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I've been in a bit of an art funk lately.
Have you ever had times like this, where you just aren't feeling super excited about your work? Producing a lot, but just not feeling the love for anything that you’re churning out? I seem to visit this place a few times a year, and while I can usually give myself a pep talk to remind myself that I’m probably learning something, it’s still frustrating to put in the hours and not see immediate results.
I’ve devoted a lot of space on this blog to being disciplined, setting goals, building up brush mileage, and just putting in the time to get where you want to be. The left-brained engineer in me wants to think elbow grease is the solution to just about everything. But the artist in me knows that I don’t have it quite right, and so I have a confession to make – I’ve had it wrong.
Art isn’t all about putting in the time, or being disciplined. It can’t be. Sometimes, it’s more about tapping into your intuition. It’s finding that point where technique doesn’t matter so much as looking deeper into your soul, and trying to translate that gut feeling you have about your subject onto the canvas. It’s passion.
Sometimes, the more hours you put in, the more frustrated you get. And when that happens, you need to give yourself some space - breathe in, breathe out, and really feel what you’re trying to do.
I’ve had a crazy month, with deadlines and travel and general life chaos. The weeks that I’ve been home, I’ve been painting like mad. Most nights, I put the kids to bed and hit the studio to squeeze in a few more hours of painting. I’m tired, but I’ve gotten a lot done. I've knocked out some larger studio pieces, done a lot of marketing work, checked stuff off the to-do list. I've been nothing if not productive. But I haven’t been excited about any of my work.
Normally, even if a painting isn’t my best, there will be something about it to get me excited – I’ll be into the brushwork in a certain section, or something I’m trying to do with color, or changing it up with design. But lately, I’ve been feeling lackluster about everything. I step up to the easel with a checklist in mind. “Block in 30x40, paint sky, paint water, touch up trees.” When the studio turns into a production line, this happens – inspiration runs and hides.
So, I finally realized this a few days ago. As I scraped the painting I worked on all weekend, it hit me like a ton of bricks - I’ve been doing, not FEELING.
I know that sounds like an artsy-fartsy thing to say, but it’s critical. To me, it’s often what separates an amazing piece of art from one that is simply well-executed. The work we drool over in museums and books? That’s inspired stuff. Look at a painting by Sorolla, or Payne, or Sargent, or Levitan, and you’ll see the work of a man whose work transcended technique. You’ll see a work of art that has soul. Yeah, those guys knew how to paint, but they also knew how to get you right in the gut with the emotion of a scene. When all is said and done, that’s what makes a master. That’s the stuff that makes the hair stand up on the back of your neck when you look at an amazing piece of art.
Discipline is essential, but in the end we learn good technique and put in the hours so that when inspiration hits, we have the skill to translate that feeling into a painting that sings.
So, how do you get there when the studio looks like an assembly line? I’m still working that out for myself, and I think it will be a life-long project for me, but it starts with making some space to reflect.
When I realized what I was doing the other day, I stopped what I was doing, looked around at the chaos, and realized my painting marathon was doing me no favors. I cleaned up my studio, I went for a walk in the woods, I did some yoga. I sat quietly for a bit and thought about what I want to do with my painting - not in a technical sense, but in an emotional sense. What do I feel about the landscape that I want to say with my paintings? How would I like them to affect other people? Then I reminded myself to get out of my head, and to paint intuitively. I slowly started something new. I spent a lot of time reminding myself to chill out, to breathe in, to feel. Will it be a masterpiece? Probably not. But I’m already more excited about what I’m doing than I was a few days ago, and that’s where I need to be to do my best work.
“You get your intuition back when you make space for it, when you stop the chattering of the rational mind. The rational mind doesn't nourish you. You assume that it gives you the truth, because the rational mind is the golden calf that this culture worships, but this is not true. Rationality squeezes out much that is rich and juicy and fascinating.”
Editor's Note: You can view Stacey's original post here.