The biggest issue I see in every abstract painting course and workshop I teach is the difficulty artists have with trusting themselves
I worked with a student at a workshop who created expressive, immediate, raw, calligraphic, continuous line, scroll-like horizontal paintings…
And I watched her create astonishing work quickly and with confidence…
Only to cover it up almost completely!
I was stunned!
Literally, I’d see this amazing, alive, authentic work as I was teaching the workshop and I’d turn to talk with someone for a moment and when I turned back…
Her astonishing marks were obliterated
I was stunned by how quickly this artist expressed herself through gestural expression…and just as quickly covered it up
I observed that she then looked confused and defeated.
It was as if this pure, raw expression which leapt out of her unmediated was absolutely terrifying and must be placed back in the container…back in Pandora’s box
The treasures of her soul…of her own true expression…were being erased before my eyes
After seeing this pattern repeated twice…I stopped her as she backed away from her work and asked:
“How are you feeling about this?…..
She looked quizzically at me and said: “You mean, you think it’s done?”….
I said: “Well, you’re the artist…you’re the composer, the author of this work”…
I continued: “It’s your painting, it’s your expression, it’s what’s meaningful to you…but I want you to know that, for whatever it’s worth, I’d take it right now as is. I love the rawness, honesty and immediacy of your work”.
She said: “But it only took 10 minutes!”
We explored it further and she told me that she felt she should keep going because it came so quickly and easily!
As if her facility and ease made the work invalid.
She had an idea in her head that it was supposed to be harder than this
She was supposed to suffer. She mused that perhaps she was supposed to create many layers.
My heart ached when I heard all that…and I said:
It doesn’t matter if it took 10 seconds, 10 minutes or 10 years. What matters is that it’s true and it expresses YOU
This experience called to mind for me the work of poet Mary Oliver and her poem I love called “The Wild Geese”. It’s about self compassion and the opening lines say it all:
“You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves”
So I say to you…trust yourself to love what you love and to express what you love…and don’t cover it up..let us see YOU.
The most exciting and alive paintings show us you
I know this is scary.
We feel vulnerable…we think: what do I have to say? Maybe I don’t have anything to say. Why would someone want to see me?
Well, we DO want to see you and you’ll have to take a leap of faith and believe me on this.
Paintings are a mirror…they mirror our lives
Yes…paintings mirror all the raw, messy, unresolved feelings and conflicts we have…the ambivalence…the anxiety…the indecisiveness…and the beauty as well…everything…
This brings to mind the book title The Agony And The Ecstasy about Michelangelo. Doesn’t the title say it all?
And so we’ve got to embrace the fear and vulnerability that creating brings up.
What does creating ask of us?
Creating asks us to answer the call of our longing to create meaning…to exclaim a resounding ‘YES’ to this journey…and to TRUST OURSELVES…
Because we’re immediately plunged into unknown territory…a terra incognito riddled with perils…
Any yet…we have inner and outer provisions that support us…
And the most important of all is our Inner Landscape.…
And that is the inner provision of ultimately trusting ourselves.
And so why is trusting yourself everything?
Here are the 5 Reasons Why:
- to be able to step into the unknown…which is what being an artist is about…you’ve got to trust yourself
- to be able to play…you’ve got to trust yourself
- to be able to experiment…so you can create alive, astonishing work…you’ve got to trust yourself
- to be able to tolerate “ugly paintings” and deal with the middle of the painting…which is the birthplace of new work emerging from your expression… you’ve got to trust yourself
- to be able to express YOU…express your truth, your vision, your voice…you’ve got to be able to be vulnerable…which requires trusting yourself
To dive deeper into the concepts of trusting yourself in your art get my FREE 7 Day email course here.
And so I ask you the rhetorical question:
Will you dare to trust yourself when you paint?
It might mean the difference between falling back on safe, strategic patterns and creating your deepest work…creating paintings that are alive and full of YOU….
With love and gratitude,
P.S. If you’re new to abstract painting and you’d like to explore how to activate the canvas by deeply experimenting…with freeing yourself up with intuitive, gestural mark making, check out my course: Activating The Canvas. You can read more about it HERE.
If you want to go even deeper and learn the secrets that will be game changers for your art, Register for my signature course The Artist’s Journey
Also published on Medium.