Defining Moments

Each of us faces many defining moments in life. Those moments become indelible memories, always a part of us. Those defining moments tell us who we are — and who we’re not. They shape us, mold us, and influence us — for good or for ill.

If you read between the lines yesterday in my post about the acrylic pouring workshop, you might have noticed something amiss, something not quite right in all I wrote about. I did enjoy the workshop. I did come away with two completed pourings, and for what it’s worth, I’ve since purchased some pouring materials and with my husband’s help, I’ve set up my own little acrylic pouring area in my studio. I have a couple projects in mind, so obviously I found some pleasure in it.

But I also found painful feelings, doubts about being an artist, and lots of anguish and frustration. It came about in one defining moment — not actually even a moment, merely a few seconds. Isn’t it mind-boggling, really, to think that such a brief span of time can have such a profound effect upon us?

InstructorAs you might have noticed from the pictures I posted previously, we were seated around a U-shaped arrangement of tables with the instructor in the center area.

After we’d finished our first project — the small tile — the instructor walked around to see how each of us had done. “That’s lovely,” she nodded to one participant. To the next, she smiled and said, “Oh, I like that.”

Next she came to one of the most incredibly talented artists in our club, and I certainly wasn’t surprised when the instructor gushed over the tile. “That is absolutely gorgeous!” she exclaimed, with good reason. It was absolutely gorgeous.

At this point she’s in front of the girl to my right. She nods approvingly. “That’s really nice,” she remarks. She steps in front of me, looks down at my tile, and then moves to the girl on my left, telling her “Oh, I love those colors you’ve used.” And on she continued around the table, leaving me with the knowledge that my little tile was not worth commenting on, a certain affirmation of what I’ve known all along. I’m not an artist. I have no artistic abilities. While acrylic pouring is something that anyone can do…. well,  correction. It seems that acrylic pouring is something that anyone but me can do.

So I’m sitting there, looking at everyone around me and wondering, what’s so awful about my tile? Was it wrong or lacking in some way? Was my pouring really so bad?

I pushed all the negative feelings down — remember, I’d been having a “bad art day” all day — and resolved to do better on our second project. I chose my colors with care. I listened. I followed directions. I came up with something I thought was nice to look at.

My Canvas (2)

Around the table came the instructor with kind words for every canvas, until she came to mine. She at least gave me a slight nod before she began praising the girl to my left in much the same way she’d just praised the girl to my right, but not a single word was spoken about my canvas.

Again, somehow, my pouring obviously wasn’t good enough. It didn’t merit even a “nice job,” or a “pretty colors” remark.

Why? Is there something inherently bad about anything I create? Or, if not bad, at least so mediocre, so boring, so unoriginal that it deserves to be bypassed, overlooked, and utterly ignored?

Yesterday I explained part of my hesitation about trying acrylic pouring. I wrote:

Maybe there was a part of me that expected that somehow I’d be the one person who couldn’t do acrylic pouring and have it turn out right, that maybe I’d discover that I wasn’t even artistic enough to do a “no talent required” form of art…

And so, you see, the workshop was like my worst art nightmare coming true. I came away knowing that I am not an artist, that I have no artistic ability, and that no matter what I create, it will be lacking in some fundamental way.

Now, of course, the logical, rational side of my brain was disputing this. I’m a highly creative individual, and I’ve actually won awards for my art. Besides, acrylic pouring isn’t really fine art, it’s all random, so it’s impossible for one artist to be better than another… isn’t it?

But that line of thought led back to the realization that even the simplest form of art is apparently beyond my capabilities.

My rational brain also faulted the instructor a bit. In going around, one by one, and offering comments or encouragement, she was wrong to skip over me, wrong to treat me as though my work didn’t matter. It angers me just a bit. I paid for the workshop the same as everyone else. I should have been entitled to the same consideration. She should have commented on my pourings.

But blaming her didn’t ease the sting. It didn’t erase all those long-standing doubts, all those feelings that — at best — all I’ll ever be is a pretend artist, a wannabe.

I returned home from the workshop, looked at my now-very-disappointing works with acrylics sliding all over, called it a night, and went to bed.

The next morning I was still hurting emotionally. I cried a little and wondered again why I’m so bad at art. Why not just give it up? Why bother trying any longer when my efforts weren’t even worth noticing?

I spent a lot of time thinking things over, all the while hearing that nagging voice insisting, “You’re not an artist. This proves it. You’re not an artist.”

And then I made a defining moment of my own. I decided I would go down to my studio. I would draw. I would paint. I would go right on studying art and learning new techniques, trying new methods.

Why? Because I am an artist.

I’m an artist not by virtue of any gift I’ve been given. I’m an artist by virtue of the hard work, determination, and desire I’ve put into my art. That gives me every right to call myself an artist.

Marching down the stairs to my studio yesterday took a bit of courage. I had to fight the doubts away at every step. In the end, it was that moment, that decision, that willingness to go on that truly defined who I was, that continues to define who I am.

I am an artist.

 

 

 

37 Comments

  1. Yes you are an artist! It is hard to combat the tapes that play continuously in our heads when those moments come, when the world seems to reinforce what was recorded on the tapes in the distant past. I think defining moments like the one you had are often redefining moments…. They are moments where some formative mindset comes roaring back to the surface because of what is happening right now. Most times we don;t even know when those thought patterns got started , but there they are in all their glory. Still and all, such moment offers us the opportunity to do just what you did, fight the thought and redefine who we really are.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much for the encouraging words. You have a good point about these moments being “re-defining” ones, bringing back painful moments from past experiences. I’m sure a lot of that was true for me in this particular instance. It hurt to be “passed over” at this workshop, and I’m still puzzled as to why the instructor so completely ignored what I’d done — not once, but (other than a slight nod) twice. Still, in the end, I guess the experience did strengthen me on some levels. I can’t say I’ll ever be grateful for the experience, but at least I came through fighting!

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  2. That’s how the art world makes you tough. They don’t support artists. Art experts, teachers, jurors, etc. They don’t know they’re doing it. They have their own problems. What they want from you is money. Your success is just a matter of your own feelings about your art. No one else’s opinion matters.

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    1. Thanks for the encouraging words. It still hurts, though, to remember that feeling of being “passed over” — in a sense, being “singled out” because I seemed to be the only one who was passed over in that way. Of course I wonder why. I’ll never know, so for that reason alone I will probably always question myself, at least where acrylic pouring is concerned! FWIW, I’ve done two little projects on my own. I’m not happy with either. 🙂 Maybe I’ll read a little more about techniques to create different effects, and I hope to have fun doing pourings with family and friends. Still, it’s probably always going to bring back a few painful memories. 😦

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      1. It might be that on some subconscious level the teacher sensed your doubt. I can only guess. I thought your pour came out real pretty. You know the art world is fubar, right? You can desensitize yourself to a certain extent after enough crap happens to you. Keep on rocking!

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      2. Now that’s an interesting thought. Yes, I agree, it’s totally “FUBAR” and maybe that’s what makes the journey so interesting. Sometimes it’s like watching a trainwreck — figurately speaking. No rhyme, no reason to most of it, and if we think otherwise, we’re fooling ourselves. I guess “keep on rocking” is the best advice to follow! Thanks so much.

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  3. Oh, good grief! I can’t believe the instructor treated you that way! I happen to love your piece, and the colors you chose. I have never done acrylic pours and must say that your piece inspires me to think about trying. But regardless of whether I do or don’t like your piece (which I honestly do!), I fault that instructor for not not saying even a little something encouraging. The creation of art, after all, is very subjective, personal and, frankly, can be a very fragile experience for the artist. I certainly hope you keep on with your creations, with being an artist, which you truly are!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for the kind words. I do think the instructor was remiss in slighting me as she did. I don’t want to think it was intentional, yet I’m at a loss as to any reason why she silently passed by my work after each project we did. I’ve never met this woman before, have no connection to her whatsoever, and the whole experience was quite frustrating and painful. It would have been different if she’d only commented on a few, but it seemed she had words of praise for everyone in the workshop but me. I don’t think my efforts were so bad, really! So it left me totally bewildered, and definitely hurting. I’ve come away from the experience knowing that I’m not a “natural born” artist and that I’ll always have to work very hard to “be an artist” and create anything of merit, and that’s all right. I still have the right to draw and paint, to learn and do. I still have the right to belong to various art clubs and enter my work in art shows. And I can still cherish the ribbons I’ve won! I worked hard for them, and I’m not going to let this bad experience stop me from continuing my journey toward becoming an even better artist!

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  4. I listened to an interesting interview yesterday with the author of “Steal Like an Artist,” who talked about this very thing. So, I’ll share some of what he said about it. Generally, if someone asks what you do and you say, “I’m a writer/artist/etc.” When you use nouns to describe your identity, you impose limits on yourself. And these self-imposed limits can lead to doubts about whether you really are good enough to call yourself “an Artist.” Because identity issues are complex. He suggested that you drop the identity nouns and look at verbs. What do you do? I do art. I draw. I write. Etc. And what this does is it switches off the impostor syndrome and self-doubt, and focuses on what you actively put time, effort, and energy into. You are what you invest yourself in. So, if you invest in art regularly, yes, you can call yourself an artist. Because it’s what you actually do.

    And speaking of impostor syndrome, I think this is something that plagues creatives no matter how professional they become. I have an artist friend who started with Disney studios and has been publishing her own graphic novels and art books for decades. She does commission paintings, has had her character art turned into sculptures, and has worked with video game graphics as well. She earns her living from her art, therefore it is her profession. Therefore, she has the right to call herself a professional artist. Her work is stunning. Yet, she still often doubts her efforts or is ashamed of past works (which were always still very good, even if her style has improved with time). I’ve heard other professional artists talk about this because I look up articles and videos on the subject when I get hit with self-doubt, too. The feelings of being a fraud usually come about when someone expresses displeasure or maybe there is a lack of approval about the art being produced. But this doesn’t have to come from an outside critique. Sometimes we do it to ourselves. So, we have to ask ourselves does this negative feedback actually improve the art? If not, then we need to let it go and accept that our art/writing isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.

    Validation is a human need. If we don’t get it, for whatever reason, it turns inward and makes us feel we aren’t good enough. We call ourselves authors or artists, but sometimes we feel like frauds (even at professional levels) if someone’s opinions don’t live up to our expectations. But sometimes it’s our expectations that need reviewing. In short, you’re not alone, and you did the right thing to go back to the studio and focus on doing what you love, rather than dwelling on one person’s lack of response. We all get these feelings now and then. But if we truly enjoy what we’re doing, we don’t let others’ opinions keep us from doing them. 🙂

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    1. All excellent advice. I know this has hit me so hard because art is my “weak spot”. It’s where I’m most vulnerable. I have confidence in myself as a writer. I have confidence in myself as a musician. I have confidence in myself in virtually all creative areas — except for art. From life experience, I’ve seen how “talent” and “ability” tend to play out. In any group, there are usually about 10% who are “top performers” — their work stands out without them even trying to get noticed. The majority of people –about 80% — have average capabilities. Not outstanding, but definitely good enough to be called “good enough”. These individuals can learn and grow and develop abilities. And then there’s the bottom 10%, the hopelessly bad individuals for whom no amount of teaching or practice or hard work will ever really make any measurable difference. These are the ones who are “passed over” because they are hopeless. At the workshop I certainly didn’t expect to be gushed over with praise (as the truly outstanding artists of the group were), but neither did I expect to find myself in the “hopeless” designation. That’s what it felt like, and after having a bad day all day, it really knocked the wind out of me emotionally. I don’t want to think of myself as “hopeless” when it comes to art, and thank goodness I have seen tremendous improvement in my drawing and painting, so I know what I’m doing is paying off. I suppose I need to just chalk this up to a crazy, inexplicable experience, laugh it off, and go on. Overall, on a positive note, this has made me more aware of what I do good, more appreciative of those beautiful works I sometimes do create. So, I guess I can be grateful for that!

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      1. I’ve heard that if we must compare ourselves to something it should be with our previous works. Because that’s the only true measure of how far we’ve come. 🙂 It’s a good exercise when feeling doubt to comb through beginner endeavors to remind ourselves that we’re capable of improving. So, yes, be proud of what you’ve done so far, and keep pushing forward. 🙂

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      2. I can definitely see progress in art when I look at recent works. Having my own “real” art studio is awesome! I guess what upset me most in the whole incident was the idea that I just wasn’t good at something that “anybody can do”. I mean, seriously, if you can’t create good “random art”… well, it’s funny in a way, and I shouldn’t let it bother me. But again, how can there be “good” and “bad” when it’s all essentially accidental? I guess there are “happy accidents” that turn out well and “bad accidents” that leave casualties in their wake. I was just the victim, perhaps, of a bad accident. 🙂

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      3. LoL … I am so grateful to Bob Ross for making “happy accidents” a regular part of art vocabulary. 🙂 It’s a healthy way to incorporate mistakes and “bad accidents” into the flow of the bigger picture, whether talking about one painting or the creative process overall. And yes, I understand the frustration with feeling like you’re the only one who can’t do something that seems so simple. I’m going through that right now with a few other aspects of my life. And I keep coming back to, “Why can’t I do this?? So-and-so did it, so why can’t I? What is wrong with me?” So, the frustration leads to comparisons, which makes the attacks turn inward. And even after examining my obstacles, I can’t seem to get past them. It’s very discouraging. But when my pity party is over, I come back to the fact that all I can do is keep my eyes on the mountain and keep trying to climb it. I know that if I give up, I’ll never get there, and that thought hurts more. So I know I need to get better at failing and keep seeking tangible solutions, happy accidents or otherwise. 🙂

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      4. Getting stuck anywhere with anything is frustrating. Can you take a deep breath and let it go long enough for it to figure itself out? Sometimes the best answers come to me once I’ve put the question out of mind for a while.

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      5. I’m trying. And in one case I have no choice but to be still because the ball is in someone else’s court. I’ve done all I can, but there is no response. So, that’s hard. I have to remind myself that I can’t control other people. If there is never going to be a response, I have to accept that, even if it hurts. So, the hurt becomes the obstacle. But in the other cases, inertia is my bane. I tend to take progress up to a certain point and then drop my own ball. So, the obstacle is self-sabotage, and I have yet to find a way through that. … Deeper stuff than art, I’m afraid. But art helps me step back to take that breath, at least. 🙂

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      6. Take care of yourself during the difficult times. Do things you love, and search out things that make you happy and that inspire you. I’ll be here if you need to rant, rave, or holler. 🙂

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  5. Excellent for you stepping up to face YOURSELF! Courage!

    Also, you reminded me of my 1st ink wash in college in Architecture. I should have seen through the ruse of how he taught me, when we were both martial arts instructors of the same rank outside of class, though inside the class I was a sophomore student and he was the tenured Prof, and I had never done an ink wash in my life.

    Play out the story to a ‘T’ exactly as you expressed it with him walking around and commenting and cooing and “Stunning!” And, then he came to me. I was done, finished, complete. I didn’t know I had the watercolor does out of the gate. I had picked an Oil of Olay ad as the black and white image was soft and stunning. I remember thinking, “wow, cool, she has Splendor in her eyes.”

    So, I’m done… in spare few strokes but there it was… and he stopped behind me, paused, took it in, and said nothing. Shaken, immediately puzzled. He struck a similar chord. “Oh shit, I guess I’m not done. He didn’t say anything. Later he confessed he did it on purpose. THough, as he walked around the room, I worked the piece, and over-worked it chasing my tail back to what I had and more and more and just stopped. It was now one of the ugliest things I’d seen in my life. It went from visuals ambrosia to something the trash men might not allow in the truck.

    He came back around, and he saw the “jumping in the ring intensity in my eyes.” And, he said, “Yup, you just HAD to touch it didn’t you. You just HAD to touch it. Beauty works that way, especially when you create it. Next time, know when it’s done, and teach yourself to touch it with the other end of the brush. I’ll bet you you’ll pop right back and, “NO”. Just HAD to touch it.“

    I express the story not because it’s a mirror of yours in the overall, though I eel she affected you the way he affected me. I was not Sovereign in my work AND the judgment of it.

    Kudos for you experimenting with pouring. Jackson Pollack would be proud you tried from his Happy Brush Steve Martin Feet “pouring.” Good for you for dialing back in to get back in there, AND for allowing yourself to recover 1st. It’s important not to play injured so to speak.

    I’m looking forward to see what comes of it. It feels like Defining Moment, and it also feels like a Defining Moment Seed. How will your garden grow?

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    1. Beautiful post! Thank you so much for sharing your experience, and I value the lesson it teaches. I’m learning to walk away, leave it alone, DO NOT TOUCH the painting again. I’m finding that it works best for me to stop before I think the painting is finished. I can always go back to it later if it really needs it, but when I’m in the process of painting, I can’t be objective enough to know if it needs more. I’m liking a lot of my paintings much, much better since I’ve been doing that! As for the acrylic workshop, it was a painful experience. I’ve done a couple more little projects here in my own studio. I’m not happy with either. I’ve never liked using acrylics other than for toning canvases before oil painting. Maybe this is just one more expression of my fundamental discomfort with the medium. At the same time, I want to learn more about acrylic pouring, experiment with different techniques, and have fun sharing it with family and friends. I’m taking that moment of despair and seeing through it to my own strengths, my excitement for art, my desire to learn. It is truly a seed. Thank you for that analogy!

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  6. A good read there and also of the comments.

    One of my defining moments actually came about from a statement from a 5-year old girl. She was being told “no, you need to paint it this way” to which her response was “no, I want to do it my way and I don’t care if you don’t like it”.

    It was such a simple revelation and one that I recall often if I experience negative feelings about my art.

    There is only one valid critic of my artwork, and he’s the one typing this comment right now – yes he can be very critical and has an element of disappointment in every single artwork done so far, but he’s still the only one I’m really going to pay attention to.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Being able to say “I’m going to do it my way, like it or not,” is very powerful! I’m beginning to discover that and claim it in much of my own work. I guess at this point I’ve done enough “bad art” that if I do something else “bad” it doesn’t really matter LOL… so I’m starting to take more risks, daring to try new things, and if I don’t like it? Oh, well. I’ll just do it again a different way.

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  7. It takes a certain kind of instructor to be able to teach an art process and yet not be so set in his or her own ideas that they can’t be open and affirming to each person’s expression of it. I’m sorry the instructor for this art activity was so insensitive! I hope you will not let it discourage you!

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  8. Can I just say (as a non-artist): there’s absolutely nothing wrong with this painting!! It’s beautiful, creative, the colours are vibrant and the whole thing makes me think of these oil stains on a wet road. Pollution aside the colours in those puddles are often very beautiful. Or.. it could be one of the many small artificial ponds in the fields where tadpoles and waterfoul and everything in between are having a great time. Those ponds are teeming with life. So is this. If you had a good experience making it then to the warp with the rest. Just my two cents. You are an artist!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much! Yeah, that workshop brought up a lot of emotions. I’ve since donw more acrylic pourings, and I think mine are as good as anyone’s. 🙂 I do enjoy acrylic pouring now.

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