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Pearls from artists* # 333

Studio entrance

Studio entrance

*an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.

… the Greeks and Romans both believed in the idea of an external daemon of creativity – a sort of house elf, if you will, who lived within the walls of your home and who sometimes aided you in your labors.  The Romans had a specific term for that helpful house elf.  They called it your genius – your guardian deity, the conduit of your inspiration.  Which is to say, the Romans didn’t believe that an exceptionally gifted person was a genius; they believed that an exceptionally gifted person had a genius.

It’s a subtle but important distinction (being vs. having) and, I think, it’s a wise psychological construct.  The idea of an external genius helps to keep an artist’s ego in check, distancing him somewhat from the burden of taking either full credit or full blame for the outcome of his work. If your work is successful, in other words, you are obliged to thank your external genius for the help, thus holding you back from total narcissism.  And if your work fails, it’s not entirely your fault.  You can say, “Hey, don’t look at me – my genius didn’t show up today!”

Either way, the vulnerable human ego is protected.

Protected from the corrupting influence of praise.

Protected from the corrosive effects of shame.       

Elizabeth Gilbert in Big Magic:  Creative Living Beyond Fear

Comments are welcome!

Q: I just got home from my first painting experience… three hours and I am exhausted! Yet you, Barbara, build up as many as 30 layers of pastel, concentrate on such intricate detail, and work on a single painting for months. How do you do it?

Barbara's studio

Barbara’s studio

A:  The short answer is that I absolutely love making art in my studio and on the best days I barely even notice time going by!  

Admittedly, it’s a hard road.  Pursuing life as an artist takes a very special and rare sort of person.  Talent and having innate gifts are a given, merely the starting point.  We must possess a whole cluster of characteristics and be unwavering in displaying them.  We are passionate, hard-working, smart, devoted, sensitive, self-starting, creative, hard-headed, resilient, curious, persistent, disciplined, stubborn, inner-directed, tireless, strong, and on and on.  Into the mix add these facts.  We need to be good business people. Even if we are, we are unlikely to make much money.  We are not respected as a profession.  People often misunderstand us:  at best they ignore us, at worst they insult our work and us, saying we are lazy, crazy, and more.

The odds are stacked against any one individual having the necessary skills and stamina to withstand it all.  So many artists give up, deciding it’s too tough and just not worth it, and who can blame them?  This is why I believe artists who persevere over a lifetime are true heroes.  It’s why I do all I can to help my peers.  Ours is an extremely difficult life – it’s impossible to overstate this – and each of us finds our own intrinsic rewards in the work itself.  Otherwise there is no reason to stick with it.  Art is a calling and for those of us who are called, the work is paramount.  We build our lives around the work until all else becomes secondary and falls away.  We are in this for the duration.

In my younger days everything I tried in the way of a career eventually became boring. Now with nearly thirty years behind me as a working artist, I can still say, “I am never bored in the studio!”  It’s difficult to put into words why this is true, but I know that I would not want to spend my time on this earth doing anything else.  How very fortunate that I do not have to do so!

Comments are welcome!