Friday, April 23, 2010

Agony and self-doubt: working through it

Here's a question:  why do some pieces almost fall together on their own, and others cause the artist (me!) pain and suffering?  Why?
I have been asking myself this question quite a bit for the past several weeks.  I have a plan, a basic idea for the piece I am working on, and yet, around every curve, I'm filled with self-doubt.  I don't get it.

I am trying to respect this process for what it is because, if past experiences with this ritual (if one can call it that...) are any indicator, it  frequently results in a successful piece.  It seems like I err on either end of the spectrum:  some are so easy it is ridiculous, whilst others almost cause me physical pain.  Anxiety.  What is this all about?

I'm interested in this, particularly since we are doing online interviews of the artists who will be featured in the upcoming "Beneath the Surface" exhibition.  Most, if not all, of these artists have stated that they rarely have this problem.  Trust me:  I am NEVER at a loss for things to work on.   This is about getting stuck in the throes of a particular piece.  I would like to hear from others who have faced down this demon.  I do not think it is a rare occurrence but it isn't frequently discussed.  It reminds me of early parenthood:  no one wants to admit that there are moments when we ask ourselves, "My goodness, what have I gotten myself into?"  This is, in no way, a reflection of whether or not we love what we are doing (in either case!) but simply a "moment".  Well, I'm having "a moment".  I know I'll persevere through it, but I'm suffering.

Here  details of the cause of my "pain":

I  know part of the problem I'm having is that it is not a happy subject.  It is about what remains after a disaster, and in this case the piece is about the earthquake in Haiti.  I've been doing a lot of thinking about this subject on a visual and emotional level.  Visually, there is something interesting about the strata in the aftermath of something like an earthquake or tornado.  I know that seems very unemotional and clinical, and it is.  I'm trying to respond to the subject on both levels. 
I have an old trauma-tape that replays in my head whenever I view images of a horrific disaster, as I was way-too-close to an F-5 tornado at a young age.  It left quite an impression on me.  The visual aftermath: the rubble, and mixed in with it are everyday bits of color and household items, usually in crazy places/angles  that look wildly out-of-place in the midst of the chaos.  The other piece of this puzzle is the ongoing trauma for those affected by the event.  After the news cameras go home, people must continue to wade through what remains.  We now call it post-traumatic stress, but back in 1966 there was no name for it.  I saw people who were haunted for many years beyond the event.  Those are the things I'm grappling with right now.  I guess I'll go back to my work table and tackle it once more.


  1. You can do it - you can - you can. Those sections are reminding me of fragments - pieces lost or forgotten. Rise up, look at yourself in the mirror and shout back "I can do this!" then go back to your table and put it together. You Go girl!

  2. Thanks, friend. Its flowing again. I did a real number on myself....

  3. Well, seems like you've pulled yourself (or are pulling yourself) through it. So maybe the question was rhetorical but I don't mind answering anyway at the risk of sounding dumb. I say 'Heck ya!' and "I totally hate it when this happens." I don't think artists usually commiserate on this because a.) no one likes to hear negative things and b.) maybe it makes them think if they aren't having problems maybe they aren't trying hard enough. LOL

    It's hard to break out of what is comfortable; and it would seem in a world that prefers you have one 'style' so you can be 'consistent' or in a given 'box' it's kinda hard to get out of that.

    I feel self centered talking about it but when I'm working on several things at once; and sometimes they come together as you point out; so very easy & lovely. Then you get one that just almost makes you not want to go in there and work on it every day. Part of you thinks maybe it's just beyond your skill set right now; and since you can't do it justice don't try... BUT, the better part of you; the part that knows you all ready know what you need to do tells you to go in, sit down and just start working; so that's what I do. I sit there, sometimes not liking even what thing I'm doing at that moment, but then danged if all the sudden; as I'm working, practicing the discipline of it; it will start falling together. The more I work it; the more I work ON it; the more I see it coming. Then I find hope.

    What I have found is that my problem is oftentimes I get caught up in seeing the final, finished piece in my head; but in reality I was only on step two!

    Glad you got back in the saddle & got through it. Good for YOU!

  4. Thanks for the encouragement. The joke (not really) at Art Cloth Studios is: "Just Do The Work". Sometimes that is all it takes. Just get back on the beast and ride it.

  5. Are you kidding? I think it's wonderful as is! It's looks like a drawing/painting. I know that angst of not getting along with a painting. It's like we're dancing, but it's stepping on my toes. You have to get to know the piece...learn what it wants you to know, then call up the principles of design as a check off list.

  6. well stated, Suzanne! This one has been kicking my butt! I'm finishing the piecing tonight, and will do a bit more overpainting after that. The shots above are details. In all the years I have constructed quilts, I have never put one together like this. It has been quite an adventure/education. Pretty humbling.


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