Hello dear friends and fine folk of the internet all around and welcome to another year and another chance at achieving those goals you set for yourself. To prove once and for all that this is indeed your year and that you have what it takes to be a superstar. But let me ask you, if this is really how you feel, why haven't you done so already?
Many reasons, I know. I'm the same. Or was the same? Hard to tell when goals shift all the time. The usual suspects are: procrastination, not enough time, too many different goals and lack of discipline - or are they? Join me, for another journey into the mind.
I've talked on this blog many times before about the complexity of seemingly simple principles and the simple solutions to complex problems. Getting 'beyond the horizon' is no different. We've talked about the fact that maybe art isn't for you and how that's perfectly OK. One of the issues is that sometimes we react strongly to when someone tells us we can't do something. It lights that competitive fire under us which makes us strive for greater goals and achieving them. Sometimes that voice comes from someone else and sometimes it comes from yourself. Just like how sometimes you can break through and other times you can't and get stuck. This isn't a article about how to get back into the gym and lose those couple kilograms (Yes, I'm European, I'll use metrics) and make it stick; or how to finally get on that kale smoothie diet to get that extra energy boost in the morning. We already have something for that, it's called coffee or energy drinks if you don't partake in the cult of Java.
For those who don't know, the event horizon is the point of no return when approaching a black hole. The no escape zone. Nothing that goes on there can be observed or influenced by anyone on the outside, right before it get's sucked into the bottomless pit that is the black hole. At least, that's the theory for now.
Some aspects of my insecurities that I struggle through, which directly affect traits like productivity, have a shocking similarity to this event horizon which the exception that outside influences can very much affect me. So what does this have to do with getting better at art? Breaking those limits? Unless we test ourselves to the limit we'll never know where it is. The reason why this isn't the same as a 'going back to the gym' talk is because our mind, in general, is much less flexible and straight forward in growth as our body. The same rigorous exercise regime that might get you in shape physically might only strengthen some terrible habits and notions when applied to the mental physique.
That event horizon makes it hard for people on the outside to understand what's going on inside. It makes it hard for us to be objective and take a look at what's going on in the inner workings of our inner workings. There are countless of unseen barriers that drain our motivation and energy and prevent us from applying them to useful things like painting or whichever craft you want to do. Some tough questions that need to be answered; for me the most important one is:
What is my limit?
What is the best I can do? Not now, but ever. In my lifetime. The reason why this question is important is not because of it's measurable result but because of it's implications; simply coming to terms with the fact that it does have a definitive answer. It's in many ways a rhetorical question above anything else, just like the question we opened with: Why haven't you achieved your goals already? The reason why we need to come to terms with this is because if we ignore the fact that we have limitations we can never be comfortable with the fact that we might not achieve certain things. How come we are perfectly OK with the notion that we'll never be a rock star, even if we might want to be, or becoming a pro athlete even if we work out? We understand the complexity and we are realistic about it, we understand the implications. Yet, for our own work there remains in general - even with the understanding of the difficulties in achieving your goals - a willful ignorance to it's totality.
The key idea is that this sense of reality conflicts directly with the motivation required to achieve your goal. I.e. if you think you'll never achieve it you wont. While this is in large part true it's also a blanket statement that doesn't do justice to the complicated process of artistic creation. Creativity is only partially founded in technical expertise, which comes with obvious limitations, the rest comes from self expression and a personal touch that can't be measured directly. The subjective part of art is where you can really shine but not if you don't have the understanding that it is OK to let certain things go.
Coming to terms with your own possible shortcomings instills a sense of patience that is required to approach complicated problems. Not by giving up or saying to yourself you can never achieve it but by understanding that these processes take time. Painting is more than the sum of it's parts, it's more than just paint on a canvas. It's a mixture of many moving parts. From edge control to perspective and from value to emotion.
If we are too consumed by our own black hole of insecurities we can never see them for what they are. Facing that uncomfortable truth that there is a real chance we'll never be as good as some of our idols simply because we can't because we are not them. We can get good in our own way. Maybe it's even a better way, but taste is subjective. If we don't learn how to do this we can never take the time to be happy with what we can achieve. Not just on paper or canvas but also mentally. Be happy that we took the time to learn something, to do a study, to open a book, to read an article and to get that victory of understanding a new principle. We are all so keen on making the next masterpiece but this is missing the point. There is a real chance the greatest master pieces themselves are always reaching for a branch too high for even them to grasp. If you always keep your focus on becoming the best, and keeping that rope strung as high a tension as you can it's bound to snap. Give it some slack. It's not about getting good now, it's about getting better. It's about understanding where you are now, not so you can look ahead but to look around and appreciate how far you've come. Worry less about the rules and more about what you want to say with your work and designs; that should be the loudest voice.
Beyond the horizon
The cruel nature of the game with any visual or tangible creative profession is that we are constantly confronted with material which we can directly compare to our own. As a whole the quality might sometimes remain objective, as in - there is no accounting for taste - however at the very least some of the individual parts can be compared to whatever we are making ourselves. The use of color, certain riffs, values, contrast. That next level. The reality, once more, is that art demands our unwavering confidence in ourselves. The wishful thinking part is that we can somehow ignore the work of others and do our own thing - if it wasn't for this fierce competition Van Gogh wouldn't be where he was; nor would Cezanne and Monet. Walking this tightrope is the price we pay in order to push ourselves, to express how we see the world. Getting beyond that horizon and growing beyond those envisioned limits is to look less at the individual parts - how technically good something is - and more about if it moves you and if you can move others with what you want to say. That's what matters. There is a limit to how good you can get on a technical level but on a expressive level you can go beyond your imagination.
I'll leave you with a poem that was on a poster in my English class in high school. Written by a man who's biggest success came as his first book and never got back to that level. Mocked by his peers as a one hit wonder, driven to another country and into poverty and ultimately dead at 28. This is what he wrote in his last published bundle of poems and it stuck with me all these years. To me, a very on point look at artists behind the art.
Happy 2017 everyone. I hope this year is filled with less worry, more wonder, and a fire that inspires you to be who you want to be.