PDA

View Full Version : Self-Imposed Expectations


Mikki Petersen
03-28-2005, 02:26 PM
Today, I was reading a message by a member who is going through one of those freezes we all experience. This one was brought on by an expectation she had put on herself to do a particular set of paintings for a show. It started me thinking...

The pressure of expectations seems to be a common theme for the onset of an artist block. Each of us seems to have some monster expectation lurking in our own heads as to what we should do and how we should paint. Why do we do this to ourselves?????

Thirty so years ago I quit all painting and drawing because I was weary of the expecations of others and those imposed on me by my own vicious ego. When I began painting again a couple years ago, I did so in secret, when nobody was home, just for me. I have been determined that I will paint what I want, when I want for my own pleasure. As long as I live and paint by that rule, I suffer no block, no procrastination. As soon as I begin thinking in terms of sales or shows, I begin to have problems finding time for my easel.

We, as artists, are supposed to be expressing ourselves creatively, interpretting what we see on paper or canvas. Why then do we keep hobbling ourselves with demands for production...I will paint only this or that; I will paint so many of these by this date; I will paint this because someone will pay me for it; or the worst...I will try to paint exactly like so-and-so.

Next time you are blocked, examine your expectations...bet you've created some rule to stop yourself... :evil:

Mikki

Kitty Wallis
03-28-2005, 03:23 PM
....When I began painting again a couple years ago, I did so in secret, when nobody was home, just for me. I have been determined that I will paint what I want, when I want for my own pleasure. As long as I live and paint by that rule, I suffer no block, no procrastination. As soon as I begin thinking in terms of sales or shows, I begin to have problems finding time for my easel.

....Next time you are blocked, examine your expectations...bet you've created some rule to stop yourself... :evil: Mikki
What a great idea for a thread!

I recently threaded my way back out of a block that I had created by abandoning the path of my own creativity and following the sales and the compliments. When I realized I needed to get back to the fount of my growth, working from life, the energy and excitement flowed again.

Trilby
03-28-2005, 03:37 PM
Hi Mikki, Though I am taking some time out from web community activity your thread caught my eye. I started showing artistic promise in early childhood which blossomed further during my teens. When I started college at age 17 I minored in art, but worried that making it a career would involve more rejection and criticism than I was up for so majored in English (ultimately making my career in psychology) Nonetheless I did work in art professionally on the side into my 30s. I was never a "great" artist but I was good enough for a few galleries and many local shows and lots of sales. I even taught beginning art with a strong following and many of my students went on to become really good artists. In my early 30s a number of mind numbing disasters entered my life including the death of my newborn daughter, my only child. My work changed after that and in the after math I became unable to produce anything with any merit at all. It was as though I had forgotten all I ever knew of art. Over the years I have periodically ventured to try again. The work was amatureish and just plain not good. I made mud of clear colors, made poor compositions, and felt great frustration coming to the "understanding" that I had some psychological Berlin wall between me and the production of art so I gave up until a few months ago. I was sharing this with an artist friend who has had a 4 year block. She invited me to join her in sketching and we agreed to do something for 10 minutes a day. My first drawing took 3 efforts, but I got a resemblance to my dog, a really terrible drawing but I got the likeness. That encouraged me. In my first session with my friend I chose to draw a cow skull and in following the contours got really into my right brain and made an excellent rendering. My 10 minutes a day turned into hours and I am back as an artist who makes art. It's rusty as all get out but the improvement is rapid and I'm again having fun. Very aware of the need to not have expectations I am choosing to work in mediums that I never much used so I cna't have expectations of myself--I'm a new born babe in these mediums. Oil landscapes had been my thing so I am holding off on those until much further down the road. To my surprise graphite renderings and wildlife have really grabbed me and some of the pieces are quite good. A friend wanted to put them in his restaurant for sale, but I have said "No" not yet. Sales and shows will put the pressure into this process and right now it is important to just be in process and enjoy. That doesn't mean that I don't seek critique. I value, enjoy and benefit from feedback, but I steer away from those who would discourage rather than teach. The ironic thing about this comeback is it comes during a time of self re evaluation and time out following a 2 year period in which 19 people left my life in death. Another period of mind numbing devastation that has included a robbery, 2 attacks against my life by clients off their meds, a broken engagement, and other losses. The first period of devastation shut me down. this one has opened me up like a can opener. Every nerve ending is open to God's glory and the beauty of his world and I can't draw or paint(currently in pastels) fast enough as I want to capture it all. Through it all, however, those expectations creep in and then there comes a dulling, a feeling that I should auction all my newly purchased art supplies on Ebay and give up because I'll never be good--I now don't have 30 years to spend honing the gift, I'm in my 60s now. Then I recall Grandma Moses, then I recall the true purpose--fun, creative spirit and in a very real way a closeness to the Head Creator that has nothing to do with being good or productive, just with putting medium to support in the best way I know how and in the best spirit. I believe I will get back to selling, to showing, to competing even, but rather than producing for these purposes these will be the offshoots of my playing and having fun. I don't want ever again to have any kind of block to my creative expression. It's too much like being separated from God.
Sorry to be so long but the topic of blocks is about more than procrastination and performance pressure. It's about a rent in the soul and is very important.
Thanks for the forum, Mikki. I have looked at your work. Don't you dare let anyone take it from you again. It is so beautiful and so self expressive. It is of the soul and that is what all art should be.
TJ

E-J
03-30-2005, 08:54 AM
Guilty :)

Thanks, Mikki, for opening up this discussion to the wider forum.

"I have been determined that I will paint what I want, when I want for my own pleasure. As long as I live and paint by that rule, I suffer no block, no procrastination."

This is a fine rule! Setting goals can be very helpful but the most effective goals are often the smaller ones ... the baby steps ... which push us little by little to that 'somewhere' we want to be, even though we may not know just where that is when we first set out. For me, the joy comes in not knowing exactly what my next painting will be. I'm open to all subjects - anything and everything becomes possible! Trying to narrow that field of vision to focus in on a goal months down the line has effectively killed my enthusiasm. In fact, the enthusiasm is still there, but it is looking for new ways to be free to make itself felt: through a new medium (oil pastels), an experimental approach to new subject matter and an urge to go back to my daily small sketches from life.

There will be times when (I hope) I'll be painting something I've been specifically commissioned to paint by a client. But the rest of the time, from now on I'm going to paint what I want, when I want - and for my own pleasure :)

JustjoGA
03-30-2005, 09:30 AM
What a wonderful thread ... to express our own feelings about painting, and also to open for examination what causes us to be non-productive (creative pause) ...

Mine is one of my own shortcomings... I am a major procrastinator... I have several hours every day when I should be painting something ... and I have every intention of doing so... then I realize the day is gone and I have not touched brush, paint or paper... I should also say that I live alone, so have no one to "push" me but myself...

I have only ever done one pastel... my preferred medium is watercolor, but I felt moved to post here ... because I seem not to know what to do to overcome this. Do any of you have a suggestion? This failing also affects most other areas of my days and my life, so if I could apply it to my art, I can apply it to those also... Thanks for listening :) (If your offered suggestion is long, please PM me, so not to take up too much room here).

Jo in Georgia

Kitty Wallis
03-30-2005, 05:14 PM
Hi Jo,
I suspect you are calling yourself a name, 'procrastinator', which doesn't actually identify the nature of the block. I do the same thing.

Have you examined your resistance to starting, beginning a painting session? What is your self-talk? Can you pick up a clue about what your painting spirit wants? What would be fun? or slightly scarey/challenging? or a new departure that you have been setting aside, perhaps? Or maybe you need to frame another group of questions. These worked for me.

Kitty Wallis
03-30-2005, 05:27 PM
...Setting goals can be very helpful but the most effective goals are often the smaller ones ... the baby steps ... which push us little by little to that 'somewhere' we want to be, even though we may not know just where that is when we first set out.

Excellent, E-J
I agree that long-term goals can distract us from the daily movement we must make to eventually get anywhere. If we think we have to leap to a new different place we can freeze. But if we can begin our journey and keep our eyes open for the appearance of the tiny baby steps, the near goals, we can find our own personal path.

I'm thinking of that idea that goes: 'A jouney of a thousand miles begins with a step out the door'. Best not to try to map the whole thing before we see the terrain.

Khadres
03-30-2005, 05:29 PM
Hi Jo,
I suspect you are calling yourself a name, 'procrastinator', which doesn't actually identify the nature of the block. I do the same thing.

Have you examined your resistance to starting, beginning a painting session? What is your self-talk? Can you pick up a clue about what your painting spirit wants? What would be fun? or slightly scarey/challenging? or a new departure that you have been setting aside, perhaps? Or maybe you need to frame another group of questions. These worked for me.

Kitty, could you give us something of an example of what you're telling us here? I THINK I sorta get it, but...

lindadavis
03-30-2005, 06:03 PM
I heard a motivational thinker tell a story about a songwriter that became blocked for years after winning a national award because of the stress of trying to make more award-winning work. He finally resolved it by taking the point of view that he was writing for the wastebasket. The more work you do, the more likely that some of the work will be really good. And of course, growth occurs through the process of making art, so if you aren't doing, then you aren't growing like you should be.

Of course, all of this is easier said than done. I have broken through a major block that lasted over a decade where I didn't produce anything. The last few years I've done quite a few pastel illustrations for work and now I'm doing pet portrait commissions.

But I'm still blocked, because I'm doing work within other people's parameters. There is still some fear associated with trying to do work that I want to do, that is growing in the direction I want. I spend a lot of time preparing. I take photos and think about it all the time. I look at other artists' work and read lots of books on the subject.

I use time as a big excuse, as I work full-time, am a wife and mother, and have a long commute each day. But the truth remains that there's a lot of time that I could doing basic sketches that I'm not using. I put too much pressure on myself to do work that's worth something, so it's like I don't want to start unless it is on a "Project" with a capital "P". Then I get that fight or flight feeling.

I guess it's all about that "am I good enough" question, when it's a subject that is so subjective. Man, the left-brained stuff was always so much easier to me, because you are either right or wrong, you either get it or you don't. It's hard to put your heart out there open to criticism. Heck, we artists all choose to stand naked in front of the world and hope that it will tell us we are beautiful, you know?

I gave up pursuing my engineering scholarship in college because when I am making Art (with the capital A), it's a real spiritual high. It truly is like communing with a higher being or the collective unconsciousness. And you can't get that from a math equation, unless you are one of those super-genius types that actually discovers math theories. But I still struggle with the day to day. I'm getting a little better at it though.

Kathryn Wilson
03-30-2005, 07:48 PM
Hi Mikki - thanks for starting this thread. I posted something in Sooz' Goal Posts thread regarding my current block - so I will not reiterate here, but to comment on something Linda Davis posted -

I put too much pressure on myself to do work that's worth something, so it's like I don't want to start unless it is on a "Project" with a capital "P". Then I get that fight or flight feeling.

I think this is part of my problem, although I am trying to identify my "self-speak" like Kitty mentioned. What am I telling myself that is getting me nowhere? My mind is telling me little sketches and little paintings are not going to get me into galleries - the voice in my head is telling me I need to paint bigger because a gallery owner told me that once. Bigger sells.

So, along with being at a cross-roads, I have placed an expectation on myself that I need to paint bigger. Bigger scares me - all that paper to cover where I feel more comfortable doing smaller 9 x 12's. I wonder if it is the time constraints that make me feel more comfortable with smaller paintings because they can be done quicker.

Enough whining . . . I need to move on this and make a decision as to where I am headed next.

Kitty Wallis
03-30-2005, 07:52 PM
Kitty, could you give us something of an example of what you're telling us here? I THINK I sorta get it, but...

Have you examined your resistance to starting, beginning a painting session?
Can you notice what you are feeling when you avoid painting? (diffcult to do, since we humans can avoid noticing that we are avoiding something.)

What is your self-talk? Can you pick up a clue about what your painting spirit wants? What would be fun? or slightly scarey/challenging? or a new departure that you have been setting aside, perhaps?
A series of questions meant to serve as examples of the detective work needed to examine feelings, motivations, inner attitudes that lead to blocked actions.

Example: With counseling help I realized my recent resistance to painting was caused by my distaste for the direction my work had taken. I was making art to get complements and had abandoned the work I had been doing where I had gotten energy, growth and new ideas. I went back to plein air and live portraits and now I'm happily painting. I will probably need to redirect myself again at some time in the future when this thread runs dry. I hope that the more we do this the more we can do it.

antgeek
03-30-2005, 10:21 PM
wonderful thread, mikki, here's my view. the artist part of me is like my own fragile, precious youngster, curious, lively, but needs nurturing, and room to grow. i took a drawing class with a good teacher, supportive, encouraging and stretched my wings. i then took a life drawing class, this teacher was prone to periodically screaming at a student for no discernible reason, then turned around and said we were the best class she'd ever taught in 20+ years. i could not tell what was expected, and got worse instead of better. i did not do much drawing/painting for several years, the joy was missing. last fall i felt the urge to paint, and once i got restarted, i remembered that i love making pictures. and i found wet canvas; this is such a nurturing community of people, the sharing of good and bad days, the helpful hints, demos, and so much cheering on. one thing that helps me, as far as expectations, is to use a less expensive surface, and do more actual painting/drawing. i am less intimidated by a $1 gessoed panel, than an $8.00 sheet of special paper,(i'm frugal!) i have a sheet of wallis, but have been 'saving' it, you know, for 'special'; tonite i am going to cut it into smaller pieces and USE it! yeehaa! i hope i did not chatter too much off topic here. :wave:

Kitty Wallis
03-30-2005, 11:06 PM
Hi Serra,
Just in case you haven't heard, you can wash my paper and start over, many times. So have at it and enjoy.

angecald
03-30-2005, 11:10 PM
Mikki, I think you're so right when you identify pressure and expectations from others as the culprit. Why do we do it to ourselves? Well, there are reasons.

If people criticize my work, I can hardly drum up enough interest to finish it. (I don't mean the stuff I submit to WC for comment, but things that get accidentally viewed by visitors to the house before I'm ready to show them.) Yet, if they praise the work, I'm tempted to repeat it a dozen times, even if I have no real interest in it myself. ("Oh, do you like this picture of a cat? I think I'll do a series of 100!") On the other hand, I stopped looking for commissions long ago, because the instant I agree to do one, this contrary streak takes over and I hate every minute I have to spend on it. I feel like I'm being used to paint someone else's painting, and I wish they'd just do it themselves.

For the last few years I've had a day job which limited the hours I was able to work on art. At first that had a good effect. I knew I only had so much time, so when I could get into the studio, I focussed. And I was earning a salary, so I could buy all the supplies I wanted, but felt no pressure to make the painting pay. I could do what I liked. Liberation! However, as time went on, the pressures of the job combined with family responsibilities left me exhausted. Art became a chore. Less and less got done, it had less and less originality or spirit, and finally a block set in. When you choose other aspects of life over art once too often, the muse goes into a sulk.

Now, because of my husband's health problems, I've had to let the job go. With lots of time to work, I've slowly got unblocked and in touch with my creative spirit. But now it has become important to make some money from the work.

I recently agreed to submit 5 works for a show at the end of April. I thought it would be easy because I already had 3 framed pastel paintings, and 8 weeks to produce another two. I was more concerned with paying for the frames than with getting the two pieces done. Then I looked at the contract more closely and realized no piece can be bigger than 20 inches square, frame included! Well, my 3 framed works are all on full size sheets of Canson, so that means I have to create 5 new sale-worthy pieces before the end of April.

Panic!! The theme of the show is "Visions of Spring". To me, that brings to mind swathes of pastel flowers, green grass, blue skies, etc. I believe people attending such a show are looking for colour and lightness - the opposite of what they've lived with all winter.

I love flowers, I paint them occasionally, but there are several local artists who will be in this show who specialize in flowers and do them much better than I do. We've had some great spring weather here, but it's not the pretty part of spring. It's brown grass and dirty snow everywhere. I've no doubt I could do five plein-air pieces, but who would buy them? One side of my brain says, "They might turn out to be good paintings," and the other side says, "Buyers want pretty, not good". I don't want to work from photographs because I think this stage of my development as an artist requires working from life. Furthermore, I would like to do some figure paintings, but how can I work spring into that? How can I do them in such a small format? Anyway, people don't buy figures, I still haven't sold the one I did three years ago...etc.

I didn't paint for 2 days, too down in the dumps to lift a stick of pastel. Drew in my sketchbook every day, because nobody's going to see that. I'm safe. Finally decided I can't sell what never gets made, so I went out plein-air sketching today. Did a brown-fields sketch that doesn't look too bad to me. How will it go over at a "Visions of Spring" show? Who knows?

If I'm going to be a professional artist, I have to live with the tension between creating and selling. We have to sell to make a living, yet while creating, we have to listen to the inner voice that makes us want to paint in the first place. So I have to face the possibility that I might sell nothing at this show, not even get my expenses back. (Chew-chew on the old fingernails, down to the quick).

If I don't make any money, I'll still have 5 framed works ready to go, when I do find the buyers, and I believe there is a buyer for every painting, if I can only find them. And they might be better paintings for my choosing to deal with what I see around me instead of some greeting card image of spring. On the other hand, if I force myself to do flower paintings, or work from photographs of things I've never actually seen, I will only have improved my skills at superficial and dishonest art.

By the way, those of you who are flower painters, I'm not suggesting that your work is superficial or dishonest. The flower painters who will be in this show are great, and their works will be beautiful. The same for those who work from photos. I've certainly done that myself. It's just not something that I'm feeling driven toward right now.

I don't really like the small format, either. I would love to start painting very big pictures, bigger than the full sheet of Canson. Space prevents me from doing that - not to mention the cost of framing something that size under glass.

So it's an obstacle course. We're constantly dealing with threats to our creativity, in the form of practical needs, responsibilities, and challenges to our personal vision. The vision of others is made so vivid for us. We can see it with our physical eyes, see how appealing it is, how impressive, so it's really hard to have confidence in the vision of our own inner eye, which is still hardly formed. But if we don't, we're left with something that doesn't hold our interest long enough to get a painting done.

My cure for blocks includes sketchbooks, and morning pages as recommended by Julia Cameron in The Artist's Way. Nobody else ever needs to look at them. In the morning pages, I can be perfectly honest about what I think. I'm surprised at how often I catch myself editing the thought before the sentence is done. (example, "That Joan is such a bitch - oh, no, she isn't, that's a terrible thing to say, I'd better write that Joan was quite critical of my work but she surely meant it for my own good...") Over time I've learned to write the raw thought down. It's what I think, even if I'm wrong to think it. I've discovered some surprising things about myself in this way. In the sketchbook, I can make messes and mistakes, and try out things that might not lead to any useful end.

I hate being blocked. I only feel truly alive when I'm painting. I resent every hour I've ever spent being unable to work. Still, I think I mostly do it to myself, so I'm trying to learn not to get blocked, or at least to get back into action as soon as possible.

bnoonan
03-31-2005, 12:38 PM
So much truth and I'm not ready to admit to some of the things mentioned here and yet they do resonate.... Thank you for bearing your souls and providing a safe environment for me to do the same... but I need to think about this some more. Perhaps even journal about it.

I will say that I reach for a book frequently when I'm going through a time of self reflection. A little paperback that I've mentioned on WC before it's really been helpful for me.

Art & Fear
by David Bayles, Ted Orland

Wow... good thread Mikki!!!

Barb

lindadavis
03-31-2005, 02:54 PM
I will say that I reach for a book frequently when I'm going through a time of self reflection. A little paperback that I've mentioned on WC before it's really been helpful for me.

Art & Fear
by David Bayles, Ted Orland

Wow... good thread Mikki!!!

Barb

Another good book is Fearless Creativity by Dr. Eric Maisell. He is a psychologist (I believe, maybe a psychiatrist) that specializes in working with artists dealing with fear and creativity, whether their art form is visual, writing, etc.

khourianya
03-31-2005, 04:18 PM
Here is a second vote for Fearless Creating by Eric Maisel. It is a really good workbook for working through creative blocks.

I must say that a book I have been reading lately "The Painter's Keys" by Robert Genn (yes, the same guy with the twice weekly email) has really inspired me to paint. The book is a rough transcription of a seminar her gave and is chock full of insight. I highly recommend it! I have been reading a chapter each night before I go to bed!

timidithy
04-03-2005, 01:42 AM
This is an excellent thread, and very timely for me.

I just started painting in OP's last fall, and was usually doing very small drawings. I did a larger painting that turned out well, and afterwards have some expectation that my work since then should be at least *that* good.

Needless to say, I haven't been painting much with pressure like that. Part of me knows that many of my paintings will fall way short of the standard my ego sets for them - and is not accepting of that fact.

Reading everyone's posts reminds me that I got into OP's to play creatively without pressure, to enjoy color and texture and expanding my horizons. Not harrass myself with judging the work (often before it's even started!) :rolleyes:

I will try to keep that in mind as I go on . . .

Timidithy