Sometimes I get so caught up in trying to finish paintings, or the business aspect of my art, that I can lose track of what I actually am doing in my art. What is this art all about? Where is all this headed?
I know that I am dead set on improving, and I am always looking for signs of this in my art, but forgetting to ask this larger, more salient question about overall direction can often postpone one’s creative progress.
Just because the work looks better might not necessarily mean we are headed in a direction that is truly ours. Just like travelling down a road in order to arrive at a destination, there are circuitous routes and there are direct routes. From time to time I like to take both of these.
However, what I don’t particularly enjoy is repeatedly going into cul-de-sacs. Those give you the feeling of moving, but since you actually are just going in circles you always arrive at the same place over and over again. Ultimately this leads to boredom and although your work is repeating quite nicely, it is, in the end, remaining the same. The whole concept of going somewhere, the evolution, at least for now, has quietly come to a standstill.
And sometimes this is fine of course. It isn’t always about getting somewhere. It is ok to have a resting place. But eventually the innate desire for one’s work to become more aligned with oneself begins to grow.
So how do you find your way back onto a road that is actually going somewhere you are pretty sure you want to go?
It is a challenging question. It is also one, I have come to realize, that needs to be asked frequently. The answer, at least in part, can be found, not by trying to imagine unmade work in the future but by simply turning around from time to time and looking at the arc of your art behind you.
This is just such a simple idea but it is one that I so often forget. The trail of work, the evidence of my past efforts, some good, some not so good, that is building up behind me holds significant parts of the answer to this very relevant question.
Make it a habit to review what you have been making. Look for aspects of the work that still resonate with you. In other words, what is a Yes! And more importantly, what is a No? It might be color, it might be some kind of spontaneity or mark making but whatever it is, if it still is relevant, if it still sparking for you then re-affirm this in the future work. Keep it.
Conversely, if there are aspects that no longer feel like you, be proactive and let them go. This actually is the harder action to take. It is the same kind of nagging difficulty with letting go of all those clothes that, although are perfectly fine, are no longer like you. It is hard but important to shed them.
If you can move forward with your thinking more focused upon what you actually do love, what aspects of your art making that have in the past brought you more alive and unceremoniously leave behind those that no longer do, then your art will shift. It will improve.
It might feel a bit foreign initially to be setting off in a new direction, especially in a car that most of your baggage has been removed from. However it is this partial emptiness, the spaciousness that you have created that enables the new, more relevant aspects of your future art to be ushered in.
It is exciting and entirely possible, now that you are moving again, that just up ahead or around that next bend, you just might find even more of the answer you have been looking for…
In gratitude, Nicholas
the founder of Art2Life.
With over 20 years experience as a working artist and educator, I’ve developed a systematic approach that brings authenticity, spontaneity and joy back into the creative process.