I recently got a splinter.
As a kid I remember running through our house and snagging my big toe on the hardwood floors. It resulted in a big splinter. So of course, my parents had to get out the tweezers and a pin and do the parent thing and try to get it out. For some reason that was the most terrifying event in the world to me. Something sharp being stuck in my foot- even if for my own good. My kids were the same way. I have vivid memories of my girls throwing a fit while I was the one trying to track them down with tweezers in my hand. Ah… life is ironic.
Last week when I got the splinter in my hand, I just calmly got out a needle and dug it out. Yep, it hurt. Probably more than when I was a kid. But no big deal this time. Perspective again.
I wrote a long time ago about when I was about 30 years old and went to the Portrait Society of America conferences when they were first starting up. How I got up enough courage to ask Burton Silverman for his opinion on my work. I handed him a tiny portfolio book that I had of my work and his only real comment before running off to the airport was that I needed to take art lessons.
And if you don’t think that particularly wicked splinter is still in the back of my head, think again. For years it rang as a niggling ache in the back of my brain… “Am I good enough?”
Last week I ran three zoom workshops on Drawing the Portrait, Light and the Power of Pastel. The three most significant things I learned in my development as an artist. And as I told stories of how I came to learn these things and figure these things out for myself, I realized that for the most part and for most of my life I have been on my own. I talked last week about how I figured out how to use pastel by sitting in my basement painting while my babies slept, and knowing I wasn’t going to be able to travel to take workshops or take a class to get “art lessons” from anyone else. I was a mom and moms have to improvise.
So I painted and created sucky paintings. I painted some more. And because I am so stubborn, I painted more and developed elements in my art that were important to me and on my own terms. Following my gut. And that splinter in the back of my mind hurt pretty bad some days.
Fear. I talked about it before. How it can affect your work and cripple a painting because a work is basically us. Made of us and from us- our experiences and moods and desires and fears. Our education, sure, but also, our determination and intentions. Set intentions and the painting will respond. Art lessons be dammed.
It has taken me a long time to recover from that splinter. The scar is still there, but I know now that I know what I know. I have learned a lot in the last 20 years since that day I walked away with my little portfolio book in my hands and tears in my eyes. I know enough now to teach my beliefs and teach it well. I have gotten MY art lessons in the trench before my easel, and it was messy and muddy and full of experiments and trials and failures. But ya know what? When I was younger, I know I was not serious enough. Not dedicated enough to even begin to want anything bad enough at that age. Even if an art education had been handed to me on a silver platter by Burton Silverman himself I would have squandered it. But now the thirst grows deeper every year. I now have a firm belief in my process and in my creations. To let them be seen by others without worrying if I am enough. And to always keep learning.
What are your splinters? Over time pain becomes relevant. What I was terrified of so many years ago while removing the splinter from my toe has become a mundane fact of life. Now I don’t scream and yell. I just get out the tweezers. Move on.
That’s my parting thought this week- take out the tweezers of determination, pluck out your fears and move on. No screaming or yelling. OR complaining… Just paint.
Yep. Always expecting someone to walk up to me and say, “What do you think you are doing? You don’t belong here with these artists!”
We all feel like that sometimes. Good to acknowledge it and then say….go away!
As always, your posts are thought provoking and spot on! I always look forward to seeing your email in my inbox. Thanks so much for being wonderful you! Cheers
thanks so very much! We are all in this together. There is no easy or clear way to be an artist.
Christine, This is a wonderful post. These words really jumped out at me, especially the last one. ” When I was younger, I know I was not serious enough. Not dedicated enough to even begin to want anything bad enough at that age. Even if an art education had been handed to me on a silver platter by Burton Silverman himself I would have squandered it.” I think I too would have squandered an art education when I was young. There were too many other things pulling at me. I can still hear my grandmother saying, ” you did what you needed to do at the time”. Which was true and I have no regrets. We are so fortunate to live at such a time that master teachers are a keyboard click away. I’ve taken more classes than I can count, all of which have been of value, but nothing has been as valuable as the determination to apply what I have learned. This “art education” has been worth its weight in gold. Thank you again for your wonderful post. Onward and Upward!
yay! yes grandmothers are wise. I remember an older lady saying to me “paint as life allows”. and I would get so mad. But it is true. All those demands, all that living plays into the art. I hope you harness it!
This one hit a nerve. Thanks Christine for the reminder and your delightful words of wisdom and encouragement.
We are all the same!
Very true, Christine. it’s too bad we let those old splinters haunt us as much as we do. What you say about perseverance is also true. As Winston Churchill said “Never, never give up”. We all need to be reminded of this. Thank you.
Keep fighting the good fight! And one artist you love and figure out why, master that then find another. we got this….
It is interesting how these splinters effect us. A friend of mine said “people don’t know what they don’t know”. It is profound. It is a freedom and a curse to not know what you don’t know. Personally, not having a fine arts degree has given me a lack of fear, and ability to just try things out of interest and curiosity. I have not been taught what “the right way” is. And I know from my experience in music education that some basics in foundation and practicing often, with short sessions (even 5-15 mins at a time multiple times a day) will create faster progress than a 3-hour cram session on one day a week. Sometimes I wonder if the niggling negative voices in my head about not being a “real artist” due to a lack of a MFA are far less splinters than had I taken an art degree and had the baggage of doing things wrong, and not having the enthusiastic freedom that I have now. Thanks for your thoughts.
Thanks for sharing. yes! Perfectly said! Good for you for just being an artist– and not worrying about if you are one. 😊
Well said, Christine, and a thoughtful reminder. Thanks.
It’s good for me to read this as I contemplate these words in my head, “You know you’re not good enough, why bother?” Will it ever go away? Well, no , probably not. I stand up to it every day…some days get better, some not so good. It’s a legacy born of a lifetime of criticism; not always artistic critique, but of life choices. It comes and goes; sometimes heavier, sometimes lighter, but is persistent like the slivers. Always there, waiting. I must acknowledge it to understand and move beyond. I cherish the occassional positive. I do not regret my choices. Thanks Christine; you are brave and your perspective is true and kind.
Thanks for sharing. It is so hard to be an artist. I can’t imagine a plumber being fulled with so much self-doubt. I wish you well. Life is too short to second-guess ourselves. Dive in to what you love and just follow your gut. Don’t worry about anyone else or how messy your studio is or how nicely your pastels are laid out. Just work.
Christine, I recently, about a year ago, had a critique of my work. I asked my mentor if I should submit my work to any of the national on line shows.
She told me not to waist my money. Ouch.
but I realized that she was right. She gave me some great critical advice and I have been working on it ever since. I have payed more attention to my edges and thought our more decisively how to move light to the shadows.
She gave me my own critical eye. And I thank her for that. Moving on !!!
good. Anything that makes you a better artist is worth it.
Thanks Christine for knowing what all of us reading your posts are going through. You give sound advice and we can relate. Knowing that we share these fears and uncertainties with other artists gives us strength.