Most artists need to remember to cultivate insouciance. What is insouciance, you ask? It is a word of French origin that means light-hearted unconcern or nonchalance. This is the attitude of children as they create. We should use child-artists as our role models. Picture a kid with brush in hand, merrily mixing colors, brushing them on with abandon, and standing back with awe and satisfaction in the beauty they have created.
Every time I begin a demonstration, I have to tell myself that it is just a quick sketch to illustrate an idea… not really a finished painting. Telling myself to lighten up in this way takes off the pressure, and allows me to make more risky choices. Sometimes those choices succeed, and other times, not.
As a teacher, I often see artists so concerned with success and perfection that they almost freeze up. As a result, they never have a chance to get their creativity started! It’s ironic, since it seems to me that the most offbeat choices, personal marks and imperfections of a painting are what attract viewers. This fear of mistakes can happen to instructors, too.
For me, the most important thing is to keep moving forward, trying and testing ideas. I try not to agonize about decisions during painting. There is plenty of time for that after the creating is finished. However, I have a harder time remaining confident when it is time to evaluate the work.
Most professional artists that I know are comfortable with not knowing what the outcome of a painting might be. I love this description of the painting process:
“Playing baseball or tennis requires accepting the game as a whole, and so does painting. But unlike baseball or tennis, painting is an open-ended pursuit without any numerical victory or defeat. It’s fraught with subjectivity and uncertainty. It is, as an artist I know has said, one semi-mistaken brushstroke after another applied until a kind of truce against the possibility of a perfect painting is reached.”
Because success is difficult to define in painting, doubt creeps in! This spring I took an online class from an artist I’ve admired for several years: Scott Conary. The quote below was one of the many gems that I gleaned:
“Doubt becomes a habit. We have to become comfortable with doubt: there’s the vulnerability of painting. But by being so comfortable with doubt, you can start thinking, yea – I’m just not that good. You are reacting to your doubts and insecurities instead of responding to the subject. Almost everyone I know is a better painter than they realize. I have a mixed relationship with doubt. How loud do you let its voice become?”
Scott has every reason to feel confident in his stunning work, and to hear that he, too, struggles with doubt is reassuring. What I love most about Scott’s work is the way he imbues his subjects with feeling, symbolism and grace through his use of color and edges. He has graciously supplied me with a few images that perfectly illustrate how focusing on the physicality of paint and responding to the subject can lead to success. His first lesson of the course was about content… choosing personal subject matter. Those who have taken my workshops will remember that familiar refrain. Click on the thumbnails below to appreciate Scott’s mastery!
Confidence vs. Insouciance
But, artists need to have enough confidence in their own vision and aesthetic to justify putting brush to canvas. Or, do we? Why can’t we just enjoy the sensation of the physicality of the paint? Why can’t we simply respond to the subject with joy or pain? What does confidence have to do with it? Maybe it is easier to cultivate an attitude of insouciance.
I recently read somewhere that therapists evaluate how many people their patients bring into the room when they come for counseling. We are all products of former teachers, parents, peers, etc. Painting for myself, I am required to quiet all those voices and concentrate on the delightful quality of the paint, the subject at hand and the process. I cultivate insouciance regularly. What better way to rebel than to ignore every piece of advice or criticism and plow ahead to the beat of my own drummer?
New Workshops Announced
I’ve spent some time this week updating my website with new workshop listings and event listings. You’ll see two big items on these pages:
- I’m returning to teach in France next August 25 – September 1, 2020! Read all about it here, and make plans to join me! I know many folks wished they had taken this trip when they saw my blog post about it here. Make this the year that you join in on the fun. You’ll cultivate insouciance and learn some new French vocabulary!
- I’m honored to announce “Seasons of Home” my solo show at Coos Art Museum, October 11 – December 7, 2019. Look for more details as the time gets closer, and save the date for the opening reception, October 11.
Thanks for that. Been telling myself to use my own intuition and disregard what doesn’t work for me. Almost like a mantra. Appreciate reading this as it affirms what I know but can’t always do.
Thanks Kirsten! It is so much easier in theory than in practice!!!
Reminds me about a sweatshirt my husband bought me for a birthday years ago. It read on the front, “Maybe in Error, Never in Doubt.” I found it hilarious! That does tend to describe my nature.
In doing art I plow ahead, believing I’m led by some kind of divine presence. For sure I have to get to the initial state of ready to work–tossing aside concerns, needs and wants of everyday life.
My current painting addresses “A Harmless Enthusiasm.” Its intent is to lighten even the viewer.
Thank you for all your wonderful thoughts and actions Ruth. Lovely to hear them resound.
That T-shirt sounds like a hoot! Thanks for commenting, Mickey!
So true about the voices. When I am about to make a brush stroke and hear a voice saying: “Are you sure you want to do that? What will they think?” I automatically pause and ask the voice, “Who are you and why are you butting into my slice of heaven?” Because they are such insistent little brats, have to keep doing that the entire time I paint.
I have been just playing and enjoying my last few paintings ever since Jean Pedersen’s Workshop. I have been doing mixed media with acrylics, and collage. I will send you my latest because it won’ paste here