It’s an extraordinary thing about being an artist that people are so often eager to tell you about a “brilliant” artist they have just met or some artist who is suddenly making “millions” from their work. I wonder if people realise the feelings of irritation, jealousy, fear and inadequacy they are planting when they do this. How many other occupations have to tolerate being inundated a nearly daily basis with stories of how great everyone else is and how well they are all doing?
Try telling your plumber or electrician about some fabulous new maintenance man on the scene and see how many minutes you can go without a kick in the ass, an empty kitchen and a still-broken sink or washing machine.
As an artist, even without the intervention of the supposedly well-meaning people, jealousy, or to go a little deeper, fear, is a hazard of the job, both your own fear and the fear you may unwittingly inspire.
If you are engaged as an artist you are constantly alive to art around you, and the good stuff will arouse certain feelings within and sometimes these feelings that are not comfortable. The good thing about this is that I truly believe that something will only resonate with you if it is also present in yourself.
So, if, for example, you encounter a painter whose use of colour makes you envious then that signals a desire in you to explore colour in your own work. You cannot admire something without recognising it and if you recognise it then the capability to create it is somewhere within you too, waiting to be excavated.
It is said there are only two emotions at the back of everything: fear and love. It is much easier to turn the fear you feel on encountering a good artist into something approaching love than it is to deal with the effects of someone elses fear.
Years ago I was lucky to work with some artists who were older and more experienced than I. I revelled in it and duly admired them and we were, I thought, friends. I did of course become more confident too. I began to develop a plan for some studio spaces for local artists to finally be able to create. In my ignorance I did not realise the fear I was striking into people’s hearts by doing this. If we had studio spaces we would no longer have an excuse. I didn’t want an excuse so, in my self-absorbed way, I thought they didn’t want one either. I was too young to know that people are often not able to say what they need to say.
To cut a long story short, these artists sat me down one night and explained to me, in detail, why I was not a real artist and they were. It was one of the most devastating experiences of my life. I withdrew my plans and continued to paint albeit now in isolation. Eventually the painting stopped too and for many years. Sometimes even seeing a painting would send me into paroxysms of fear, so deep did that experience go.
When life and its vagaries eventually forced me into painting again I knew I would have to confront my fear of other artists and somehow reach out and find some kindred spirits. Creating is a lonely occupation for most of us and we need our networks for most of us cannot operate in a vacuum. This was scary for me but I was older and stronger and in the end no-one can destroy you quite like that a second time.
I am lucky that I am meeting more artists who are more interested in the work than in blaming others for the fear that every artist must surely nurture in their breast. Or maybe we are just older. Though I am still wary, I get amusement now from the cattiness of younger artists, amusement that is spiced with the uncharitable knowledge that life is going kick their fat little asses into shape 🙂
We cannot stop feeling what we feel. Many people, many artists, will claim not to feel fear or jealousy but I am inclined not to believe them. We cannot control what feelings arise but we can decide how to act.
I work hard at not asking others to carry my burdens, I am determined never to destroy a young artists dreams because I cannot handle myself. When I confront a young artists contempt or over-confidence now, I am old enough to pause and decide that I can respond with kindness. They will, after all, need all they can get and sometimes a kind response can yield amazing results and new friends.
These days, if I see work that sends those familiar icy pangs through, me I am likely to seek out that artist, to make a connection in the hope of a future collaboration and in a way the people I have to thank for it are those friends of mine who succumbed to the fear all those years ago. I do not want to be like them.
Now, when my blood freezes and my heart stops on seeing some great piece of work or hearing of some new success I don’t feel I am being challenged, at least not in a negative way. My fear has become for me a signal that I am confronting some hitherto unknown part of myself.
OK, I am not quite yet the Dalai Lama and I do have to work at it but I know that it’s possible to greet fear or envy with something close to excitement, maybe joy, certainly openness, for it is likely to be the herald of something new: a new friend, a new collaborator, a new aspect of me to be explored.
Feel your fear. Then find yourself.
Yes, this was supposed to be a painting log. Oh well. But if you’re interested I am still painting and on a couple of different themes. I have been talking to other artists too, about possible shows next year and I have a couple of prints in the works. So all continues, erratically, slowly, but it continues.