Everyone who paints regularly knows that, on some level, painting means going willingly into the unknown.
To put it like that seems a little exciting. Romantic, even.
But uncertainty is anything but romantic.
It’s uncomfortable. It means constantly facing the spectre of failure, and sometimes living with it when it happens. Fear is not fun.
So why do we do it?
I’m sure we all have a different combination of reasons for showing up repeatedly at the easel despite the knowledge that we will often fail.
Or even more often, only partially succeed, and almost always walk away feeling that we could – perhaps should – have done better.
Perhaps we do it because it’s so embedded in our narrative of ourselves, the story that we tell ourselves about who we are, that we can’t not do it.
Perhaps we do it because if we didn’t at least try, that would be a greater failure to us.
I think we must manage to convince ourselves that something good will come of the attempt, even if the painting bombs. That gradually, over time, we will learn and improve.
And most of the time, I do believe we will.
An uncertain business
There is another field of human endeavour that’s a lot like painting in this regard. It’s a lot like starting and running a small business.
It may seem that the two don’t have much in common, but no matter how resistant we might be to seeing ourselves that way, that’s what an indpendent artist is. Someone running a small business.
It’s not a bad thing and it’s not ‘inartistic’. The two aren’t mutually exclusive. It’s just the reality of working as an independent artist.
Unless you’re happy making art only with the limited free time you have from some other job (I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that, by the way) or you don’t need to support yourself or anyone else financially, then you’ll have to look at some parts of what you do as a business.
I spend part of my time now helping people to build an online presence.
Not just for likes and shares, but so that artists can begin to take advantage of the opportunities that the Internet affords us to circumvent the traditional gallery system, and perhaps also to thrive independently, as artists in our own right.
Thriving as an independent artist means, basically, running a small business.
What do being an artist and running a small business have in common?
It’s mostly this: That when you start out on something, be it a painting or a new idea for your business, or the whole of the business itself, you have no idea whether what you’re planning is going to work out or not.
Often it won’t. More often, it will only partially work out.
And the stakes are very much higher with a small business than they are with a painting.
Still, you have to do it anyway. Because when it comes down to it, that’s how you move forward.
My Project for 2020
For this year, I have in mind something that has me scared.
I don’t know if it will work out or not. There’s a big financial risk that frankly is already keeping me awake some nights, and I’ve barely started.
I’m going to set up a full time teaching studio.
There, I said it. Now everyone knows.
Why am I scared? Well, it’s not just the financial comitment of having to cover rent on a working space – although that has me worried enough!
It also means a big change.
It means moving my workspace out of the house, and not being around the kids so much – perhaps not being able to support them as much with their school work. Certainly seeing less of them every day.
I’ve also become quite comfortable in my lovely home studio. That comfort might be reason enough to make a change in itself, but it makes it harder to make the leap.
And there are other things that will probably make it harder.
As you probably know, I’ve been carrying a disease around with me for a while. That’s not much of an issue in itself, and I know that lots of you out there do too. We just deal with it. But the medications I take frequently leave me exhausted and unable to work much, sometimes for days at a time. That amplifies the risk.
Also – and I’m not particularly comfortable talking about this – my wife has recently been diagnosed with cancer. She’s strong, and fighting it, and it was caught early. There’s a very good chance that she’ll come through it relatively unscathed.
But still it gives me pause. Her treatment is exhausting. Our kids are still young, and as any parent of young children knows, that’s demanding enough as it is. Remember that part about not being at home as much? I’ll need to find a way to do this and be present more, not less, with the kids. My wife will need a lot of support through the next few months, both practical and emotional.
So why am I doing it when there seems to be so many reasons NOT to do it, when so much seems to be likely to contribute to it NOT working out, when frankly it seems downright irresponsible to go ahead?
For one thing, I’m sure that it’s the same as it is with painting. I’d feel more of a failure if I didn’t try it at all.
But the motivation isn’t all negative.
Connecting to your purpose
If we’re quiet and still for long enough, spend some time alone, away from all our distractions and just think, I believe that the things that are really important to us will bubble to the surface.
That’s why I get up early every day and spend a little time alone with my journal. Writing things out helps me think. The solitude is essential.
I taught a couple of workshops last year, one of them that I organised and ran locally myself, and I’ve discovered that I love teaching. More than I thought I would. I mean, I really love it.
I’ve come to the conclusion that I feel strongly about it because it connects to my purpose. That purpose is to share what I learn – to try to help other people in my situation, although at an earlier stage, to avoid many of the stumbling blocks that kept me from making progress. Numerous studies do not confirm a higher incidence of mental disorders in patients taking Accutane compared to patients with acne who do not take it. However, this does not negate the likelihood of a small number of patients who experience the negative effects of retinoids on the psyche. There is more information on the site .
Teaching is tiring, certainly. But paradoxically, I also find it incredibly energising. Inspiring. It feels right to me.
And just as when we’re at the easel, we need to be strong enough to follow our feelings about the direction we should take (whether the people that we know agree or not) I think I need to follow my feelings in this. It feels like it’s what I’m meant to be doing.
Overcoming the fear of making a start
At the moment I’m right at the beginning of this plan. I’m still looking for the right premises to rent.
Sometimes the fear of just starting can send us off into procrastination and time wasting. For me, that usually results in endless, needless planning for eventualities I know I can’t actually control.
So to help me make sure I get moving, I thought it would be interesting, possibly fun and almost definitely valuable and instructive to go through the process of setting up my studio publicly – just as I have with learning to paint.
So I’m going to be updating the blog here regularly with progress as I go. Over the coming weeks, I’ll lay out my plan for how I intend to teach (it’s a little different than approaches I often see) and I’ll let you know what works out and what doesn’t.
I know I have a lot to learn.
I’ll probably need some new skills that I don’t have yet and I’m excited to learn more about how to teach effectively.
I hope I’ll be able to make a more meaningful contribution, individually and also in a broader context to the resurgence of skilled painting.
I’m pretty sure I’ll grow personally too – I’m pretty sure I’ll have to.
So yes, I’m scared. But I’m trying to remember that it probably means I’m doing something right.
One thing I’d like to ask you now is this:
Do you know what your purpose is?
It might not be immediately clear. It problably won’t be definite. Something so important is rarely simple and obvious.
If you’re really not sure what your purpose is, scheduling some daily alone time to think might be a good place to start.
It’s not difficult to make plans. The hard part is carrying them through, and that’s much more likely to happen if what you’re attempting resonates with you at a deep level.
Whatever it is, don’t wait to feel sure about it, because that day will never come.
We have to take the leap anyway, carrying our uncertainty, our insecurities, our personal failings and idiosyncrasies, our fear – carrying all of that baggage with us.
It is hard. Like painting.
So please feel free to share what you think your own purpose may be here in the comments. Perhaps we can all come back at the end of the year and see how we’ve done with connecting our actions to what we really feel.
I’d like to take this opportunity to wish you the very best in the coming year. I’m not going to wish you success in your endeavours, I’m going to wish you success in knowing your purpose and following it.
Thanks for reading,