.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}
   Welcome to my blog! I'll be posting thoughts about art, photos, happenings, and other things that strike me--and hopefully my readers--as interesting. And please visit my website by clicking the link to the right--thanks!

   Also please check out my second blog, The Painting Archives to see older (pre-2004) paintings for sale.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014
  coping with the negative: a conversation

This blog is another in the series of co-blogs between myself and Janice Mason Steeves. We are good friends who often discuss issues about art and painting in our private correspondence. In the hopes that sharing some of these thoughts would interest and engage others, the idea of a co-blog was born. To read our first co-blog, which we posted almost exactly a year ago, click here.

Rebecca: You and I have had a few emails back and forth lately about the need to develop a "thick skin" as artists in order to deal with some of the difficult things that come our way. It's funny, I can recall in detail quite a few negative things that have been said or written about my work, but if you asked me to remember even a few of the (far more common) positive remarks, I'd be quite a bit more vague. Recalling negative experiences more easily than positive ones is apparently part of the human condition (see this article.)

Janice: I think the discussion itself is really important! It’s helpful for artists working in any creative field to know that those concerns affect us all no matter our level of skill or experience. When we post our news on social network sites like Facebook and in blog posts, it's generally the positive things that we report, like getting an exhibition, or making a sale, getting an award or an artist residency. We don't often share the darker side of being a painter. That comes with the territory too: the rejections, the criticism, the times when sales are slow, the times you flounder for ideas and feel that you might just throw in the brush! So it's a good question, Rebecca: how do we handle rejection in order to keep going?

Rebecca: Well, I think we need confidence in ourselves as artists, but that's really too easy an answer. I know that even as an experienced (and generally confident) artist, I am still shaken by some forms of rejection in the art world. And even when I tell myself all the rational reasons why the negative thing doesn't matter, or is just part of the art world game, I can feel hurt. So, while building confidence is important, it’s not the whole answer, and neither are rational statements about how things work in the art world. Yes, residencies and grants go to only a small percentage of applicants, galleries are overwhelmed with submissions, our way of painting will not appeal to everyone, all artists have ebbs and flows of income--we know these things. They may be helpful, and they’re definitely the things friends and family bring up to try and help us feel better. But we can still end up feeling distressed and rejected.

Maybe the first thing is to simply accept that we're going to hurt sometimes--we need to look that right in the face. Sometimes we're going to feel awful, no way around it.

Janice: I think that it's important for artists to discuss this with each other as we're doing here. Knowing that others feel the same and have been through similar situations is important. It doesn't matter your level of proficiency or how many years you have painted. If you're an artist who keeps pushing their boundaries, exploring and growing, you're likely to run into people who liked your old work better, or galleries who don't want you to change. In my own work, I aim to push myself to that edge of discomfort. While it is a very fragile, exposed place, I like to see that vulnerability in my own work and I like to see that in other artist's work too, like in your new series Rebecca. So maybe the answer can be found in courage and persistence.

Rebecca: this makes me think it is not confidence-as-an artist (in the sense of success or experience) that is needed so much as general confidence-as-a-person. Knowing from experience that we can handle all kinds of difficulties in life. This helps us believe that we are strong at the core, even while knowing there will be pain.

It's a good thing to keep in mind because as you say, as artists we put ourselves into potentially negative situations all the time! If we’re going to keep pushing boundaries in our work, we do need to be brave. And yet our skin can't be too thick if we are to remain sensitive and vulnerable.

Thich Nhat Hanh talks about embracing your pain tenderly, as if it were a baby. That seems to me to say it is possible to love the pain as part of being human, but it’s not a good idea to grip it tightly and hold onto it forever.

Janice: One thing that is hugely important in an art practice is to try to separate ourselves from our work. We are not our work. Knowing and believing that can take the edge off of negative comments. While it's important that we throw ourselves wholeheartedly into our work and hold nothing back, we are still more than the paintings we create. Life is more than that. Click here to see a cartoon I came across that says this in another way.

Rebecca: Yes, that's great! I think that is really important. It's so easy to take the bad stuff very personally. Yet, even as we create the work there is always the need to separate ourselves, step back and assess, edit and evaluate. I wonder if that is a part of the process that needs to be strong in order to deal with all the difficult stuff we encounter in the art world. Even while we may disagree with someone else's attitudes or beliefs about our work, the ability to be objective allows for other points of view.

Janice: While we know these things in our heads, it's sometimes difficult to remember them. When we encounter rejection, the critical voice that seems to live somewhere inside our heads jumps in and adds more disapproval. Last fall I had just completed work for my current exhibition and I was really pleased with it. I had applied to an artist residency much earlier in the summer, and I learned that day in October, that my application was rejected. Although I had just completed a huge work cycle and produced a series of paintings that I loved, that one email completely threw me off. I couldn't paint at all that day and the critic was very loud in my ear. I got into my car that afternoon and turned on the engine. Instead of music, I heard the voice of a man who was not the regular announcer say, "If you hear a voice in your head that says you cannot paint, then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.". Stunned by the synchronicity, I stopped the car to write it down. It was exactly what I needed to hear.

I think actually that it’s important that we continue to have thin and vulnerable skins that enable us to relate in a sensitive way to the world around us. And to allow that there will be all sorts of rejections and hard lessons. The important thing is to keep working, in spite of criticism and rejection or the voice of the inner critic, which can be the harshest of all. What makes an artist is the ability to continue. To show up for work.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this subject. It is quite timely for me. I feel as though I am doing the best work of my life now and just heard I was rejected from an online gallery I applied to.

In theory I know that I just need to move on from this point and find another way to get my work seen, but I've had a few years now of very little encouragement.
We seem to be thinking about similar things at this moment. Thank you for such and good post.

Well said, thank you for your wisdom.
thanks for the comments--we all deal with these things, ongoing...
Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home


     September 2005 /      October 2005 /      November 2005 /      December 2005 /      January 2006 /      February 2006 /      March 2006 /      April 2006 /      May 2006 /      June 2006 /      July 2006 /      August 2006 /      September 2006 /      October 2006 /      November 2006 /      December 2006 /      January 2007 /      February 2007 /      March 2007 /      April 2007 /      May 2007 /      June 2007 /      July 2007 /      August 2007 /      September 2007 /      October 2007 /      November 2007 /      December 2007 /      January 2008 /      February 2008 /      March 2008 /      April 2008 /      May 2008 /      June 2008 /      July 2008 /      August 2008 /      September 2008 /      October 2008 /      November 2008 /      December 2008 /      January 2009 /      February 2009 /      March 2009 /      April 2009 /      May 2009 /      June 2009 /      July 2009 /      August 2009 /      September 2009 /      October 2009 /      November 2009 /      December 2009 /      January 2010 /      February 2010 /      March 2010 /      April 2010 /      May 2010 /      June 2010 /      July 2010 /      August 2010 /      September 2010 /      October 2010 /      November 2010 /      December 2010 /      January 2011 /      February 2011 /      March 2011 /      April 2011 /      May 2011 /      June 2011 /      July 2011 /      August 2011 /      September 2011 /      October 2011 /      November 2011 /      December 2011 /      January 2012 /      February 2012 /      March 2012 /      April 2012 /      May 2012 /      June 2012 /      July 2012 /      August 2012 /      September 2012 /      October 2012 /      November 2012 /      December 2012 /      January 2013 /      February 2013 /      March 2013 /      April 2013 /      May 2013 /      June 2013 /      July 2013 /      August 2013 /      September 2013 /      October 2013 /      November 2013 /      December 2013 /      January 2014 /      February 2014 /      March 2014 /      April 2014 /      May 2014 /      June 2014 /      July 2014 /      August 2014 /      September 2014 /      October 2014 /      November 2014 /      December 2014 /      January 2015 /      February 2015 /      March 2015 /      April 2015 /      May 2015 /      June 2015 /      July 2015 /      August 2015 /      September 2015 /      October 2015 /      November 2015 /      December 2015 /      January 2016 /      February 2016 /      March 2016 /      April 2016 /      June 2016 /      July 2016 /      August 2016 /      September 2016 /      October 2016 /      November 2016 /      December 2016 /      January 2017 /      February 2017 /      March 2017 /      May 2017 /      June 2017 /      July 2017 /      August 2017 /      September 2017 /      October 2017 /      November 2017 /      December 2017 /      January 2018 /      March 2018 /      April 2018 /

       Rebecca Crowell