Friday, July 1, 2016

Attitude matters

Apricots and Pansies
12 x 24

I taught a still life workshop for the Stave Falls Artist Group in Maple Ridge, BC last week and had a super time!  

There were 10 painters in artist Janis Eaglesham's rural studio, nestled in lush, West Coast forest. Everyone worked hard and with great spirit.  Every time I heard "this is so hard!" the painter would always follow it with, "but that's a good thing!"  They recognized that a new technique couldn't be acquired in 4 days, but, hopefully, they could explore the new skills under my direction and then it would percolate for the next weeks and months, adding another layer to their studio practise.  

It's been my experience that artists - especially those of us who are past the sensitivity of our youthful egos - make great learners.  They find value in the struggle to learn a new painting method, knowing from experience, that something that comes easily isn't as thrilling as a skill that's come through thoughtfulness, practise, and hard work.  Going home tired and with a full head is welcome because they know they've been making a serious effort to grow and develop, and that this will, in time, make them stronger painters.  

Artists don't retire - they're just hitting their stride at 65 - so they know that they're playing the long game.  It's this knowledge that allows them to relax into the struggle: to appreciate that something is difficult and know that, with time and effort, they'll master it.  

This graceful, appreciative way of being is counter to the values of our materialistic society, and that makes artists outsiders in a way.  We don't value the easy way, and would be bored if every painting were perfect; then there'd be nothing to strive for in the future.  In fact, in my experience, when artists reach peak performance, they often turn to a new art form - one that they aren't skilled in - and begin learning from the basics.  It keeps them stimulated and challenged.  The fact that they frequently take a financial hit when they do this seems of secondary importance, because money isn't the primary goal; fulfilment and self expression are.  

Artists value the intangibles.  We do enjoy being paid, but we'd paint with as much concentration and energy if we weren't.  The act of creating and improving is the lasting reward.  It's mind expanding, exhilarating, and thrillingly addictive.  

So enjoy those moments of frustration in a workshop or in the studio.  They mean that you're on the right path, and they'll bring rewards that are truly beyond measure.

Happy painting!


jamie chiarello said...

So well put!! These are the same thoughts that ran around my brain last night while I sat in l my workspace and watched my mind reeling. I found in all the chaotic questioning some resolution similar to your own...painting is complex and unending and a fascination unto itself. I hit some brick walls though in questioning what to do with all the work as tangible objects. I used to sell on the street and so turned much work over quickly. For now I can't get out much so it's accumulating. I don't see the point in piling it up in my attic. (Some pieces I do want to keep for my own reference....) I sort of want to just start giving work away for now. What's your thought on that?

Carol Flatt said...

Ingrid, this is an extraordinary article that hit home for me. What you said and the examples you gave about the learning process for artists couldn't have been said better.

This post is a keeper for me which I'll reread often for inspiration and reassurance.

Best to you!
Carol Flatt

Ingrid Christensen said...

Hey, Jaimie! It's so good to hear from you - despite the fact that you asked the hardest question of all: what to do with all the damned paintings. I have 4 galleries that get some of it, though not all, by any means. The rest of it languishes on shelving until I'm certain about its merits or lack thereof. If I can make enough changes to feel proud of it, I'll send it off to a gallery. If it's got a spark, but probably only for me, it stays on the shelf for future reference. And, if it's a dud, I slash and trash it.

I don't give away work because I feel it's unfair to collectors who have spent money on my work in the past. I also think it would make me feel less serious as a professional artist and might create some psychological stumbling blocks down the road.

So my advice is to find a gallery! Your work is lovely, and I'm certain there are galleries that would do it justice.

Keep me posted!

Ingrid Christensen said...

Thanks so much for getting in touch, Carol! Hearing that my words resonated with someone else is hugely rewarding.

Happy painting!