. None of my changes involve doing what the gallery owner suggested – this is all for my own satisfaction.
If I’m brutally honest, I got lazy painting some of these pieces. Some of that praise went to my head. I rested on my laurels. I didn’t push hard enough. I didn’t see clearly enough.
One of the good things about the criticism is that it woke me up. Oh it still stung (boy oh boy, did it sting) but it made me hyper aware of just how much I was listening to other people’s opinions. So even though half of the world said the work was good, don’t touch it and the other half said it was abysmal and should be chucked out with yesterday’s garbage, in the end, I couldn’t listen to either of them.
The work was not awful. It has potential. But frankly, I got lazy and it needs some work.
Working on the pieces can be dangerous though. I lull myself in fantasies about showing the revised work to the gallery owner and her singing my praises, telling me how I don’t need a day job because I’m going to sell like hot cakes!
A nice fantasy, but one in which the power belongs to someone else, not me.
I think lots of artist have that fantasy about being “discovered,” kidnapped from their dreary lives and catapulted into mega stardom.
The reality is that success is hard work. It’s about persistence and showing up every day, even on days when you don’t feel like it, or you feel like crap, or your ego is bruised.
It’s why painting for myself is so important – opinions change, trends come and go. I will always be here though. My love is constant. Listening to myself keeps me grounded, centered and more likely to succeed because others’ opinions won’t sway me. I can stick it out for the long haul, because at the end of the day, my love for art will always be there. I can dust myself off and drag my ass back into the arena.
I’m no talented prodigy. I’ll probably never be one of the big names – the odds are rather against me. I may never sell my work for tens of thousands of dollars.
But if when I die, I can say that every day, I woke up and created something that was important to me and tried to express something valuable with the world, than I think I could die happy. Because then at least I’ll have lived by my own rules and standards. I’ll have lived my life according to me, and that’s no small feat.