"Harvest Memory" ©Ruth Armitage 2013, Acrylic on Paper 15"x22"

“Harvest Memory” ©Ruth Armitage 2013, Acrylic on Paper 15″x22″

At last weekend’s open studio, a recurring conversational theme came up with fellow artists who stopped by: the artist’s ego. Ego is a fragile thing in artists and demands a delicate balance between humility and hubris. It can be looked at as a negative, as pomposity, and as narcissism. But inner confidence and drive is necessary for success. One artist I talked to last weekend said that she felt her ego got in the way of her being more successful. I asked her to explain. She said, “I almost think that I feel like I’m better than I am.”

This got me to wondering, since that is not a thought that ever runs through my head, and this artist is what one could consider successful by any measure: selling high price work, represented by major galleries in cities across the country, and producing beautiful work. Perhaps I need to be a bit more egotistical about my work, more confident.

Visiting my friend Patty’s studio and gleaning some tips from this successful artist, I noticed her clear affirmations immediately upon entering her beautiful space:

"I paint what I love, I love what I paint."

“I paint what I love, I love what I paint.”

While some artists have stated that ego is fatal to the artistic process, Robert Genn describes ego in its purest state as the part of our identity that deals with our higher vision. He says:

“Bravado aside, ego must still prevail: “For a man to achieve all that is demanded of him he must regard himself as greater than he is.” (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe)”

In the creative process, you must believe that you can be successful, in order to persist in the trenches and pursue the next, better, painting.

In this Ted talk by Elizabeth Gilbert she talks about distancing herself from the creative mystery, and relying on divine intervention, both as a way to minimize ego and also to minimize the fear of failure. Let’s face it, failure is always a danger when one is risking truly creative work. This is why we still see artists churning out hackneyed paintings of trite, traditional subject matter. Doing truly creative, different work does not interest them, it frightens them.

But Gilbert also takes on that mystery that many of us have felt, that sense that the work is coming through you, not from you. She says that asking a creative person to accept responsibility for that mystery is like “asking someone to swallow the sun.” She would much rather just let the record show that she did her part by saying “I showed up.”

I believe that both the mystical and the egotistical are necessary. If you are a viewer of my work,  please know that your comments, your purchases, your support is what keeps me going as an artist. Not only, financially, but emotionally. I paint to communicate. Also, absolutely necessary is the determination and higher vision within me to know that I can (sometimes) do this, and to know that showing up to work will improve my chances. Finally, the mystical and divine intervention of a ‘muse’ helps me to remove the burden of success or failure from the equation.

This weekend (November 2 & 3, 2013) you can view my work at the World Forestry Center in Portland, Oregon. I am humbled to be part of the Sitka Invitational, along with some of the finest artists in the region. I will be giving a short talk about my work on Sunday afternoon, 3 pm. I’d love to see you there!

But wait, there’s more! Still space available in my workshop at the Emerald Art Center: November 9-11, 2013. View my Workshops page for more information.

 

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