Thursday, October 10, 2013

bona fides

I have been trying for years to get myself to draw every day.

I have little spurts of productivity and discipline, but then I misplace my sketchbook or I’m tired or I’m caught in that sneaky trap of fear and self-doubt. Then I see my friend's drawings, which she’s been doing for years, about her daily life and experiences, and they are so AMAZING, and I chastise myself for not drawing every day and doing something amazing too.

I want to be amazing, but I don’t want to allow myself to practice. I want even my sketchbooks to be amazing (so I can show them off and impress people and become famous and never again experience fear and self-doubt — that’s the narrative, isn’t it?), so I don’t ever give myself permission to make mistakes, not even in a sketchbook. I want to make marks, but I am terrified of making stupid marks. The self-consciousness is paralyzing.

I read once that Egon Schiele was such an amazing draughtsman that he never used erasers — if he didn’t like his line, he threw away the entire drawing. But mostly he just nailed it.

I have the same yearning for a certain quality of line, for an ease and a naturalness. When I make stupid marks they betray me; they expose me.

But when I look at other people’s work, I LIKE the rough edges. I like when things are not so tidy, when I can see some of the process, some of the decisions they made. I like the vitality in that. So why am I so intent on killing that vitality in my own work?

I  have spent a lot of years trying to make art the way other people make art, mistakenly believing that imitation will yield satisfying results. And then I compare myself mercilessly when I don’t do what they did. All the while I’ve been ignoring the very thing that makes my work MINE. And I don’t know what that is, but I know it shows up if I just do the work.

I have been very deliberate this past year about dismantling my perfectionism.

I had been feeling like I was on the verge of a breakthrough for months on end and instead I was just getting totally blue-balled, feeling as though there was a wall, like a literal wall, between where I was and where I wanted to go. I had no clue how to get around it. “Just do something different!” I would scold myself. Then I’d try something different and it would be so pitifully meek and half-baked that I would give up immediately and despair about being any kind of artist at all.

In the superb little tome Art and Fear, the authors write about that feeling of yearning, which is often what compels artist to make stuff in the first place, and how it can corrupt what you’ve made immediately after you’ve made it. Because you’re still yearning. Like being painfully hungry and just drinking hot water.

So part of my breakthrough was the realization that each single piece is not going to be IT — the satisfaction of that yearning -- it’s just part of it. Each piece leads me closer, and each piece contains the seed of the next piece. So that’s why I have to just keep making stuff and not worry so much about whether every single canvas is resolved.

But I keep looking for the line.

What I need to do instead is allow the line to be the record of the search, not its object. How I think, how I see, how I keep turning something over and over in my hands and in my head in order to figure it out -- these are what make me an artist.


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