Stop Judging

creative coaching

Throwing a gallon of paint at a canvas from across the room is a lot of fun! Something about the destructive nature of creativity, and it scares the hell out of other living creatures in the vicinity, pets, kids, wife, roommates, whoever. But I have hard time justifying the creative worth of such paintings. Abstract, action, fluid, and others like them I find fascinating, but I don’t know why. I almost feel guilty for liking such works.

On the opposite end of the artistic spectrum is realism. I’ve seen many photo realist paintings and I’ve ventured to create a few of my own, and a large part of me finds such works to be hugely dissatisfying. Most times they are meticulously painted scenes of something mundane. Something so boring that I wouldn’t look twice at the scene when presented with it in real life.

So why spend hundreds of hours painting a photorealistic scene of mundanity? Why take the time to haphazardly fling paint at a canvas? Why not? Art is amazing in that one work can offer vastly different experiences to different people. Last year I was walking around the Louvre in complete awe. My fiancé and I spent about eight hours in that museum and at no point did I want to leave. She, on the other hand, fell asleep several times on various benches.  Its experiences like this that justifies every form of art. Just because one doesn’t find satisfaction with realism, abstraction, or what-have-you, doesn’t mean that there isn’t value in them!

I think most people would do well not too harshly judge art. Enjoy the experience that comes from viewing a piece, or don’t, and move on to the next. As creatives I think this advice is even more important. In the past when I’ve looked at my own work and compared it with other artists I would quickly become discouraged, never mind the fact that the drawing or painting was a lot of fun to do, and in some way I recognized its importance in the fostering my growth as an artist. However, as I continue to develop my creative skills and personal style I see more and more the value in what I’m doing. My work doesn’t mimic a lot of others out there, or maybe it does and I just don’t know it yet. Either way it doesn’t matter. I’m making art that I find satisfying. I’m making art that I put a lot of effort and hours into, but that I don’t have to struggle through.

I’ve stopped trying to justify my tastes to myself. I like what I like. No apologies or explanations needed. And honestly, doing so has opened the entire world to me. Everything is inspiration, and everything has value! I should never again hurt for subject matter!

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A Rose by Any Other Name.

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I think the most aggravating conversation that creative and athletic people ever have goes something like this: “I want to be an artist (or photographer, painter, writer, baseball player, basketball player…you get the idea) when I grow up!” To which the adult probably responds by saying something to the effect of “Yeah, but it’s so hard to make a living doing that.” Or “Yeah, but the competition is very difficult, and not many people make it.”

I’ve heard and have been part of conversations like this at several points in my life. Now that I’m an adult who teaches art and photography, as well as someone who always has a creative iron in the fire, I can say without a doubt that being an artist, a writer, or an athlete is easy! Being able to assign yourself the label of artist, writer, or athlete doesn’t require anything more than engaging in the various activities that make up the enterprises in which you take interest. I, for example, own far too many art supplies and various types of paper, which I use regularly. I create drawings and paintings, post them to my Instagram and from time to time there will be something in my Etsy shop that I hope someone will find and appreciate.

I admit that I’m not as well-known as many other artists, but does that alone negate my validity as an artist? If someone aspires to play sports are they less an athlete because they play in a local adult league? No! What about the person that dedicates some time each day to sit in front of their computer, or typewriter, or even notebook to write? Does that individual have less of a right to claim the title of writer than a bestselling author? I don’t think so.

If you have the dedication and means to actively pursue creative and/or athletic goals then proudly call yourself an athlete! Proudly call your-self and artist or a writer or whatever else, and encourage others to do the same! Let’s motivate one another to pursue our passions instead of offering reasons to give up on our dreams.

 

 

White board.

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Up until very recently I considered myself a fledgling artist. Four years of college art, studying everything from photography, to sculpture, I struggled to lock in what I considered to be my style. Thumbing through art books was really no help either. I remember pouring through a book about Seurat, and being in awe as to how such a young artist could have developed the iconic style of pointillism. I’d sit in my studio admiring his paintings, and copying his conte drawings, learning about how to quickly and efficiently manipulate light and shadow.

Eventually I’d move on to other artists, admire their work, copy it, and repeat. This mode of operation is one that I continued with for quite some time, and it extended not just to famous artists of the past, but also to Pinterest and Google image searches. The more art I copied, and the more I learned about technique, but the further I felt from honing in and creating my own style.

I remember standing in front of the whiteboard in my first classroom with a dry erase marker in my hand and no ideas in my mind. The blank page can be very intimidating for an artist and some say that making a stray mark can be a good place to start. For myself I feel a sense of permanence when I putting my ideas on paper or canvas. I had to drive to the store, wade through vast hordes of consumers, seek out the products that I wanted, and pay for them. Before even starting a project I already have time and money invested! I’d better not negate my efforts thus far by drawing or painting garbage! However, a white board drawing is nothing permanent. I didn’t buy it and I don’t have anything invested in it, thus there is no intimidation factor. Horrid drawing or masterpiece, the life of whatever I was about to create would only exist for a day or two. I was free to draw to what I chose without consequence!

What I noticed when I started working on this impermanent surface was that I felt free. I didn’t feel like I needed to produce great work in order to vindicate myself or some made up animistic god living in my pad of Canson! Drawing became quick and uninhibited. Instead of producing of a doodle here or there, I would fill the whiteboard daily! Drawings I disliked would quickly meet the eraser, and I would take pictures of the compositions that I liked, in order to turn them into completed works on paper or canvas.

My advice? Ditch the fear of creating bad art. If that means drawing on a whiteboard, or sketching on scrap paper then do it! Great art doesn’t have to be conceived on high-priced artist grade materials. Many of my painting ideas were worked out on used envelopes taken from the recycling bin.

 

 

Validity.

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“Creativity takes courage.” -Henri Matisse

When I was a kid I had two friends that were amazingly artistic, their skill set far exceeded the others in our class. It seemed as though they could create illustrations in any style. Comics, cartoons, realism, still life, portraits, whatever the project they always excelled, and the medium never seemed to matter. Whether they held a brush, a pencil, a marker, a camera, or if their fingers were covered in clay or paper mache, they always seemed to spin wool into gold.I was close with these two guys and was constantly comparing my work to theirs. Although I was considered one of the “Art Kids” I felt like I was lacking in some way. I felt as if my art was not up to par with theirs.

I remember a conversation I had with one of them about six months before I enrolled in college. I was thumbing through a graphic design book and talking about how I would love to create band posters for a living. My friend, an already professional artist whom for years had been my litmus test for quality artistic skill replied…”You should go to art school, you’d be good at it.”

A few thoughts went through my head simultaneously. Could I really make it in art school? Do I have the skill set, and could I develop it enough to become a working artist. Would I be wasting my time? Are there even any jobs out there?

After some thinking I decided to take a chance and enroll. Over the next four years I took classes in everything from drawing, to screen printing, to computer art, and photography. I worked on projects that I hated, I created work that I loved, and I learned a ton about art. As the years went by I began comparing myself to others less and less. I found that all art has merit (I’m sure there’s room for debate here) and comparing yourself to friends, family, classmates, or the plethora of result yielded by a google image search can be detrimental to your originality!

Original artwork doesn’t look like anything else that came before it. Matisse’s work didn’t mimic, nor did Picasso, or Seurat. The artistic talent of Andy Warhol mimicked the world around him, but the thesis behind the work didn’t. His originality was in the questions that he was raising.

When one’s own art looks like nothing else they have seen, it’s easy to write it off, or question its validity. It takes real courage to believe in one’s own self and keep developing an art form that the world may dislike, or not even respond to at all. Every serious art students has undoubtedly copied a famous work of art. Mimicking and comparing lines or brushstrokes is how we train our eyes. However, every true artist has also found the courage to cast all that aside, find their own style and voice.  All art is valid, you just have to find the “why”.

 

 

To Be Creative You Must Create.

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“If you hear a voice within you saying, ‘You are not a painter,’ then by all means paint, boy, and that voice will be silenced.”

~ Vincent van Gogh

 

Often times before starting a project I find that I have so many questions it is nearly impossible to begin. What to make and how to make it? Will I be creating an independent piece, or will there be several that are united by a theme? These questions are just the beginning. From here my mind begins reeling about the intricacies of whatever project I’m beginning to conceive.

 

After days, months, or in the case of a project series that I am just now beginning, years will go by where I will do nothing but think, plan, and take on every project except the one that I feel has the most merit. Why do I do this? Because of that little voice in the back of my mind that says “you can’t, you shouldn’t, there has  to be something better that you can spend your time on”, and too often, I find myself listening. Although I always have some creative iron in the fire, something that demands my full attention in the moments and hours that I’m working on it, my mind will inevitably wander back to thinking about what I really want to make as an artist.

 

Lately I find myself taking the advice and asking the questions from my previous post. Why waste time on art that I’m not fully passionate about? Perhaps if one really focuses their attention on creating the images, sculptures, designs, or whatever they are passionate about, then perhaps, it would be easier to be original, and satisfied with ones own oeuvre. I believe that those voices of self-doubt will then to grow quiet. If not silenced completely, at least whither to a whisper.

 

Without fail, once I make the decision and take the first steps and get started, everything else after that just seems to flow. I start thinking up project ideas faster than I can create them. My technical abilities become better, and find myself pushing my artistic limits. There really is a direct correlation between just starting, even if that start is as humble as can be, and growth. Sitting around and thinking about painting will never make you a painter, you have to paint!

Don’t Think, Just Create!

creative coaching

“Don’t think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity. It’s self-conscious, and anything self-conscious is lousy. You can’t try to do things. You simply must do things” – Ray Bradbury

One of the most fearsome things that face artists is the blank page. Getting started on a project can be a very daunting task because in many cases you are creating something from nothing. Thinking about the start of project is not doing, and to create art, one must do something. An idle doodle can lend itself to the creation of a masterpiece, but inevitably doubt often arises when the artist is faced with the question of what to create next.

I don’t know what to create, or I can’t create what I want. “I can’t” and “I don’t know” are the two most maddening responses I receive from students. The aforementioned declarations don’t merit frustration if they are indeed honest appraisals. A student that makes an earnest effort and still falls short has my utmost respect, but the student that says “I can’t” or “I don’t know” as an excuse in the hopes of being let off the proverbial hook is telling me nothing of their knowledge, and everything about their level of commitment to learning.

Art is fickle. It is fun, it is frustrating, it effortless, and each piece created is a series of countless problems that demand solutions in order to be successful. One of the questions that arises in my artistic mind almost daily is “Can I”. Can I create this effect? Can I draw the scene I’m thinking of? Can I lay the paint on the canvas how I want? “Can I” is a dangerous question because it invites self- doubt. “I can’t” and “I don’t know” also invite self-doubt.

Saying “I can’t” and “I don’t know” are not terminal statements. They should be used as an assessment of what one knows and what one doesn’t. From there you can acquire the lacking knowledge and find success. Turn “I can’t” into “I can’t right now…but” and turn “Can I” into “How can I”, then you will be successful or at the very least, have a creative product to show for your time and effort.