When is it an Insult to Compliment an Artist?

Dear Kim,
I think that artists are lucky because they were born with a gift to be able to draw. I also think that others who excel in their field, like Drew Brees and Serena Williams, were also born with that special gift to be #1.  Don't you agree?
Thanks, Margaret

Oh, Margaret,
This is a question that I've been asked countless times. Talent is NOT a quirk of birth. The ability to draw is not reserved for the chosen few deemed worthy. It's a learned skill. Were you born knowing how to read? Were you born speaking a language? No, you were taught, and art is something you can learn.

I lose it when I hear of art teachers who just say to a class, “Just look at that still life and draw it!” without telling students HOW. It would be similar to a French teacher telling her class, “Just open your mouth and speak it!”  Or those cruel parents who throw their children in the pool and command, “Swim!”, but, oh yeah, forget to show them how.

Can you tell this concept is a PASSION with me? That person who told you that you couldn't draw probably told you that you couldn't do a lot of things, right? And now, that criticizing voice in your head is starting to sound like your own. It's time to find a new support system...one that will encourage you to lose that FEAR that keeps you from being creative. (And, in case you didn't know, you're not born with that fear either.)

You see, Margaret, I spend a lot of time dispelling these art myths, especially this one: that people excel because they were born with some hidden magical ability to throw a football or to play tennis or in an artist's case: to draw.  I'm sure that any NBA star would be offended if all of his work over all of these years would be brushed off as a "gift".  Someone in his early life taught him the necessary skills he needed to perform his sport. He, on the other hand, developed the drive and the passion to excel, but more importantly, he did the WORK. 

Yes, art is no different.  A painting or a sculpture is called a work of art because that is exactly how it got there: through WORK, day in and day out. Many people never see the mistakes, the failed pieces, the frustration, the sweat and the countless disappointments that the artist faces on a daily basis. All the viewers see is one successful painting or sculpture. Please understand though that work is definitely not a negative word. Work is fulfilling and exciting as all artists know. But just imagine, Margaret, how an artist feels when someone turns to him or her and says, "Oh, you're so lucky to have been born with such a gift." 

 This myth has also been used by people to justify their own lack of drive or time or the effort it takes to succeed in sports, in the arts, and in many other fields as well. They just use this "gift" idea to undermine someone who has succeeded. It’s actually an insult although many times, the giver meant it as a compliment.
Sorry, Margaret, luck and embryonic fluid have nothing to do with success in art. Sweat and passion and drive coupled with the true desire to "make it" propel an artist to the forefront. (OK...social media marketing skills never hurt.)

Keep those questions coming, Margaret. I could talk about this subject all day.

Don’t Read this unless you’re a Painter! (or You’ll Understand Too Much!)

What I call my No Fear is an intuitive painting process. If I’m focused, I can hear the paint speak to me and reveal the subject matter to me.

If I so choose, the painting is a revelation in creativity. If I refuse, the painting is average. If I create my own subject matter, the painting is worse than average because it’s forced and cartoonish. I guess you could say I am letting the paint ignite the subject matter.

Not only do the original paint splatters dictate what I paint, but also does each of my subsequent decisions. Every decision affects the one after it. No decision can be made before its time. Decision #4, for example, can only be made after Decision # 1, 2 and 3 are completely resolved. It’s important for me to not predefine every action. The painting decides each action for me.

I have to ignore that irritating inner voice trying to remind me that no one will buy my work, no one will like it and no one will think I am brilliant. Are you a fool, it screams, to think that you have landed on something creative? The voice thinks I am just being ridiculous. Am I? Self-doubt sets in immediately. Should I change to be more acceptable?

No, I must blank my mind, to empty every word that passes from one lobe to another, to ignore the doubts.  I must be content to feel the air on my fingers, to hear the soft pulses of my empty studio, to smell the memory-vacant scents of the now, not the yesterday. I take another swallow of the present and think only of my tongue as the “right now” tartly flows around its edges—nothing more, nothing less.

I must focus on emptying my mind, not worrying about tomorrow or next week or recapping these past few days to evaluate their strengths and of course my weaknesses. Right now! Only! A long breath…no memory evoked. Yes! An empty mind.

Now I’m ready to let my painting carry on its own conversation, a wordless repartee with my eyes, not my ears. Where will that line take me? Its fluid movement brings my eyes around the page. It calms me. We are kindred spirits. I will honor that line by making it appear more forceful. It has a purpose. It draws the sides of the painting into one whole. It is Decision #1.

The paint splatters are not in control, for I am one with them now. We, the paint and I, are riding the brush together. When does its power stop and mine begins? If I cannot tell, then we must be one. Is it giving me power or am I taking it?

If I take too much, I can immediately tell that the embezzlement has begun. Too much of me, literal me, makes a sorry painting. The painting lessens as I strengthen my control.

I will not take over. I will allow the paint to be in charge. I can produce something of worth only when I am ready to allow the paint to rule the surface of the picture plane.

Is the No Fear process like Method Acting in which the impromptu rules, in which ad lib is the status quo? Then, yes, this is Method Painting.  In that case, are these ramblings really Method Writing about Method Painting?

Yes, the No Fear process is surreal. It is a step beyond the real, the ordinary, the imaginary. It is a psychoanalytical exercise for the mind, but the results are unique and cannot be mimicked in the next work. Every painting created in this No Fear process will be a one-of-a-kind.

And it can REVEAL. The results can speak volumes, then, of what is happening in my subconscious.  I can learn about myself by studying the resulting images, those visuals that were created during the painting experience, that right brain trance of deeply focused thought that shocks me when I “wake up.”  Not bad, I say, in spite of the fact that I have little memory of actually making those moves, churning out each decision, one after another like falling dominoes on the stage floor.

No, dominoes are too predictable. This painting has not been a victim of predetermined planning. A is not necessarily followed by B, maybe B- or a D+, maybe shooting back to a C-, now on a graded scale? No, too judgmental. Too much value cemented in each decision. My inner voice is piercing my eardrums again.

Stop. Let it flow. Let it run as it will. Enjoy the streetcar ride through the solitary oak-lined path. The moss is not depressing for it sings in your freedom. How can I empty my mind to paint if it continues to electrify my fingers on this keyboard?   Words must stop now; it’s time for acrylic.