Pushing Past the Edges

by | Art, Creativity, Fear

Autumn Squash #1, 5" x 7" oil on canvas board, $175 (email to inquire)

Autumn Squash #1, 5″ x 7″ oil on canvas board, $175 (email to inquire)

There is that point, in every painting, where it’s so tempting to give up.

It doesn’t matter how long I’ve been painting (10 years). It doesn’t matter how many hours I’ve spent in the studio, learning and practicing (thousands).

There is inevitably that point where you think, “This is probably going to suck. Look! It’s sucking right now. I should probably just stop.”

Sometimes it happens more than once in a painting. Sometimes it happens every time I sit down to paint.

It can be so damn tempting to just…not. To just go do something easier. To not wrestle against the temptations of stasis. I could check my email. Or my Instagram. Or my Pinterest. Those things kind of look like work. And sometimes they are work.

But there is one thing that they’re not: creation.

There isn’t a lot of creative vulnerability in checking my Pinterest boards. My email doesn’t require me to work through many of my demons to respond to someone.

But art requires that you show up, with all of you – messy, imperfect, slightly neurotic you – and make something. It requires you to put yourself on the line, to make a statement, to say something.

That’s a lot harder. Not complicated – just difficult.

And yet I think that if you’re not ever hitting those difficult points, if you’re not running into your own internal walls and needing to either give up, or push back and through, then you need to think about what you’re making and why.

To make work that is meaningful, that dives down deep, you are exploring the edges of your own internal world. Not every painting will be like tearing out your hair, but creative tension requires push and pull. If you’re only ever taking an easy stroll through the park, then you’re missing out on some of the most beautiful sights of creativity – the view at the top of the mountain is spectacular, but first you have to climb the mountain.

To make art is to constantly question the world around you – to ask why, how, what, who? If the answers come too easily, you might not be asking the right questions. You might need to dig deeper.

Like a noble quest would be boring without any dragons, art is dull without any challenges.

To encounter obstacles in your art, to hit that edge and feel like giving up – it’s not a sign that you suck. It’s not a sign of failure.

It’s a sign that you’ve set your sights on a worthy goal. It’s a sign that the work you’re making is rich, meaningful – maybe not to everyone, but to some people. And some people are all that matter. (If you’re appealing to everyone, then you’re Walmart and you’re meaningless again.)

So every time you hit that internal barrier and want to give up because ohmygod it’s hard and twitter is so much easier! remember that the hard places are where all of the richness & depth lie.

It is a signpost on your creative road that is both a merit badge and a warning – it says, “Don’t continue this way! (unless you’re prepared to go deeper)”

Sometimes we only read the first half of the sign and skip the subtext. Don’t skip the subtext.

You’re going the right way. Keep going.