Thursday, July 30, 2009

Oldie but goodie #3, and thoughts about frustration

This was the third and final still life from art school. Also the biggest. Also the first time I painted glass. I definitely got tired of working on it by the end!


I've really been enjoying all your comments about the loose vs. tight painting discussion. I remember feeling dissatisfied from the very beginning about learning the traditional technique that results in paintings like you see in this post and the two previous ones. I didn't know enough or the right language to be able to put that sense of dissatisfaction into words for my instructor (who was a staunch traditionalist). When I said I simply didn't like it, my instructor asked for an explanation, and all I could come up with was, "All these paintings just look like anyone could have painted them." I wasn't referring to skill level but rather to the fact that the personality of the artist was not present. "If you put all our [students'] paintings together, you'd have no way of knowing who did what."

I seem to be back yet again in that place where nothing I paint turns out well. Though I know it's all "part of the process," the sense of frustration can be overwhelming. I know you all know that feeling: you begin to feel you have the opposite of the Midas touch: merde is the result, instead of gold. I'm also having a hard time putting into words what it is I'm not liking about the results I'm getting lately. Why don't I like it? I don't know! I only know that I don't like it. It needs to be more this and less that, or more that and less this... I also am constantly and rapidly swinging back and forth on the loose vs. tight pendulum (I'm not saying I believe either style of painting is inferior). Aaaghhh, such frustration!

This current wave of dissatisfaction has forced me to reflect on, read about, and spend a lot of time mentally pondering not only my own art, but art in general, and looking (online mostly) at a lot of other people's art. I pulled out my old and mostly unused copy of Betty Edwards' Drawing on the Artist Within, and was very struck by a quote I found in the second chapter, by Ralph Waldo Emerson (ignore the sexism):

"A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within... Yet he dismisses without notice his thought, because it is his. ...In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts; they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty. Great works of art have no more affecting lesson for us than this. They teach us to abide by our spontaneous impression with good-humored inflexibility...when the whole cry of voices is on the other side. Else tomorrow a stranger will say with masterly good sense precisely what we have thought and felt all the time, and we shall be forced to take with shame our own opinion from another."

I relate to this quote tremendously as regards creative works (in my case, writing and painting). Have you also had that experience, where you thought to do a certain thing in your art and rejected the idea as silly, or stupid, or worthless, or not worth the time, or some other reason, and then seen that someone else has executed the same idea, and then mentally kicked yourself for not having tried it after all? I also get the same feeling, in a "reverse deja vu" sort of way, when I see work that already exists, but which, when I first discover it, I feel defeated because it's exactly what I would have wanted to do! I feel this way about Rothko, Brice Marden, Agnes Martin, Richard Diebenkorn, and many other artists whom I discover as I go. A prime example is this contemporary artist whose work I just stumbled upon and I get that all-too-familiar sinking, yet amazed feeling that what I want to do has already been done. Here's the artist: Video of Rebecca Crowell working and speaking about her art.

I don't know what to do with this feeling.

Who will lick my artistic wounds?

More art on my website:


Anonymous said...

Jala, i think you are going to have a lot of mail saying the same thing: we go through the same feelings almost everyday. these darker periods i think are essential for reflection and they have always worked for me as stepping stones to the next breakthrough. also you've just come back from a holiday abroad, different time zones and exposure to new art/ terrible british weather etc... that can also have a major effect on you too, possibly. be kind to yourself and paint for yourself and no one else:) r.

Karen Bruson said...

Jala, Another wonderful still life. You caught on very quickly in art school.

Sandra Galda said...

Hi Jala I love your art and your cute cats you have been posting! I believe your long vacation took you away from your art? It could be you just need some time to get back into the flow.

Anonymous said...

Jala- first, I think you have no wounds to lick.
What you might be experiencing are growing pains.
I look at your work and admire your uniquely YOU vision and touch of brush.
It's natural/human/expected, that we have self doubt.

To ease frustrations and worries, it's good to remember this little adage:
" Every day is a good day for fishing, but not every day is a good day for catching."

Your personality and self expression is very evident in your newer pieces and I share your point of view that the traditional methods don't show individuality. Perhaps it's a good way to learn method and from that foundation you can build.

I can't even imagine that self doubt is in your realm.
Thought it was my singular domain since I can't seem to paint anything I like either lately.

Maybe you need to plop yourself down in the middle of the Lynx/Lemon mandala and just let the process percolate again.

I think it helps to know that we all get these funky lows and have to recognize when they come, that they don't last.

Cathyann said...

Nothing new under the sun...All art has been done...frustration has it's upside... you are in a growth phase. Keep painting and stop looking. I think sometimes it is better not to look at too many other people. I have abstracts that I am using as tabletops instead of hanging on the wall. While I can do them and have sold them, they don't hold me like a realistic image does. But I had to do lots of painting to find that out.
The more you paint the more likely it is you will come to the you that finds the right way for you. Trust yourself.
Sermon over.
I liked the artist and her work in the video.
Try abstracts based on your lynx. You love the little one..there might be something there to do while other ideas are gestating.

loriann said...

oh sweet Jala, I feel your pain and I know that no matter what is said you need to go through it because that is the way we are if we are to create.
Instead I will give you words from artists far greater than I:

A great artist... must be shaken by the naked truths that will not be comforted. This divine discontent, this disequilibrium, this state of inner tension is the source of artistic energy.

Take solace from Henri Matisse, "It has bothered me all my life that I do not paint like everybody else.

hugs, Loriann

rhessex said...

Oh gosh yes – to see rejected or neglected ideas brought to life by someone with more conviction and determination - it is very off-putting. But it’s a comfort to here that others suffer similarly! It's a bit of a curse having access to so much art - and so easily.
In the biography of de Kooning there’s a passage from art critic Harold Rosenberg, talking about de Kooning’s attitude to originality:
‘Even inventing a thing that had already been invented was an act of creation. De Kooning likes to call this “inventing the harpsichord” – the fact that we have the harpsichord, and even the piano that superseded it, does not prevent the invention that brought it into being from being legitimately repeated.’
So here’s to lots more harpsichords.

Janelle Goodwin said...

I was about to add my views, but I think Loriann said it best. Divine discontent - I've had more than my share. And it's usually before a quantum leap of some kind. Have faith, your work is amazing.

Anonymous said...

Jala, it's good you brought this topic to light. reading everyone else's comments has provided me with the determination to continue despite recent painting wrestling matches. r.

Anonymous said...

Jala, I have little to add beyond what has already been said... except to thank you for sharing your feelings. Your post and the responses from others are important for all of us who read them.
I believe that most art is derivative in one way or another. Each of us adds our own unique vision, interpretation and personality, and in so doing we create something new. I agree with others that your current frustration and angst may be a sign you are on the cusp of a breakthrough to something new.

brian eppley said...

The true purpose of art is self discovery. It can be quite painful. You are an artist. Try to enjoy the journey as tough as it can be!

Samartdog said...

I couldn't get past Loriann and her quote from the old man Matisse... "It has bothered me all my life that I do not paint like everybody else." Perfectly direct and dead on. I dated his grandson in Aix; he was impossibly verbose. Probably a result of a lifetime of trying to explain the old man's simplicity.

Casey Klahn said...

Great thread, Jala. BTW, I am struck by this still life, too.

It crosses my mind that the traditional (so-called "classical" realist) works being done today are big time the same. But, OTOH, I noticed that if you look at enough of them, and in particular, enough of one artist, the signature does come out.

I sympathize with your struggle, and I hope for you that it never goes away. My hero, Wolf Kahn, recently said, "If you are particularly unfortunate, you might become an artist."

I am fine with both realist and abstract works. I feel that the CR movement is shooting itself in the foot by dissing the things that come with Modernism and beyond that til today. Dialectic theories suck, and are stupid. There, I said it.

Don't throw away what came before. Unless you have nothing of merit to present, and then you have to discard your fathers to make yourself look good. I hated that what's-his-name erased deKooning. That has no merit, IMHO.

Too bad your teacher couldn't persuade you of their case for realism. IMO, the CRM should shut up and paint. I very much love what they are producing, and they need to embrace as they would want others to embrace their art.

Ahh - Monday outbursts. Gotta love 'em. Thanks for putting this out. Back to my own struggles with technique...happy painting!

Jala Pfaff said...

Thank you all so so much for your insightful comments, relevant quotes, humor, encouragement, sympathy, and good cheer. :D