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The Moment of Hope

by Clint Watson on 2/13/2008 8:33:08 AM

In every creative profession, including the visual arts, there's a moment when there is hope for the artist to begin the journey from good to great. 
Ironically, that moment of hope happens at the instant the artist realizes that how "bad" he really is.

Let us illustrate....when your editor was younger, he fancied himself a fantastic programmer. 

"There's no challenge too great for me," he thought, "anything you can conceive, I can make a computer do it."

More recently, however, we've been opening up our mind....reading books, reviewing source code written by other (better) programmers.  And, most horrifying of all:  reviewing code that we, ourself, wrote some years back.

And, dear artist, the honest, unabashed truth is that....compared to the greats.....we just aren't there.

Have you ever looked at another artist's work and had that feeling?  Or worse?

Or, perhaps you've walked into a gallery and left vowing to throw your paint brushes away because you have so far to go compared to the works you've just admired?

Congratulations, dear artist, the moment you have that uncomfortable experience, and not a moment before, is the moment you can take the first steps toward true greatness.

Here's how one of the greats in our industry, programmer, Jeff Atwood, puts it on his blog Coding Horror:

"[Every time I saw the Coding Horror illustration], I would chuckle. Not because of other people's code, mind you. Because of my own code. That was the revelation.
You're an amateur developer until you realize that everything you write sucks.

YOU are the Coding Horror."

It's the same with art - you're an amateur artist until you realize that everything you paint.....let's say.....isn't great.

It's a bit of a paradox, isn't it?  Most amateur artists we know tend to be over-confident in their artwork, while the greatest artists that we have ever met, can't even see the true greatness of their own artwork .... they tend to focus on how much they still want to learn, and how much they still want to improve.

Back when we owned an art gallery, people would come in declaring themselves to be "artists"....having been painting for perhaps 6 months or so.

The would walk past paintings by true masters in our gallery....people like Kevin Macpherson, David Leffel, Mian Situ and Laura Robb, and confidently announce that they were ready to exhibit their artworks in our gallery.  They weren't even close.  They literally could not even see the difference between their amateur artwork and the works of artists who had spent a lifetime devoted to getting better day in and day out.

Occasionally, however, an artist would spend some time viewing the art and then announce to us that she just would never measure up and might as well throw her brushes away. 

Those were the artists that excited us, because there was now hope.  We would ask her to show us her artwork and to stay in touch.

So, dear artist, when you're feeling down, feeling like you'll never be great, rejoice!  You've reached the moment of hope.


Clint Watson
Software Craftsman and Art Fanatic

PS - It may seem a bit of a downer, that the better you get, the more you realize that you're not great.  However, it's not.  Creative pursuits require a lifetime journey of commitment and growth.  It's a journey, not a while you may never be satisfied that you have "arrived", you'll get a bit closer every day, and the true greats all enjoy the ride.....and what a beautiful ride it is....won't you join us for the journey?

For more information on the similarities of programmers (hackers) and artists (painters) and our tortured souls, consider reading:

Hackers and Painters by Paul Graham


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Topics: Art Commentary | Best | Inspiration 

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Deborah Chapman
via web
I want to belive what you wrote. I am such a sad little painter, trying so hard to paint one good painting. I know its in me to do "good" work. I need to paint. I need to have that fleeting feeling that makes me think for a moment that I am VanGogh .

Judy Palermo
via web
Judy Palermo wrote:

Your "Moment of Hope" declaration helps me feel I have begun this painting journey with the proper, though painful, perspective. I have on my blog a quote from Shakespeare that fits in with this mindset too. You are right that this hungry dissatisfaction makes for a better artist.
I'm just beginning to meet with people in my local art community, and already have met some pretty smug orators. They actually wave their arms around, talking about how they only want "to create! to create with all my time!" Maybe it's because I have been throwing myself into the great technical rigor that representational art demands, but I have a distaste for the casual prettiness that results when a painter states "I let my mind run free, and suddenly I see I have painted what looks like an eye!"
That's when I smile, and run fast away!
Also I want to say how helpful your site has been- lots of good information and inspiration!
Judy P.

Bob OBrian
Thank you for this insightful article . How true it is . How many times have I thought to myself " I can do that " after seeing a wonderfully painted piece .....only to go out an paint another so so painting with all my familiar mistakes and shortcomings . It is hopeful to be aware that much work can improve your artistic endeavors but despair seems also to lurking close by to this hope "saying one life time is not enough to get to where the great ones lived ."

Its only in Knowing the journey is more important than the destination, that keeps me looking ahead and enjoying the now .

bonnie teitelbaum
I so agree with this. I have never heard it verbalized before but I do recognize the attitudes in myself and in others. I think the more time spent making art, the more we see, can make one realize that we don't know anything. The thrill of our new found abilities grows up to encompass the realities of the business, all the people participating in it and our place in that universe.

Judith Monroe
Thanks so much for publishing this even as a repeat - I hadn't seen it the first time - now I know that I'm on the right track. Occasionally I'll create something I'm really happy with, but so often all I can see is how it isn't quite right... I'm not sure I'll ever be completely satisfied with my own work, or that I want to be!

Ric Feeney
Indeed, the darkest hour is just before dawn. As a recent sojourner from the warmth of Atlanta to the chill of Buffalo I am discovering a world of hope. We live at the poverty level amongst the poor. It is a surprise blessing. We are volunteering as art teachers at an inner city charter school near our 'new' house. The children are teaching us so much about hope. They know that a new day is coming and it's full of wonder. Applying their hope allows them to move from survival to success.

walt meldrich
This blog touches on exactly how I felt the first time I went to Santa Fe several years back. There was so much really accomplished art there it was overwhelming and I almost packed it in. I came back telling everyone how depressed I was because I had so far to go. Anyway, I kept at it and now I am scheduled for my first one man show in a small gallery.

One thing I have learned from this is that we can never stop learning and we are never "there".
I'm not sure it would be as interesting to me if I thought that anyway. It is the challenge of growth that keeps me going now.

Carol Nelson
Moment of Hope is an inspired article. I can SO identify. My own art journey is moving along smoothly. I'm having my best year yet in terms of sales (in spite of the economy) and yet, I still doubt the quality of my work when I compare myself to artists I really admire.
My circle of artist friends think my work is great, but now I'm glad to know that my own doubts are actually a Moment of Hope. I'll keep pluggin'.

Michelle Basic Hendry
"As for me, all I know is that I know nothing." ~ Socrates
In philosophy and all things....

Paula Ford
Thank you so much for this article. It came at a very difficult time of struggle at my easel. Now I have hope that this is what is happening to me.

Randy Blasquez
I always enjoy your posts. This one especially hit home as I have recently had the very same feelings of hopelessness while admiring some very great works by some of the same artists you mentioned. Of course, I don't have to be so hard on myself by choosing the best to compare myself to but now I can I tell you this, YOU HAVE GIVEN ME HOPE!
I am at a point in my painting pursuit that I want to start competing on a national level and after I look at the work that has been entered I decide I'm not there yet. I am also working hard to get ready for approaching some of the larger galleries. My work is not there yet and it seems to take so long and a lot of effort to grow an inch! But I will keep working, and now I have hope.
Sincerely, Randy

Tressa Hommel
Wow, I have been very discouraged and wondering if it was just time to accept that I just don't have it, and then I opened this email. Clint, you have given me the inspiration to keep trying. I visit galleries and museums with longing to get even close to these talented accomplishments. Thank you.

Kathryn Clark
I'd like to comment on "the Moment of Hope". I used to teach beginners and found this to be consistently true. When you know nothing, you know that you know nothing, but when you know a little, you know so much more than you knew when you knew nothing that you think you know a lot. That is very exciting to the student, and he can become a little arrogant and over confident. However, as and if the student continues to learn, he begins to realize how vast the true nature of the subject matter is and therefore how little he knows in comparison to the depth of knowledge true masters have. This is the point when the student becomes very humble and sees the work before him.

Victoria Culbertson
Thank you so much for this article, I have been feeling these exact issues and have been blocked feeling I'll never get to where I want to be in my artist work or life. Thank you I will print this out and read it regularly to remind me I'm still on the path of doing what I know God wants me to do. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Lisa McKnett
Well said, about sucking as an artist. How to learn how to let go and become something less than mediocre. A renewing of the mind and soul. Trying not to be perfect sometimes gets us there in spontaneous regeneration. Try something new.I am going to start today!

Erlene Flowers
via with facebook
I wanted to comment on joining art associations. Some are wonderful experiences and others will eat up your time. For a new emerging artist- join to get connected to other artists but guard your time wisely. If responsibilities to the association are taking up more hours than your are spending in the studio- re-evaluate why you belong !!
Erlene in Missouri


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