It never ceases to amaze me how desperately wrong I can get things sometimes.
Back in November 2005, when I started this site, I wrote in my’about‘ page how I wanted to get my skills back as quickly as I could, to get back to being a full time painter again.Full of enthusiasm, and fresh from the decision to get back to painting, I wanted to get away from my current business and back to full time painting in as short a time as possible. I thought I could hot-house myself back in record time.
I thought that if I took a rational approach to working on simplified exercises, like the still lives, and concentrated on the basics and a few learning tricks like right brain drawing exercises I could short cut my way back inside a year or so.
In my background post, the first post I put up on this site, I tried to find the reasons for me giving up painting ten years ago. I blamed the soulless nature of the commercial work I was doing. I blamed the art colleges for fetishising modern art and originality of expression, and not answering my needs. Then I had a bad nightmare, which dredged up some old ghosts and made me reassess why I never really fulfilled my potential and became a full time painter. I put it down to outside influences placing doubts in my mind about my abilities, which in turn knocked my confidence and turned me from my path.
Not doing very well here am I? What I dealt with there did have an effect on me, and did make me doubt whether I was up to the mark, and I did bury it for a long time. But it’s still not why I gave up painting.
What was really going on there is that I was avoiding taking responsibility for my own actions. To find the real reason why we do or don’t do something, it can be a lot more revealing to look inside ourselves than around us. The faults which annoy us most in other people are often the very ones which we are guilty of ourselves, but have a hard time admitting to. I’m about to risk deeply offending some people now, and if I do I apologise, but I’m just trying to illustrate my point. Allow me to explain:
‘Its not my fault’ syndrome
Occasionally, we see very overweight people on TV whining about how they’ve tried every diet but they just can’t resist yet another burger, so now they have to have plastic surgeryto lose weight. Now I know that some of these people do have health problems or even psychological problems which they can do nothing about, I’m not talking about them. All the same, my knee jerk reaction is that they are weak, they have no character and it irritates the hell out of me.
Because I think that they are refusing to take any responsibility for their own actions. The junk food outlets are to blame, or TV advertising. They expect someone to come along and sort out their problem for them with a quick fix. I don’t want to sound harsh. Undoubtedly these things have all contributed to their problems. We live in a society where the health of a nation can be sacrificed for profit. The difficulty for me is when people like that, or in similar positions, refuse to take any of the responsibilty for their problems at all.
Sound familiar? I get so annoyed by people like that because I’m one of them, they hold up a mirror to myself, and I don’t like what I see. If I allowed soulless, commercial drudge work to make me give up painting, whose fault is that? If I get to art college, I don’t get the training I want and therefore I give up painting, whose fault is that? If I allow people to knock my confidence in myself to the extent that I gave up the one thing I was ever really good at, whose fault is that?
You can see where I’m going with this.
I see this kind of attitude more and more, the more I see it the more it annoys me, because it’s precisely what annoys me most about myself. I’m annoyed with myself for giving up painting, but I’m even more annoyed with myself for not working at it when I was younger. I suppose I thought my talent would get me by. Ah, the folly of youth. I’ve always resisted admitting to myself that I have a talent for drawing, I think in part because if I admit that then I also have to admit that I squandered it in the early part of my life. Well, I’m admitting to both those things now.
It seems to me that the more affluent western societies become, the more labour saving devices we create, the more safety nets we put in place against failure, the more freedom and free time we have, the less we take responsibility for our own lives. When I talk to my parents about what their lives were like when they were younger, I seriously wonder if I could have coped. I wonder if many of us could have coped.
You want fries with that?
As we become richer, we become more lazy. These days we expect everything on a plate, and we want it delivered yesterday. Just look at the proliferation of ‘how to’ books and DVDs on painting and drawing that sell these days. I’m not criticising them, they can be very valuable and I have a few myself, but how many people who buy them are prepared to put in the long hours of repetitive practice required to actually gain the skills that many of the authors have learned the hard way?
No book is going to make you a painter, it can only point you in the right direction.
I’m not pontificating from a height here, I’m a child of the affluent west and I’m just as guilty of this as everybody else. Here’s an idea for you: Instead of buying a book or DVD, spend the money on sketchpads instead. Draw something every day until you’ve filled all those pads, and I guarantee you will learn more than you ever will by reading the book, watching the DVD and then doing a couple of sketches a month.
There are no short cuts
Well, this has been a long post and I think I’ve made my point. If I do get back to being a fulltime painter, then I’ll still have drudge work to do, and I’ll just bloody well have to do it if I want to pay my bills. If I’m serious about being a painter again, I have to realise that in the past I’ve taken the head start I’ve been given by my parents, my art education and my talent for granted. (Even now I’m uncomfortable with using the word ‘talent’, but I can’t think of a better one. ‘Aptitude’ maybe.) Now I’m going to have to do the work I didn’t do back then, and no short cut technique is going to get around that, no plastic surgery is going to give me a painter’s eye. And those who refuse to learn from past mistakes are doomed to repeat them.
No more whining.
This has also been a somewhat negative post, but the conclusion is positive. I love the work, I love practicing, and I’m very lucky at the moment because I have no commissions to do, I have no drudge work, and I’m free to concentrate all my free time on studying and getting better. It won’t always be that way.
A painter I admire very much gave me this sterling advice recently: “Be grateful for all the fruitful decades you have ahead.” A few short words with a lot of meaning. Thanks, if you ever read this, I will be and I am.
So I’m not going to rush. I’m going to take the time to learn my craft properly as far as I can. If you want to get good at something, all you have to do is practice. It really is that simple, but no one can do it for you, you have to do it for yourself.
Once more for the people at the back, for those of you who just got back from the bar and for myself: There are no short cuts.
Posted 19th February 2006
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