I am painting, I am teaching yoga, I am writing, I am teaching workshops, and yet – I feel like I am doing someone else’s work. That someone else’s words are coming out of my mouth. That it is someone else’s painting I’m creating.
Sometimes this is a good thing. A state of flow – I become almost unconscious, oblivious to what I am doing, completely engaged in the present moment. I do good work there. I do valuable work there. This is how I feel when I teach a yoga class.
Yet sometimes it feels the opposite. That I’m pushing against the grain, that I’m not being authentic. This is how painting feels right now.
When I started my journey back into painting, I thought I was just taking a class. I didn’t think I would spend an entire Thursday off in my pajamas with paint all over my body and all over our dining room floor trying to create something I identify as mine. I didn’t think I would get obsessed.
But I’m doing it and it feels good… Kind of. I need this – this alone time, this creativity, this feeling the music, this creation of color, this spectacle of paint. I don’t know what it is or why but I need it. It’s my way of being productive yet creative, in a way that’s satisfying the way no writing could ever be. The way no teaching or taking a yoga class could ever be.
But I’m struggling. It’s the artists’ dilemma. I can’t get out or stop replaying the words of my painting professors, the words that my most recent painting teacher have said, the words of my family and friends. They might not be conscious but they are there, under the surface, unconsciously dictating my every move.
I can’t get the images of paintings I love out of my head, or paintings I hate. And so I create my own artwork, but it doesn’t feel like it’s mine. I think I needed this – the “intuitive painting,” because it has taught me something. It has taught me how to let the process unfold, how to be bold, how to let go of mistakes. But it’s not me. These paintings are not my paintings.
I like planning and structure – sometimes. I like it when it doesn’t waste my art supplies. I like knowing the beginning, the middle, the end. Even if it changes, I like the idea.
Right now I’m painting without ideas, which is the point. That you put down and create and react, and something will manifest, but it’s not manifesting. Or it is, but into something that I don’t like. Into something that is not mine.
Ira Glass has a really amazing talk about being a storyteller, and for three minutes he details how creative people get into their art by having really good taste. And then they create their own work, but they’re smart enough to know that it’s not good work. So his advice is to create a volume. To keep creating and making sub-par art and through that you’ll find your voice. Through that, your bad art will be come medicore art which will become good art which will become excellent art.
Most people get stuck here, in this sub-par creation stage. They never keep with it or push through and make it out the other side. It’s icky and it’s uncomfortable, to know that what you’re creating is not good.
And this is where I am. You can tell me that my work is beautiful and that it’s valuable but that’s a lie. My art is not good. This is not me fishing for compliments. I know enough about art to know that my art is not good.
I’m still even trying to find what I’m interested in. What am I trying to say? What do I find interesting? I’m taking more time to notice things that I find visually appealing, and I get sidetracked and taken away, but I have this one little tiny thought lingering in my brain that I can’t get out.
The thing about art is that you need to know your strengths, and you need to develop them. Talent means nothing unless you put for the effort to develop a skill. Hard work and persistence beats talent any day. But together – together these two things will go far. Farther than anyone else. That’s why there are incredibly successful artists and there are mediocre artists. “Good enough” artists.
Part of being an artist – and really, a human – is knowing your strengths. Capitalizing on them. Know your talents and develop them. And if you’ve been given a gift, don’t let it sit idle. Use it.
I think I just answered my own struggle. To say that I’m more uncomfortable now is an understatement. But art, like yoga, is a process. Getting through discomfort is part of it. That’s why we practice.