Here’s to Glorious Messes!
“People forget that art is work. Nobody never just did awesome things all the time without pain and practice, perseverance and exploration.”
These wise words came to me in an email this week from a fellow artist.
A few months ago, the painter Lesley Birch told me something similar. “This is hard!” she said, “no-one ever said it would be easy.”
The thing about art is that it’s totally unique. You are the only person who can create what you create. Even if you mimic someone else’s work, it won’t come out looking the same. It will be yours, uniquely yours, because you are the only person with your particular way of looking at the world and your particular style of working.
That’s wonderful but it’s also a recipe for insecurity because how can you know if what you are doing is any good? No-one has ever done it before, so there’s no road map to follow. And even if someone tells you it’s good, what do they know? (funnily enough, if someone tells you it’s bad, you will totally believe every word).
When I talk to people who don’t paint, I get the impression they think it’s a nice relaxing hobby. They say things like ”if only I wasn’t so busy, I might have a go at that” or “you’re so lucky to have the time for art.” (Am I lucky, or am I just willing to give up other things like TV, reading, going out etc. in order to go out into my studio and work until everyone else in the neighbourhood is asleep?).
And it’s not just hard work to create art. It’s also scary. You never create a good painting playing it safe. You never make good art by doing what you’ve done before. The good paintings come when you take risks – but that also means a lot of failures … a LOT of failures. It means giving up your leisure time and then coming up with a big fat nothing. It means taking a promising painting and spending 3 hours making it much much worse than when you started. It means having an idea that you don’t know how to execute. It means painting over countless pictures in an attempt to salvage something.
Here is one painting currently in progress that has been through several iterations and is currently annoying me by refusing to come together!
I’m not complaining, although it may sound as if I am. I feel very fortunate to have been born with a love of making art. It gives me a refuge in difficult times. It means I am never bored. It presents me with an ongoing, exciting challenge. And it has always been the only thing I can count on to bring me guaranteed, uncomplicated contentment — and often genuine joy. So I’m not complaining about the hard work.
I suppose I’m just reminding myself that this is the reality for all artists. We all struggle. It was never supposed to be plain sailing. No matter how long I do this, no matter how hard I practice, I will never reach a point where everything I create is a masterpiece. When I forget that, I get stressed and worry that I am no good. When I remember it, I relax and enjoy it all – the good and the bad, the successes and the glorious messes.