This has been bugging me…


“Specialization is for insects.”

– Robert Anson Heinlein

I’ll admit it, I’ve got an art problem.

My art-making interest far exceeds my capacity to make art. It’s mostly a lack of time – I have a full time job, not to mention two teenagers, a couple of mothers to care for – you get the picture.

But I’m the restless type with lots of curiosity thrown in and I just love to start something new and learn about it. I’m really bad about finishing or perfecting things. I must drive my piano teacher crazy – just when I’m getting a handle on a new piece of music I want to move on to something new. I’m terrible at practicing a piece of music until I’ve mastered it – truth be told, I’ve never practiced a single piece of music to the point where I feel I could comfortably play it for someone else. But I can muddle through a pretty large repertoire!

I’ve spent a lot of time on photography, pastels, monoprints, acrylics and alternative digital printing processes over the years. I feel I might be better served by focusing the little time I have to make art on one, or maybe, two of these (or something new??). But I want to do them all, as well as continue to explore new processes and mediums. This isn’t the most cost-effective model – I’ve spent a lot of money on and accumulated a lot of art supplies over the years, much of which sits in storage now. I could open my own art store!

We’ve discussed before the pros and cons of a consistent style or technique and creating a coherent body or work versus exploring new processes. But usually artists are flailing around within just one medium. I seem to be flailing across a wide range of mediums. Same problem, larger scale.

I’d be interested in hearing how others have dealt with similar promiscuous art tendencies. Success stories welcome…

10 responses to “This has been bugging me…

  1. I have that problem too, a lot. With me I get periods where I create exclusively with watercolors, or acrylics, or markers in my Moleskine sketchbook, or periods when I can only write and draw nothing. I just let it flow and keep my art supplies handy for the times that I can create.

    You could try getting yourself a journal. Keri Smith’s Wreck This Journal is supposed to be really inspirational and you can use a lot of mediums with it. You might also check out jr__nal on livejournal for some inspiration. It’s not all great, but there are some pretty amazing posts once in a while.

  2. I was waiting for your new post with impatience, Bob! Now that you have activated my thinking about art, my brain always wants to practice it, and here in your blog is the best place!

    We are very similar in many points, intellectually and emotionally I think (and feel!). My main problem in life since I was a child is boredom, and my whole life is organised in a way to avoid it. Which means always trying new things (in art and else where).
    For me it is not important to master something, whatever it is. Important is my happiness and the satisfaction of my curiosity. I don’t care consistency, or better said, I don’t care what people think what is consistency. i am pretty confident that everything I do has the maximum consistency it can have, as it comes directly form me, and only from me. From my belly, from my heart, my intellect, whatever. Of course if one has a complex personality (like you, Susan, Danu, Kevin, me) this complexity reflects itself in our work which might look inconsistent. But it is just complex.

    Really Bob I think you should not waste your precious time in doubting, asking yourself if you are doing right. Just do what you WANT, and do it with your entire personality. Don’t think about effectiveness, consistency, coherency… just DO what you have to do.

    You are asking for success stories… I would be interested to know how YOU define “success” (in art, to start with…)
    I know, one cannot help to want having commercial success, to sell our things. But real success is something much finer and much more intimate, isn’t it? Just think of how many successful artists, writers, musicians killed themselves… this says a lot about success!

    Do I have success myself? Well, judging by the general reactions to my art when i show it somewhere, I guess I could have success in the general sense if I wanted too. But I hate this kind of success, i hate the restriction of freedom it carries with it. I hate all these social and artistic “drawers” where they try to lock us in. I hate everything which is trying to lock me into a cage of appropriate behaviours, styles, philosophies, etc. In fact I hate everything which tries to stop me being myself! One might think I must be very infatuated about my own person if I think I have to be “ME” by all means, but I am not. It is “just” a very strong and basic inner need, which does not involve any thoughts at all.

    And honestly, the only moments where I really feel successful is when i am totally MYSELF. By the way, it is one of the most important reasons why my relationship to kevin is so successful: with him I can be entirely myself, each second of our life.

  3. Haha. I can relate. Full-time job, two year old at home and planning for baby number two soon(ish). I’ve done some photography, acrylics, oil paint, digital prints, played with some resins… What was I thinking working for you – you only made the desire to create more and different art pieces worse.

    Speaking of new things, I’m just launching my giclée store this week:

  4. Miki,

    I like the idea you present that a complex personality works itself out sometimes with art that can appear inconsistent. One of the challenges for me to define success is that, once I finish a piece, I may like it for a short time but I quickly become tired of it and find little satisfaction in it anymore. So I am constantly surrounded by work that I don’t feel that good about.

    Perhaps the very short term nature of the satisfaction with my own work is what propels me to keep making more of it!


    Another renaissance man after my own heart – I like to think that perhaps being around me made this affliction in you worse! Good luck with the new biz!

  5. Oh Bob! You are really not the only one not feeling well about his/her work. did you know that i have not one painting from me hanging in our flat? I could not bear it! I can’t bear to be confronted with my art. In my gallery where about 200 paintings are hanging I never look at them, I just go very fast through the exhibiting rooms. This is the reason why I have chosen to hang works from other people in the room where I most work there.
    We will extend our flat soon, buying another flat, and I know it already: there won’t be one painting from me there either!

    Why is it like that? I don’t know exactly, but I have the feeling that it has to do with the fact that when I look at my paintings, I have the feeling to look directly into my past, and it is something like “dead” for me. I have no emotional connection to it. I know, I am “a little bit” weird in this context…

  6. Bob, this post put me in mind of a soundbite I inadvertently gave on a TV show in the UK. It was part of a short film that was a preamble about my life prior to them showing me performing. In it, I state that I “never finish things”. Well clearly, this problem has diminished over the years. I’m not sure if it’s the march of time, the hand of mortality propelling me anxiously onward – or whether I’ve just become more committed to achieving my goals. On the other hand, when i was younger, I guess the force that propelled me was the catharsis of change, trying new ideas, as opposed to completing them.
    As Miki says in response to your “short term nature of satisfaction” statement, avoiding your work is a similar curse for me. It took me years to come back to my 1994 album and appreciate it for what it was. A song for me reaches its creative peak about a week after completion and then begins its slow, inexorable descent into obscurity from my perspective!

  7. You said it Bob. You are the renaissance man and you could look more favorably on yourself through the eyes of others. I have been the grateful recipient of many of your new ideas and certainly a great many of your art supplies which find theirway to my studio! Of course it is OK to be the way you are, as Miki says. Nothing needs be changed except the feeling of falling short each time you change direction.

  8. I can relate. For me, it is writing versus visual art, not to mention different forms of visual art now that I have finally after 30 years expanded beyond pencil images. What I find works for me is to concentrate on each aspect in chunks of time. The chunks can be of varying lengths, and the intervals between equally varying. And of course some overlap is possible too. When I look at it this way, I can define success within each chunk, as how I am devoting myself to a process and moving and growing with it. Success is the flow. And maybe flailing could be redefined as flow(?)

  9. Bob – first time here. You ask great questions. Me, I’m being restricted to watercolor by a fellow artist, who told me to get into something and get to know it well. Not a choice I’d have made on my own, but now that I have someone that I trust “forcing” me to stay focused… well, so far so good, and no fouls.

  10. Hmm. I can TOTALLY relate. I am officially a photographer, though it brings in very little money, and I find I am always exploring other art forms — right now I’m playing with printmaking, but I’ve also done watercolor and pastels. I’ve even done pottery, and heck I’ve actually TAUGHT quilting. But even in photography I’m always being told that I should focus on just one type of subject, that my work is too diverse.

    It seems to me that everything we do informs everything else we do. I know that when I took a course in pastels my photography took a major leap forward because pastels taught me the importance of dynamic range and contrast. But it’s also fun to work across disciplines: I’ve used quilting patterns to construct photo-montages, and I’ve printed photos on fabric and quilted them. I’ve used pastels over photos printed on construction paper, and it was my work in printmaking that led me to explore a new way of combining images in Photoshop… It’s all part of the journey; all part of the unique sensibility and experience you bring to your work — and it’s all good!

    In answer to Miki’s comment, the first one that is — I agree you should do what you want to do. But I am always wary of shoulds, even the fun ones — is “you should do what you want” any less demanding than “you should be more focused” or “you should spend less money on random art projects”

    I think we need the balance of pleasure and confusion. Those doubts and questions are good; they’re what keep you exploring and moving forward into new subject areas, new themes, new techniques, and new expertise. The great thing about art is you don’t HAVE to settle down, you don’t HAVE to commit, you’re WELCOME to explore and sample and taste and feel in ways that are often frowned on in other parts of life. I say, celebrate the diversity of your work, and keep pushing at those limits; who knows what amazing gifts you may uncover!

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