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