Why Do So Many People Give Up?

There are so many people in the world who want to be an artist. Evidenced by the healthy enrolment at a huge offering of art instruction across the country. Of those starting out with a dream of being an artist I’d hazard to guess more than 2/3’s will give up before they reach their goal. Why? 

For many people their enrolment and interest in art is nothing more than as a pastime or hobby, with no dreams of becoming the next Monet. I make no judgements on whether people in that group are considered artists or not. That is a completely different context from what I am referring to here. People falling into this group very well may have traits similar to the working artist, or they may not.

For others failure is often the result of a lack of commitment. Although the actual reasons can be as varied as the personalities of those trying to become an artist, commitment lies at the roots. There must be a commitment to overcome financial hurdles, commitment to finding enough time to dedicate to creating, commitment to overcome all of the roadblocks along the way (and there are many). 

Impressionist 8×10” oil on panel plein air landscape from late spring.

For the working artist, their commitment is often at a level of obsession. I know few painters who do not eat, sleep, and live painting, often at the expense of many other things in life – a clean house, a well manicured garden, elaborate meals, and even an active social life. You will likely find the friends of an artist are other artists. Few others understand how our life works and the need to give our art (and spending copious amounts of time alone) priority over being available to socialize.

Few people are willing to give up enough of their time to dedicate to art. It isn’t something one can excel in without putting in more time than the occasional free weekend every couple of months. It requires daily study and practice.

A successful artist has determination. A quality needed to overcome failed paintings, rejection notices, and the difficulties of selling art. Their desire to succeed must overcome their fear of failure. They must have the attitude that nothing will stop them from realizing their goal. There has to be a stubbornness to get over being bad at the beginning, because almost all of us are.  “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again”, is the mantra of many.

A successful artist has a fire in their bellies that can’t be ignored. Call it passion, yearning, obsession, or whatever you want. It’s a quality that can’t be forced. Maybe we don’t all have it at the beginning, or maybe we do. I don’t know. But I do know, a  successful artist becomes addicted to creating to the point they must create just as much as they must breathe. There is no question to them not being an artist. It goes beyond an occupation to being who they are as a human being.

As a painter, my obsession is such that while driving I’m not seeing trees and valleys, I am seeing cadmium yellow light with cerulean highlights,  yellow ochre with ultramarine shadows, and cadmium red, ultramarine, titanium white, and just a hint of yellow ochre in the valley. While working in photography I saw compositions, the play of light, and visual stories waiting to be told. Perhaps a sculpture sees angles and contours. I often think it’s an addiction far worse than drugs or alcohol. No interventions required……….

The Ebb And Flow Of Learning

I seek mastery of paint and canvas, and this seeking involves a lifelong road of learning and striving to be “better”. With better being a subjective quality only applicable to me. The outside world plays no roll in my own critique of my skills and the quality of my work. The path of learning is an internal route guided strictly by my own desire and love of creating. It is a bumpy trail at times though. 

I have discovered this path is not a smooth flat trail, or even a steady climb, but one filled with valleys, plateaus, and peaks. Learning a new skill or trying to reach a higher level of achievement can seem impossible at the start. You take in what you think you need to know but it seems your skills take a nosedive. Frustration and discouragement is an easy enemy that does in many a student with dreams of an art career. It is the drive of determination, and a certain degree of detachment to results that wins in the end.

Look at learning, or skill building, as a child learning to walk. The toddler does not start off running a marathon but with baby steps and tumbles.  Giving yourself permission to fail, over and over again if necessary, will help avoid the discouragement that can lead to giving up.

The Hours Of Day Are Numbered – 8×10” – Oil on canvas panel

My own experiences have taught me when I strive to learn a new technique my paintings spend a period of time being suitable only for the fire (the valley). Thoughts like “what am I doing”, “I’m a hack”, “I should get a real job”, are easily heard. I keep a fire extinguisher nearby and tell those voices to go bother someone else and push on. Soon my work returns to where it was before, and a kind of resolve happens (the plateau). “This is my style”, “This is how I’m meant to paint”, “I’m not a master, but my work is good enough”.

It is here where I must remind myself of the path of the toddler learning to walk. While being able to walk is great, it isn’t good enough. I want to run the marathon. I want to take my painting to the level of a master. Then one day out of the blue, when I’m least expecting it, something happens on the canvas, and those skills that seemed so elusive magically appear (the peak). And the process starts all over again trying to reach the next highest peak. It is a journey with no limit….no end. 

“The more intensely we feel about an idea or a goal, the more assuredly the idea, buried deep in our subconscious, will direct us along the path to its fulfillment.” Earl Nightingale