Any worthwhile endeavor comes with its struggles. And thus it is with art. It is unlikely that the idea for a work that comes into your mind then swiftly emerges fully formed on the paper or page. And then the Doubt Mind appears in its black robes and judges that you are not good enough.
But this is natural and we must persist if we are to produce anything of value.
Sometimes an artist will tell you that a work just came through them and it doesn’t even feel like they created it – they were just the channel. Paulo Coelho tells how his first published book The Alchemist was written this way. Yet that has not happened since then for him. He insists that it is at best a once in a life time occurrence, a rare gift.
So most works or art are produced with the artist making an effort and pushing the project forward, working through mental blocks and ego traps.
There are a couple of models that attempt to describe this struggle. The idea is that if we acknowledge the struggle and expect and accept the adversity, we will not be defeated by it.
Model one – the Backwards check mark
See his annotated checkmark at http://tumblr.austinkleon.com/post/10108413579
We start out on a project with great hope like the high point on the left side of the check mark. As the work continues, you start to get discouraged and lower your expectations. This is often accompanied by self-doubt. Who am I to try to create such a thing? I will be found out as a fake.
Eventually, you reach the bottom part of the check mark. How did your vision turn into this mess?
But if you persevere, the painting or projects starts to come back to life and some of the promise returns.
We persevere because of a deadline, obligation or perhaps because of professionalism or even stubbornness. But we are often rewarding by continuing, if not with a successful project then at least with practice and knowledge gained.
Model 2 – The U shape
Lisa Congdon (http://lisacongdon.com/blog/) who is an Artist designer and blogger mentions this meme.
This is a similar journey to the checkmark with the descent into a trough and then a rise on the other side. It is a more positive outlook since the right branch of the U comes back up to the same level as the starting vision, whereas the checkmark seems to acknowledge that you will never be able to achieve what you expected.
Model 3 – The Teenaged years
This model was given to me by Gwen Fox, artist, teacher and Artist Mentor. www.gwenfox.com
In this version, the work of art is like a child. A newborn is always beautiful to its parents, perfect in every way. As the child grows, diapers and its individuality take the g
low off a little bit. This kid doesn’t always do what you want but is still malleable and adorable.
Cue ominous music. It may sneak up on you or you may see it coming – the “low point” known as the teenaged years. She/He/The Art ignores you and perhaps is even disrespectful, refusing to follow your direction, openly rebelling. How will either of you survive?
If you can let go of the idea that you have control over your teenager and surrender to trust and love, then they usually morph into this unexpected butterfly, surprising you with positive qualities – even ones that you didn’t force into them.
What if all goes well?
I have noticed another pattern where the painting is progressing nicely. It seems to improve as you work and it never puts on a monstrous mask.
This happens most likely if you have forgotten to be attached to the initial vision and just done the work. This allows the painting have its own say in what it wants to be.
But then you notice. And this produces the mental fear of how do I not screw this up? Everything is going so well but I still have to finish this thing. How do I complete this other area or add finishing touches without screwing up what I have already done? And you can be paralyzed to not proceed.
How do you get out of your own way when you are very much aware of how you may in fact get in your own way?
Is this all necessary?
This anguish only happens because we care. We are driven to complete the task. We want to raise great people. We want to paint the Mona Lisa.
Our human hands cannot quite produce the divine vision that we had and so we are disappointed. But we persevere, since the child is important, because it is valuable to do the best that we can. It is a learning process and it is essential that we continue to create.
We need to strive for the divine and to be happy with our hints of greatness and reminders of ordinariness.
My Composite Model
The teenager model is accurate in the unpredictability of the process.
The checkmark is accurately depicts both the gradual slide downwards and reality that you are unlikely to ever produce what you saw in your mind’s eye.
However, sometimes you produce something different than the vision which is better in its own way.
So when you reach the apparent upper limit of the right side, let go of your initial inspiration and let the work organically go where it may. Let the teenager blossom into its own amazing adult.
Use the comments to tell me “What do you keep doing even when you hit bottom?”
Teen Icon from www.flaticon.com is licensed by Creative Commons BY 3.0
Flower icon from http://www.iconarchive.com/