Hello people of the internet and fine folk everywhere. I had half a mind to rant about paid movie reviews or the fact that this blog's save button sometimes doesn't work and thusly eliminating the whole entry only hours before release. However, the show must go on so this week it's time to revisit one of those old and familiar feelings, which we talked about here before, but this time I'd like to be slightly less analytical - no promises. This week I'd like to talk about trust - and no I'm not talking about a place where you can put your money. I would like to show you the things I struggle with, the stuff that keeps me up and can wreck my work day. For me the 'path to greatness' which is a part of the greater struggle in becoming an artist has not only been paved with obstacles by way of technique, such as the ability to render horses or some such thing. It's been mostly me. I'm constantly getting in the way of myself.
One of the problems is that observational skills and technique always offset each other creating highs and lows. If your technique is good but observation low you feel great, everything looks good. Then, as your observation gets better you start feeling worse about your work. Actually, here is a neat graph to help illustrate one of the most famous artist dilemmas:
You have to accept that these two don't grow at the same speed so these highs and lows are very normal. One of the governing aspects of the two is your ability to understand and deal with this process, your tenacity, the ability to push through. Tenacity is a sort of passive mental ability. Discipline is it's active counterpart. A active driving force that you can train by making small tasks routine. And then there is trust. All three work together, or rather should, work together to make you a fully (dis)functional artist. Whichever you prefer.
Here is my problem; I'm not very good with trust. As a person I'm very confident in some of my skills like public speaking. I trust in myself that I can do it. I trust in myself that I can wreck a dude if I pick Roadhog in Overwatch and I trust that in myself that I can make a mean apple crumble. This confidence wavers tremendously when talking about art. I trust in myself that I can make a functional image, but that doesn't necessarily mean that it's a artistically rewarding image. Therefor there is a disconnect between what I paint and how I would like to see it painted. Painting on a technical level is the ability to translate images you have in your head onto the preferred medium exactly as you see them in your head. Painting on a artistic level is a unique way of looking at the world. These two have to fuse and in turn trigger a reaction in the viewer, preferably on multiple levels. An emotional level, or perhaps a political message, a deep longing or holding on to a fleeting memory of times gone. It's also here where we see the problem of production art being actual art - since their functions are inherently different. However, that's a different story.
Trust and growth
One of the most familiar paraphrases within the art world is that trust is important not only for yourself but also for the benefit of others. Trusting in your own work and demonstrating a certain sense of confidence to the outside world will help younger generations of artists to feel a bit more relaxed knowing that their idols are only human as well. Here is a very simple example:
Skilled artist A: "My work sucks, everything about it is sadbad. Cryfrownbad."
Less skilled artist B: "Oh man, if skilled artist A feels that way about their work then my work must really suck!"
Skilled artist A: "I really don't like this piece, the perspective is weird, can't get the colors right and this horse just looks like a potato."
Less skilled artist B: "I don't see anything wrong, piece looks great to me, guess I have lots to learn! But, it's comforting to know even artists I look up to struggle with stuff."
We can always keep dreaming, and the world isn't as black and white as that but the point still stands. The key difference here is being a bit more articulate in the why - as a courtesy towards other artists. The baseline is supposedly trust. Trust in yourself that your work is good. I'd like to propose a different way of looking at it which at it's core might not be as altruistic in regards to the community but arrives at the same destination. Trusting yourself to be capable of creating images that are functional, for whatever function this may be, is the start to being able to produce work time and time again, even if you are not pleased with the result. The reason being that you can see the bigger picture. Here we get to the trust and growth part, and as usual I'd like to propose that you may have been misidentifying trust all along. More observational issues, can this guy even talk about something else?! I can, look at it this way:
"I had a super cold and rainy summer, guess global warming isn't real."
The inability to differentiate between weather, a micro view, versus climate, a macro view.
"This piece is bad, guess I suck as an artist."
The inability to differentiate between micro observation versus macro observation.
Trust is the bridge in between this gap. I get asked quite frequently how you implement the studies you do back into your own work. It's a fair question but it highlights the above. It's relatively rare that you get to implement exactly what you've studied into another piece. As in, the exact piece of cloth with the exact lighting that you studied before. The idea here is that you learn and grow and come to a certain understanding of the world around you.
Trusting in yourself that this process is happening if you are actively trying to learn is of huge importance. It's this trust which will allow you to do piece after piece without worrying too much about it's individual merits. This is what helped me greatly when I was starting out and it's something that I have to remind myself of almost every week when I start to get discouraged. Remember, not all of this stuff is some sort of passive trait you either have or lack, it's something you work on.
Trust and discipline
Which conveniently brings me to my next point, almost as if I had planned this all along... Now, because I lost this whole article - thanks Obama - I'm missing a link or two so you'll have to trust me on this one; it takes roughly 6 weeks to 6 months for an activity to become a habit based on it's complexity. We all have habits and according to google we have to seriously worry about our kidneys.
Aside from our kidneys being in trouble we have to worry about our energy that goes into turning a activity into a habit. Note that discipline is the precursor to becoming a habit. The one, discipline, is a much more active and energy consuming trait. The other, habits, are much less active in their energy usage in terms of motivating yourself to do them. You have to be constantly aware that expressing yourself and painting is the culmination of a ridiculous amount of moving parts that all consume energy. Negative thoughts have far and away the most impact and consume the most. Now, it's hard to find a real clear answer to why this is happening but it roughly comes down to this. Negative thoughts are frequently inward focused and often arise when no particular solution is available. Meaning we get stuck. Our brains do not like to get stuck, it's a problem solving machine. Check out this nifty quote:
One of the fundamental human cognitive processes is problem solving. As a higher-layer cognitive process, problem solving interacts with many other cognitive processes such as abstraction, searching, learning, decision making, inference, analysis, and synthesis on the basis of internal knowledge representation by the object–attribute-relation (OAR) model. Problem solving is a cognitive process of the brain that searches a solution for a given problem or finds a path to reach a given goal. When a problem object is identified, problem solving can be perceived as a search process in the memory space for finding a relationship between a set of solution goals and a set of alternative paths
-On the cognitive process of human problem solving by Yingxu Wang.
Our brains, or at least a significant part of it, is literally designed to just that. You don't have to remember any of that, just remember that creating a habit takes discipline, which takes energy, which can be drained by negative thoughts which can be mitigated by trusting in yourself. Good, with me again? Fantastic. Back to habits for just a minute. Check out this other quote:
"Habits emerge from the gradual learning of associations between responses and the features of performance contexts that have historically co-varied with them (e.g., physical settings, preceding actions). Once a habit is formed, perception of contexts triggers the associated response without a mediating goal." A new look at habits and the habit-goal interface by Wendy Wood and David T. Neal.
The goal here is to feel good about getting stuff done. So discipline is a active trait which consumes a lot of energy. We use this energy to transform tasks into a habit, which uses less energy. The 10,000 hour rule may have recently been "debunked" because it was too shallow, merely repeating a task over and over doesn't make you good at something. And in fact long term studies have concluded that some people will simply be better than others no matter the age when you start, the amount of time you put in or how well you are being taught. Depressing huh? No matter - all we're trying to do is build a certain level of trust and self scrutiny so that we can:
- Trust in ourselves to lessen energy required to repeat learning processes such as doing studies and making paintings.
- Trust in our observation and learning skills so that those learning processes keep pushing us forward.
The ways for us to get in our own way are truly endless! The way we look at the world, the way we look at ourselves, how we want to express ourselves, how to actually express yourself, the list goes on and on.
That's what the hip kids say right? I may have eclipsed thirty recently but that doesn't mean I can't be cool yo (It has meant that I enjoy going on long rants and browsing through furniture magazines). As promised in the beginning I will share some of the stuff that wrecks my day and keeps me up at night and, because at it's core this blog is still about giving a peek inside the brain of artists, I will now summarize them for you. Also, I said I wasn't going to be too analytical but let's face it, we all knew that was never going to happen.
- Failing to trust in my own capabilities. My trust often wavers when dealing with work for clients that I respect and or admire a lot. This self inflicted pressure undermines the trust I have and more importantly they have placed in me. Here the difference between confidence and trust becomes most clear for me. At some level I'm confident I can do it but I don't trust that it'll be to the required standard. At these moments I have to repeat to myself over and over again that I in fact do know what I'm doing, otherwise I would not face this problem. The problem that you worry about pleasing a good client doesn't arrive if you're not good enough to get a good client to begin with.
- Failing to see the macro picture. I often worry a lot about pieces that I do when I'm not happy with them. Thinking that all of a sudden I have lost all ability to paint and consider myself a fraud. I always go back and put a shitty old image from 2008 next to one I've done in recent history. That way I can make fun of the old me. What a terrible, terrible artist....
- Failing to get out of the micro picture. And here is another focus problem! Yay! Sometimes I get so stuck on not being able to solve a 'simple problem'. In my mind it will feel small and simple and I beat myself up over the fact that I can't solve it. Such as; 'I can't get the values right in this shadow region of this image.' News flash - it probably means that all of the values are bad. Which means you have to practice values more. It's not that tiny part in the painting. Sorry.
- Stubbornness. You might not guess it from this blog but I do not like to admit to myself that I haven't in fact figured something out. I try to be all cool and casual about it; it's fine, I'll just start over from scratch and really learn how this works. Or, that's what I want to say but in fact it's more like
And there you have it! Another week where a few of the hardcore people have made it all the way to the end or have it least scrolled all the way down! As a small semi sentimental note at the end I would like to thank everyone for the hugely positive feedback we've received so far. Each week we're humbled by the reactions we get from the community, you telling us you got something from these pieces of text means a lot to us. We all seek validation of some sort in our lives and if that can come off the back of actually being of some use to someone then that's just peaches. Cool kids say that right? Peaches?