In Defence Of Slowing Down

In October I, once again, started out doing the daily drawing challenge that I have done for many years. But part way through, I lost interest. I continued anyway, but felt a growing sense of frustration. I am not a fast worker. I seem to take twice as long as anyone else to do a sketch, drawing, or painting. I realized that a few years ago when trying to join friends plein air painting. They seemed to delight in getting a painting down in ½ an hour, while I would leave so frustrated with nothing worthwhile on the canvas. But when I got back to the studio and could take my time with a painting, I was so much happier and the resulting painting was more meaningful. It’s like that extra time allowed me to feel the spirit of the place, rather than rushing through like a tourist snapping a few photos and rushing to the next destination.   

In trying to do the daily sketches, I was longing to make more elaborate drawings that would take me a several more hours than I had available to work. The same thing is true for my paintings. I prefer to start a painting and then slowly work through it. I am not interested in fast art. I am not interested in producing art like I was an assembly line worker in some factory. The world does not need anymore 20 minute or daily paintings. Judging by my inventory, and conversations with other artists, our storage bins are overflowing with artwork that never gets seen. 

Shoebill Stork

If any activity is done because of the love and joy you have for doing it, why should it be rushed through? I want to produce slow, considered art.

The other thing I’ve spent quite a bit of time thinking about is art marketing. I am rejecting all the push to sell artwork through various means. I am one person with a very exhaustible amount of energy. The older I get, and the longer I battle a chronic autoimmune disease, the less energy I have. I want to spend it painting, drawing, and living. I do not want to be tied to a computer trying to sell myself and my artwork. So I will not. 

Some of it will go out to galleries and shows. Some of it will be listed online, and hopefully that will be enough. If it isn’t then I guess my work will become meaningless other than as an activity to bring me joy. I am rejecting the push to produce and market, in favour of a slower, more considered life. 

The Artist And The Ego

A recent rejection was balanced with some glowing reviews of my art. This yin and yang of life lead me to ponder the roll of ego in an artist’s life.

Dave Ames said: “Trash and treasure are two sides of the same coin. Low self-esteem produces one, and public adulation the other.”

I am genuinely surprised by positive reactions to my work, and am so grateful when another person forms a strong enough connection to my work to want to purchase it. I normally don’t take rejection personally and can generally separate myself from my art, even though it is such a personal part of my inner being.

Ego is defined as “a person’s sense of self-esteem or self-importance”. Self-esteem is defined as “confidence in one’s own worth or abilities; self-respect”.

Abraham Lake – 8×10” – Oil on canvas panel

When talking to others about my surprise at positive critiques, I was asked how I keep working if I don’t expect others to like my art or if I didn’t think it was good. It’s not that I don’t think my work isn’t good, exactly, but more that I’m unsure of how it measures up in the big scheme of things. When I begin a painting, I don’t start it with the public in mind. I don’t start it thinking about the ultimate sale. It starts from a deeply personal part of me. There is a need to create this story that end results are unimportant. It doesn’t even matter at this stage if it’s any good. It’s all about the story and how it relates to my spirit. At this stage there is no separation from self.

When the painting is finished I will usually, though not always, put it out there for others to see and judge. I am able to separate myself from the work. When praise comes in it is because that person connects to the story of the painting, not because I have superb painting abilities. When criticism comes in it’s because the story wasn’t clear to that one person, or was one they could not identify with. Yes, it could also be from sloppy technical execution of the painting process for which I am responsible, but it is a criticism against the painting not myself as a human being.

My ego isn’t very big, yet I have enough self-esteem to believe I can succeed if I work hard enough. I know my work has value, yet I know there are so many others who are better. When I paint, although I might enjoy the end results and feel I conveyed the emotion of the story well, I know where the flaws are and what can be improved. There may be technical aspects I’m unsure of. Sometimes I will love a painting and others don’t think much of it. The opposite is true as well. I will hate a piece that the public seems to love. That is why it is so important for an artist to go beyond their own walls and expose their work to the criticism

The ego is a double-edged sword in art. An artist at once needs to believe in themselves and the work they are doing in order to promote it, and have the confidence to show it to others, but at the same time they need to separate themselves from the art to avoid total discouragement and quitting in disgust.

On the other end of the stick, is the danger of an artist becoming so full of themselves to the determinant of their own career.  Most stereotypes of artists are built around the big ego. This is the person that thinks they are a genius and every painting a masterpiece to be held up on a pedestal for all the world to see.

If I were to think like that what motivation would there be for me to learn, grow, and improve? The big ego would become stagnant and dull from a lack of growth.  They already believe themselves to be the best they could possibly be.

Instead my ego tells me there are many others better than me, and so lots more for me to learn. There are a lot more things for me to strive to achieve. Yet, the praise gives me the courage to cast a wider net and reach for some of those higher milestones that will propel my career forwards.