Frustration and insecurity in the artistic mind.
Over the past year I have read biographies about several famous artists. I am still reading one about Cézanne. Other artists in the list include McCubbin, Heyson, Monet, Turner, many of the other well known Australian Impressionists of the 19th and early 20th Century including female artists that I had not encountered before and some others from overseas that were also new to me.
As I was reading about Cézanne this week a thought started. It happened as I started to identify with the internal struggles of this incredibly gifted artist and those around him. I then started thinking about fellow students and conversations we had over coffee about their internal voices, and also those with fellow artists at meetings and workshops.
Even though intellectually we may know that our art, be it painting, drawing, sculpture or whatever, is going to be a lifelong learning experience, we still struggle with those internal voices that drag us down from time to time. If you are an artist of any type you may know exactly what I am talking about. The voice that when you are struggling with a particular work, or having a slow day without a lot of “ah ha” moments, puts doubt into your head about if you have any talent for what you are trying to do and if it will ever get you anywhere.
For those of us who are a bit on the ambitious side, and who work very hard to “succeed” or see leaps and bounds in our output, this voice is a nightmare. A setback like a rejection by a colleague or tutor, a nasty comment by a critic or rejection when selling or exhibiting can be a trigger to set these thoughts off. What is worse and possibly the point to which I am leading is that we often if not always think that we are alone in this. Surely a master of the past never felt this way, the talented people we see around us never encounter this.
I don’t know if this will make any of us feel better, but from what I am reading even the most gifted in the past and present experience times of huge self doubt. Cézanne, who was on an allowance from his father for many years, saw others succeed and be accepted by The Salon and public opinion way before he was, even with moral support privately and in the press by lifelong friends, he was often criticised brutally in the newspapers. The stubborn and yet very reclusive artist, a bundle of contradictions in many ways in personality and manner still kept experimenting, learning, and adapting his methods and style for many years. He never gave up.
We now look back at the beautiful work of the Impressionists and those that followed them, and I think we may not be aware of the times they were living in or how hard it was for them to gain acceptance. We are lucky today that somewhere in the world someone is probably going to like something we have done, because so much is going on in the arts. In our studios, when we are alone looking at a canvas or whatever, though, it all gets down to what is going on between our ears and between us and the work.
What am I looking at? What is it saying to me? Am I expressing anything at all in this piece? Can I “walk” around it with my eyes and draw a story or an emotion from it? Is it “working”? Is it any good at all or should I just trash it and start again? Should I start again at all, why am I putting myself through this?
Because I must.
I would never say that I am in any way in the league of the masters, what I do say and believe is that many of us at some point have similar feelings about the creative process and ourselves. I personally, feel so much better knowing that the inner struggles I have were felt by those that I so much admire, and they overcame them in most cases and continued so that we can enjoy looking at their work today.
Like a camaraderie, I no longer feel so alone in the studio. I have the ghosts of the past talking to me in every book I read, as if to say, it is OK I have been there too. You are not alone, you are feeling what I felt fellow artist and it is OK. Then I get back to work.