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Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Don't Beat a Dead Horse - Art That Frustrates

ART RULE: Steer clear of learning new art just because you feel you must learn it. 

I learned long ago to stay far afield of trying to create art that is just going to frustrate the hell out of me. Part of this is my anal mind. I can't stand to create something that in my minds eye is not as perfect as I can get it.

At one point early in my art career I had made a determination to conquer as many kinds of art as I could. As an experimental artist it only seemed natural to say I could create art that ranged from abstract to architectural and everything in between.

It took me maybe six months of constant frustration to realize that just wasn't going to work. Don't get me wrong, I am not proposing eliminating any kind of growth as an artist by no longer challenging yourself. But face it, we can't be everything that we imagine we would like to be in our minds.

So I learned to fly headlong into new art forms that challenged me but to flee like a small frightened child from any art that frustrated me to the point of creating headaches and stomach pains.

My art has a particular lack of the human form. It creeps in occasionally, but I just have horrible skills in creating realistic human beings. Give me a lion or a bear and I'm fine. Give me a human and it turns into a stick figure with one leg too long and three boobs (or testicles depending on the gender).

For the longest time I took this as a sign of a deficiency in my art. Why the hell couldn't I create a real human form? I'd try over and over again and they never met the expectations that my mind placed before me.

Over time I realized that some of us can create one thing, while others can create something else. Its not deficient, its just how our minds work and what makes art so unique. How I perceive something and create it will inevitably be different than how you create it.

But it also taught me a valuable lesson about not allowing my art to frustrate me. I will challenge myself to the extreme, but if I begin to get that frustrating feeling then I put it aside. It doesn't mean that I will not return to it at a later date and try again when my skills improve, but I no longer beat myself over the head trying over and over again.

I think sometimes we can expect so much out of ourselves. We refuse to give up. The inevitable result is that we may finish what we began but the piece is missing some elemental spark of inspiration that must be present to take it from the crap stage to a masterpiece.

When I teach new artists I try to instill in them to try everything they can. Paint, sculpt, incorporate the written word, learn block printing, create a new font! Never give up trying new things because one skill will always lead to another. But I also teach them to listen to their inner voice. If it doesn't feel right, trust your instincts and try something else.

Some artists can do this easily. Others end up just spinning their tires because they get frustrated with everything they do and the result is that nothing gets created. So you have to use your common sense to know when you should put something aside. Don't use it as an excuse to just set aside a project. Think about it, consider it carefully, maybe even take a breather for a day or a week and tackle it fresh. But if that frustration persists, then put your talents to better use on something else.

I have a reputation for attempting art forms that are so complex and ridden with possible problems that no sane person would begin them. "Hey! What if I take this banana peel, this rusty piece of metal and this really cool purple paint and make something impossibly ridiculous out them???" Of course artists are rarely totally sane, so why not try it anyway? If you can find a way to cure the banana peel before it rots you just might have something!

The point is to know the difference between a challenge and a dead end. Challenging ourselves is good, even occasionally boxing ourselves into a piece of art where we have no choice but to set it aside is good. But art that frustrates us and begins to give us ulcers is not good.

Knowing this difference can be what stops us from throwing our hands in the air and walking away from our studio in disgust.


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