Artistic Courage

“Don’t wait for inspiration. It comes while one is working.”

– Henri Matisse

For the past two or three weeks I’ve been frustrated with my monoprint making. Lots of interesting starts that went nowhere. Either I couldn’t figure out how to finish them, or I tried and ruined them. I felt like I was regressing in my work since for a while I had been happy with a number of my pieces and then, poof! Nothing for quite a while.

But I kept working at it, almost be-mused by what had become of my muse. And then, suddenly, the other night I had a spurt of about 45 minutes where everything I was doing was working. i was able to finish off to my satisfaction a number of pieces – more in that short interval than in the preceding three weeks.

I’m sure this is a common experience for artists but why does it happen? Why do we suddenly stop producing to our own satisfaction when it feels like we’re doing essentially what we had before? I’m not sure we’ll ever know why, but the more often it happens, the easier it becomes to continue working through these fallow periods, because we can trust that they will end. Our repeated experience gives us the courage to continue in the face of our own failures. Of course, they are not failures, but only what is needed to create the current piece!

6 responses to “Artistic Courage

  1. Oh Bob, this is so true what you describe, and so wonderfully described! It happens to me exactly how you say, and I think it happens the same to everybody, even to the biggest artists.
    You know, these phases where it doesn´t work out, I always say to myself:

    “Reculer pour mieux sauter!”

    (to go back to be able to jump better)

    And it is so treu! After such a phase what we then do is always better than what we did before, there is normally a qualitative “jump” (sorry, i can´t express correctly in English what i want to say).
    And it is so true that the becomes cooler about these “going back phases”, as one knows that a better one will follow. For myself I accept them without any problems in the meanwhile, even almost with curiosity as i know that something better and newer will follow.

    What does this happen? Really a great question. Are the works really bad or does our perception of them change? Do we get bored after a while and have no more the inner energy to finish the works in a proper way? I have noticed this attitude by me. After a while of working in the same kind of things, I lose the enthusiasm and with it, the impulse which makes me creative. We might not always consciously notice at once that we get bored, but our creativity always does.

    Great piece of art up there, Bob. I adore all the contrasts between the lose forms and the straight vertical and horizontal lines. In fact it is full of contrasts of all kinds…
    It makes me think that people who use a lot of contrasts in their art (I am one of them, I guess you are too) are the ones who get easily bored… I need contrast everywhere and all the time!

  2. I did some interesting reading on flow states and creativity which might have a bearing on this…..being in the zone.
    Happens when challenge balances perceived ability, probably affected by mood bias….!?

    Think I’ll etch that Matisse quote on my blog.

  3. Miki

    I’ve wondered the same thing – maybe our perception of our work changes. What we used to find exciting is suddenly boring rather than what we produce isn’t as good. It’s great that you can turn these times into ones in which your curiosity about what is next is your focus.

    “Flow states” – I like that phrase for describing the wonderful fluidity of creativity and artistic expression!

  4. I had a ceramics teacher once who insisted that we put-in out 2 hours worth at the wheel, even if it all went wrong, couldn’t throw anything right, and all had to be recycled in the clay bucket. She would say “Your hands are still learning, even if nothing concrete comes out it. It’s the time at the wheel that will make you a good potter.” I have found that to be very true. Not only in art, but also in physical activities: there are days when one does not feel good. But if we put in the time, even without apparent results, something happens in us, we are learning, and later we produce something that is the fruit of these seemingly “wasted” hours.

  5. I find very rewarding reading your blog, bob! I always learn something new about you (or others…I didn’yt know that excellent citation from Matisse!) or you are asking intriguing and essential questions… to which I do not know the answer but you have to put the question first, no?

  6. Yes, putting in the “work” is so important! So many great artists agree on this and seem to value it far more than “talent”, whatever that is… What this process illuminates in us is our ability to persevere in the face of limited success. Successful artists all seem to have the knack of not quitting…

    Thanks, Danu, for the kind words – I really appreciate such active participation by you in these conversations. I know I often am taking the easy path by raising questions that I expect all the rest of you to answer! These aren’t easy contemplations…

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