THE AGONY AND THE ECSTASY
No, this is not about taking little coloured pills to get into a party mood. If you are one of those pathetic people that needs artificial stimulants and your search engine has brought you here looking for drugs, search elsewhere. On the other hand, if you want to experience massive mood swings naturally, and aren't suffering from bi-polar condition (but maybe are curious what that must be like), try being an artist. I'm sure it must be much the same for all sorts of artists, but I'm concentrating here on the visual arts because that is what I know.
When inspiration from something you've seen, something you've imagined, or a combination of both, hits you like a five-pound bag of happy pills, the last thing you need is one of those happy pills. You are pumped! Life is good! The weather is completely irrelevant. You dive into your painting with the enthusiasm of a starving polar bear that has stumbled on a whale carcass washed up on the beach and can't believe its good luck. Welcome to ecstasy. It doesn't last long, unfortunately. Getting your idea down on a two-dimensional surface quickly becomes a struggle that brings you down to earth. As the painting progresses through the initial stages, it often reaches a level of ugliness that probably discourages many beginners enough to abandon it in despair of ever achieving the promise of the original inspiration. More experienced painters push through this wall of agony, knowing it is just a phase, like your baby's colic during its first month. Better days lie ahead.
If you're lucky, the painting eventually evolves not only to meet your expectations, but sometimes even to exceed them. Now we're talking high! It may be embarrassing to admit this, but sometimes I've experienced such excitement about how a painting is turning out that I thought my blood vessels might explode, rupturing my tingling skin. Friends, acquaintances, and even complete strangers extend the high with their compliments and praise. You are encouraged by your rising confidence to submit the piece for a juried show, a major competition, or even as part of an application to elevate your professional status.
Welcome to rejection. If you're not an artist and want to know how it feels, ask a friend to kick you in the teeth with a steel-toed boot when you least expect it. And to get a real sense of what it can be like as an artist, get your friend to do this repeatedly, every time you show signs of stirring to get back up on your feet. So much for ecstasy. This is the sort of thing for which the word "agony" was invented. Maybe artificial stimulants aren't such a bad idea after all.
Then, just when you are filling out your application for a career as a Walmart greeter, having decided to quit painting altogether, someone contacts you about a painting of yours that has really struck a chord with them, and they want to pay you money to acquire it! You remind yourself that J.K. Rowling had her Harry Potter manuscript rejected by a dozen publishers. Vincent Van Gogh sold only one of his 900 or so paintings in his lifetime. You realize those rejections mean nothing, and that your work is certainly good enough for you to be calling yourself an artist. The validation that comes from someone willing to pay for your work is far more effective than a fistful of ecstasy pills. So you pay off your bills, buy another canvas, and start looking for the next inspiration to prolong the great feeling. And so the cycle continues.
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