Not a Good Enough Painter? Or is She? by Pamela Beck

“Am I wasting my time? Is this worth it? Am I really any good?” While these seem like questions between lovers at an impasse, they were actually at the heart of a conversation I had with an artist friend. She had begun to doubt the quality and originality of her work. She wondered if she should keep on painting at all.

ARTdart: There are as many ways to think about art as there are to create it. Join Pamela Beck in her column, ARTdart, as she explores and considers the different perspectives that define the art world.


Pamela Beck

by Pamela Beck

“Am I wasting my time? Is this worth it? Am I really any good?”

While these seem like questions between lovers at an impasse, they were actually at the heart of a conversation I had with an artist friend. She had begun to doubt the quality and originality of her work. She wondered if she should keep on painting at all. Without a gallery to represent her, most of her work remained unsold.

Like most painters, my friend doesn’t feel she has any choice but to paint. She told me that she tried unsuccessfully to stop a few years ago so she could concentrate on more practical goals. But the need to paint grew even greater in the absence of being able to do so. She found herself sneaking into her studio in the middle of the night where she would alphabetically arrange her unused paint tubes, just so that she would be able to touch them again. “It’s not like I can put on something like a smoker’s patch and drop this addiction,” she told me. “Not that I really want to,” she added.

Why, Brad Darling – Estate of Roy Lichtenstein

Most of the time my friend feels energized by her painting. She loves the release and expression it provides. She enjoys the time spent in close connection with her creativity. But it’s hard for her to shake the feeling that other artist friends have gained recognition and moved forward while she has been left behind. And it has become increasingly clear to her that she will have to keep her day job…indefinitely.

My friend fears that perhaps it’s not because she’s competing with thousands of known and unknown artists who attempt to get selected by well-established galleries. (Galleries who themselves, usually have limited resources to serve the artists they already represent.) And it’s not because these galleries often select artists who come with their own impressive client list or have been personally referred to them; and it’s not because she has a small budget to promote herself and buy painting material; and it’s not because her day job and family needs make it hard for her to do the footwork, travel and schmoozing necessary to introduce herself to others beyond where she lives; and it’s not because her work doesn’t dovetail with current popular taste and fashion. No, the lack of gallery interest in my friend’s work has convinced her that she’s simply not a good enough painter.

Whether she is or isn’t a good enough painter to find a gallery to represent her and then succeed once she’s there, I wouldn’t know; nor does anyone else. It’s all highly subjective and unpredictable. In the meantime, my friend is left to determine if her painting has enough personal value to overcome her doubts.

Of course she would like positive recognition, both for the satisfaction and to be able to support herself through her art. However, as that is not the case at the moment, can she let go of judging her art as a success or failure and accept it as necessary for her wellbeing? She’s clearly going to continue to paint, regardless of whether she can sell anything. But my friend worries that if she’s the only one who finds her work meaningful, does her art really have any worth?

I’ll leave it to the great philosophers and shrinks to grapple with that last question. I have a hunch though, that my friend already knows the answer- unless she wants to go back to alphabetizing her paint tubes again.


To read more from Pamela, view these links:
http://srxq.blogspot.com/
http://whatdogsreallythink.blogspot.com/

10 thoughts on “Not a Good Enough Painter? Or is She? by Pamela Beck”

  1. All professions have their glitches and with artists it has built-in self doubt. It is our muse as well as our nemesis. It is what pushes me on and dig deeper into my creative soul. And it is what derails me from completing an artwork and feeling unsure of what to do next. The only relief I have when feeling these opposites is that I believe I’m about to take the next step into my creative process. If everything feels stale, then it truly IS time to make bigger changes. Easier said than done… so keep up the momentum to push through this phase of your life.

  2. An artist regardless of level or skill must question the value of what he or she does everyday and answer it in the affirmative by making a better work then the last one. Ella Fitzgerald , one of the greatest virtuoso jazz singers that ever lived. was very nervous every night before she went out and faced the audience (firing squad) and performed. It is the nature of the job. I think this is exactly why few people have the temperament to be artists. The courage of artists goes generally unnoticed and unremarked John Wayne once asked Kirk Douglas how he could play such a “weak character’ as Vincent van Gogh…boy, did he not get it.

    1. I agree that it does take tremendous courage to really reveal yourself , as artists routinely do. The “firing squad” is always waiting. The trick is to learn how to stop caring. Hmmm…

  3. Thank you Pamela, this is the centuries old question. What is good enough to be considered “Art”. I wrestle with this frequently and try to listen to my heart. For me my best work, the work I consider “good enough” is the work that comes from within. This work emerges when I stop thinking about the finished product, rather let the process take me where it will. Learning to trust that special space and fall into it, somewhat like learning to downhill ski by leaning into the mountain, takes courage that is very rarely acknowledged or valued unless the work is presented, then made vulnerable for criticism by informed and uninformed opinions. That is where the courage and trust in personal instinct is the most valuable. There are instances of “The Emperor’s New Clothes”, but when investigated, it seems is motivated by external drivers of saleability or shock value. Just my three cents! Is this a good enough response?

    1. I think you answered that yourself:
      “For me my best work, the work I consider “good enough” is the work that comes from within.”
      You’re livin’ the dream!

  4. Every day I question why I put so much effort into making art. How can I be sure that what I make is art?
    What I am sure of is that making art is my survival tactic.
    When I do not do it, I am miserable. I loose my sense of a positive perspective on life.
    Perhaps the question of whether or not my work is worthy of being called “art” is not important.
    More important is maintaining a pattern of living that is productive and wholesome, one in which I can contribute positively to my family and my community.

    1. Here’s a ‘good enough’ reason to continue with your art:

      “What I am sure of is that making art is my survival tactic.
      When I do not do it, I am miserable. I loose my sense of a positive perspective on life.”

      Sounds like you’ve incorporated your art into your entire life and vice versa to create a beautiful, enriching worldview.

  5. Being in the business of marketing art and also admiring art, I often see a dichotomy between the two. In our capitalistic society, marketing skills seems to take a priority over the quality of the art. I remember one time going to the house of an artist in New Mexico and seeing an attic filled with some of the best art I have ever seen. The artist felt his art was worth more than what the market would pay for so it was all left unsold. It was quite a few years ago and the artist was well into his 80’s. I would venture to see that some dumpster ended up with the best art no one knows about.

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