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How do you become more confident as an artist?

How do you become more confident as an artist?

I was on a conference call with three artists the other morning.  One of the artists said, “We are the beautiful unicorns.” My mind instantly repels the notion that I am special.  However, I also think “the Beautiful Unicorns” may be a better title for the poem Ode. I don’t think I am special, I do think I am often delusionally confident.  Perhaps the delusion is special and a required part of being an artist.

We are the music makers,

And we are the dreamers of dreams,

Wandering by lone sea-breakers,

And sitting by desolate streams;—

World-losers and world-forsakers,

On whom the pale moon gleams:

Yet we are the movers and shakers

Of the world for ever, it seems.

-Opening stanza to the Ode by Arthur O’Shaughnessy (1874)

For me confidence has come from showing my work to people. I have had plenty of negative criticism.  I constantly receive it. The criticism continues to be one of the most shocking things about showing my art.  I have had people walk by my booth break their stride to turn and yell at me. I have had people walk into my booth and tell me I am in need of religion.  I have had people hit my paintings. I have been told multiple times that what I do is not art. 

An old man walked into my booth this past weekend.  He said, “If I may offer you some advice… You should look at your competitors and do research to see what the market demands.  You may find this helps you be more relevant to the audience.” There is always someone like this at every art fair where I exhibit.  It is their way of telling me they do not like my subject matter or the way I paint. It is usually someone older than me. Almost always walking alone.  This guy has been at everyone of my art show for the last twelve years. This guy always shows up to tell me I won’t sell my art. And I have been successfully selling art for as long as he has been telling me I won’t.

About five years ago when I first realized this “guy” was at every show I decided to make it a point to call him out when he arrived at my next show.  As expected, an hour into the show an old guy stops and grimaces in front of my booth. He stood there surveying my booth as if he had just stumbled upon a crime scene.  He smacked air through his teeth with his tongue for a few moments as if deeply contemplating his next words. He put his hands on his hips and said, “What makes you think you should be painting this way?”  

I replied, “Oh you are here early?”

Confused he said “What? What do you mean?”

“The grumpy old man that hates my art. You are here early.  I didn’t expect you until the afternoon.” I reply. He quickly shuffled off.

Confidence comes from having all the people who hate your artwork tell you to your face.  You will become ready for them because they begin to exist as cartoons in your life. No matter how innocent or well polishished your art may seem.  If you make art; there will be people who hate it.

I have made artwork so offensive I have been forced to destroy it.  I have made images that caused me to receive a death threats (yes plural).  I have a whole list of “cartoons” that follow me through life. They will continue to find my work horrible.  I have heard their comments. I have read their comments. I understand where some of their criticism is valid.  Confidence is continuing to make art that I want to see.  

Even well meaning people will even refer to my art as shit.  “Your shit is great, man!” Confidence is not being offended by it.  

One of my high school art teachers told me that I should minor in art and major in something else.  This way I would have a back up career for when my art career failed. Confidence was knowing he was wrong.  

My confidence in art has been and continues to be a delusion of grandeur to some people.  

I have had well meaning mothers and fathers drag their children into my booth and say, “tell my child he/she shouldn’t become an artist.”  

Confidence in art is turning to the child and saying, “you should definitely become an artist.”

How do I get motivated to do art?

I have suffered from bouts of artist block a few times throughout my life.  Periods of low productivity and low creative output. I personally go through times where things that used to interest me do not.  These times are painful to endure. The negative thoughts and lack of productivity lead to more negative thoughts. Lack of productivity can become a lifestyle.  I can find myself lost in thoughts for days. At its worst being a non-productive artist feels overwhelmingly like I am a fraud. 

In times of painful darkness, drawing on a new sheet of nice paper with some sort of familiar art supply helps me relax.  The act of creating a mark on a page with no intention and no judgement. To let my mind wander with the use of my drawing abilities.  This is often referred to as automatic drawing. It is also seen as an art movement that has its origins in the 1700s called Automatism.  The drawings I create are never pieces I show or sell to the public. They are never all that great. When I look back at them I see the evidence of my emotional state.   They are a meditative practice and feel very profound during their creation. I will draw this way for a while and continue until something begins to spark my interest. 

I follow my interest knowing that the first couple of things that I attempt to do will turn out wrong.  The fact that they look wrong, means somewhere I understand what will look right. I don't usually sketch during this stage. I attempt finished work.  Often, I will work on finding a solution only to be suddenly distracted with another idea. This idea is realized much faster than the prior one I was working on.  This builds evidence of productivity. Eventually, I have multiple half finished paintings that I begin to feel better about. An art routine develops and I form art that I I feel proud to exhibit and sell.

How do you know when your painting is finished?

You do not need permission to be done with a painting.

When I first started doing art shows in 2007 I felt my work was always unfinished.   I just got to a point when I was no longer embarrassed to show it to the public. This is not exactly true for me now.  

I see my paintings a bit like a journal entry that captures a period in time. I mainly paint while dealing with emotions unrelated to the subject matter I am painting.  I often find, the more difficult the emotion I am dealing with during the painting, the more connected to the work I am later. I find that the pieces I am most connected to are also the one people are most drawn to as well  

At this moment in my career, paintings are a diary of my life.  The painting is finished because that moment in my life is over.  For a while, my life was moving so quickly, paintings were a daily expression.  At this moment in my life I have daily and weekly expressions. I think this is a healthier balance. 

I often look back at my art and see things I would like to change.  I could make the changes but I don’t. I feel it is best to move forward to the next piece.   My best pieces happen so quickly, through such extreme emotions, that the event of painting itself is difficult to hold on to.  Paintings that feel like they drone on are usually ones that are not working. They end up not resonating with the audience or with me.   I feel it is good to look back at your art and see the things you would like to change. Those insights are with me on the painting I want to work on next.


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