Do the Work…
Philosopher and Statesman, Sir Francis Bacon reminds us, “Begin doing what you want to do now. We are not living in eternity. We have only this moment, sparkling like a star in our hand and melting like a snowflake.
That first sentence can be changed into almost any desired action – call your friend now, visit the gallery now, play with the grandkids now…
I’ve just finished a month working with an amazing group of incredibly talented artists in the Artists Deep Dive Online Residency. These artists spent the month building focus and intention into their art practise with a plan leading to a body of work. We met twice weekly and discussed everything from ChatGPT, drawing apps, procrastination and our artist dreams. It was exhilarating!
It’s fun going into the studio wanting to play and experiment, try the new techniques found on YouTube or new colour combination of paint or dye…taking time to play is building on knowledge and leads to discovery and creativity. But here also comes the time to ignore the bright shiny objects (AKA – Shiny Object Syndrome) and get the work done.
I Need to Do the Work I Love
Having an art career involves many subtasks – mailing the orders, doing the accounts, submitting for exhibitions and on and on – but they would all disappear if I didn’t do the one thing that is essential – make the art! So if I Just Show Up and Use the Good Stuff, then Doing the Work flows naturally from those first two focuses. But that’s not quite enough, because I wouldn’t Do the Work if it didn’t excite, enrage, enliven and inspire me!
Sometimes I go into the studio and am horrified at my work from the day before, and other times it is an utter surprise – WOW, that is good! Doing the work again and again builds experience and experience leads to improvement. In any creative focus, there are a range of abilities and approaches; some want to explore, perhaps they are new to the medium and want to see what is possible, while others are more focused and productive. I lean towards the latter, but I know that I still have a lot to learn! Regardless of the level of experience, the art still needs to be done.
I have a piece that I consider a failure (actually there are two pieces right now..) and when I look at them I realize there are a couple choices…
I can try and hammer it into something better – do I clearly see ways to improve? Is it worth the effort? Or is my time better spent moving on?
Do I toss it into a corner and think I might change my feelings about it? Or perhaps cut it up into something else? A lot of my greeting cards are created that way!
Or does it go into the garbage and out of my life and mind?
Each failure I create might have a different answer. I know that one of them might get cut up into something smaller – I am undecided if the design is contrived or an idea worth letting mellow.
Most importantly both of those pieces are failures because they didn’t excite, enrage, enliven and inspire me. I look at them and feel “meh”!
Its vital that we embrace failure as part of the journey to creating something new. Accept that mistakes can happen and use them as an opportunity to learn and grow. I will probably journal my thoughts and consider that each failed piece is a successful lesson…in failure!
This leads me to another thought – is (making) art work? For me the answer is a definite yes! But it’s also very much MY choice and so I don’t criticize anyone who would rather consider it “play”…again choices are personal and not universal.
Finally, remember that art is a journey, not a destination. Enjoy the process and don’t be afraid to experiment and make mistakes. Doing the work is part of the creative process and is essential for producing meaningful work.
This cartoon by Australian artist Megan Herbert, speaks volumes about the work that we do as artists. A visitor to my studio once exclaimed how amazing my art is (thank you, thank you) and my respose was the same as this cartoon – the visitor sees the finished work that excites, enrages, enlivens and inspires me, not the mountains of crap that went into the garbage!
“Making a living from your work in no way serves as an indicator of quality or substance or achievement. The real struggle is the same – how to be creative without being imitative, how to avoid apathy, confusion, complacency or self sabotage. How can a person with profoundly limited resources create something that is meaningful, long lasting and maybe transcendent? If you are really going to do something important..make real art, how do you do it and how can you keep doing it over time with the hope that it might get better.” – Lance Letscher
One more thing…did you notice the awesome Colour on Ice photos? You can buy those and more in my Etsy Shop