the comfort zone
In teaching and critiquing art, there is a lot of talk and advice about pushing out of the comfort zone. I've gone along with this idea in a general way, but in the past week I've been thinking about the positive aspects of comfort zone, and when it may be a good thing to remain there. I've been realizing that leaving the comfort zone is a nuanced topic. Maybe my reflections here are because I've been a bit out of my own CZ in the most literal way--I've been away from home teaching at two different locations for much of the past month, and it will be another week until I return. I've been treated very well everywhere I go--but still, I am not home, and home seems to me the very definition of comfort zone.
Home...the place to be yourself, to wear whatever you grab first, to appreciate the routines of the day, to deal with the ups and downs of those who occupy life with you, your family,friends and pets. Out of the comfort zone, away from home, all of this changes--from the basic patterns of where and what to eat to finding a comfortable spot to sit and read. Even in an idyllic setting--like a vacation or painting residency--the changes in basic lifestyle can be uncomfortable at times. Of course positive changes often result from an artist residency or new situation, but generally we choose these adventures rather than being told it is time for one. Thinking we must always push out of our comfort zone is like feeling that as soon as we relax into being at home, we need to figure out the next departure. Sometimes it's good to just be home and appreciate our ordinary experience. (Spoken as one who has not had enough of that lately!)
What is home in terms of painting? I think that is a question to ask yourself as an artist--what feels honest and right to you...in what ways are you are at ease and true to yourself as you work? What routines serve you well and keep things on track? No one else can know these answers for you nor should they demand that you change what works well for you. Home in any sense is a source of joy and comfort, and there is a place for this in our work. I believe it is central to finding an authentic voice as an artist. As an example, an artist in the advanced class at Cullowhee Mountain Arts
(where I am now) commented that she had come to class with the idea that she "ought to" change the green/orange color palette she loves, but decided midweek that it's important to her to keep it, at least for now--a sign to me that she is working out her own authentic style and voice.
In life, opportunities arise--a trip, a new job, a relocation--that require decisive change and sometimes even pulling up roots. These can be life-changing and important to advance our work, our way of thinking, our relationships and we make the choice to act on them based on our needs. The same opportunities for change happen in painting, and in the same way the choice to act on them has to come from within. Instructors or critics who come on strong with the need for big change may not be in tune with your path; knowing what is meaningful and central in your work is vital when considering such advice. At the same time, being open to ideas and suggestions from an objective viewer can open your eyes to things you have not realized. I do find that often people in my workshops want very much to change, to break out of old habits, and I'm happy to push them in that direction. But I also try and determine what they like about their current work and want to retain.
For all of us, the trick is to distinguish dull, useless or worn out routines and aspects of our home comfort zone from those that keep us moving ahead with anticipation and bring pleasure. Just as we sometimes replace an old couch, add on a new room, or even move to a new location, we need to address what no longer serves us or needs to be changed in our work. Change is best when it evolves in an organic way, out of realizing what no longer leads us on or has become dispiriting. Dwelling in your comfort zone for a while may in fact lend strength and solidity to your ideas and to allow new threads to emerge naturally and authentically.