It was a bright, brisk spring day, and the skylarks were singing over the sand dunes. The wind was in the north and the tide was high, and all seemed well with the world… if a wee bit chilly. So Algy made himself comfortable in a sunny spot at the edge of the dunes, and leaned back happily against the warm bank of sand, gazing out towards the dazzling sea, while the larks rose into the sky from the dunes behind him to sing their joyful songs, and then plummeted back down into the Marram grass again. Algy was reminded of a poem by John Clare:
The rolls and harrows lie at rest beside The battered road; and spreading far and wide Above the russet clods, the corn is seen Sprouting its spiry points of tender green, Where squats the hare, to terrors wide awake, Like some brown clod the harrows failed to break. Opening their golden caskets to the sun, The buttercups make schoolboys eager run, To see who shall be first to pluck the prize— Up from their hurry, see, the skylark flies, And o'er her half-formed nest, with happy wings Winnows the air, till in the cloud she sings, Then hangs a dust-spot in the sunny skies, And drops, and drops, till in her nest she lies, Which they unheeded passed—not dreaming then That birds which flew so high would drop agen To nests upon the ground, which anything May come at to destroy. Had they the wing Like such a bird, themselves would be too proud, And build on nothing but a passing cloud! As free from danger as the heavens are free From pain and toil, there would they build and be, And sail about the world to scenes unheard Of and unseen—Oh, were they but a bird! So think they, while they listen to its song, And smile and fancy and so pass along; While its low nest, moist with the dews of morn, Lies safely, with the leveret, in the corn.
[Algy is quoting the poem The Skylark by the early 19th century English poet John Clare.]
It was a beautiful late September day, bathed in the hazy, golden light of the soft autumn sun. The northerly breeze was cold, but Algy found himself a sheltered perch on a flat rock by the peaty burn, and spent a happy afternoon just soaking up the warmth of the stone. The burn was low after several weeks of dry weather and – just like Algy – it was in no particular hurry to get anywhere. As Algy watched the play of reflected light on the rocks, and the wee bubbles trickling lazily past him, he remembered a poem about such a day:
The thistledown’s flying, though the winds are all still, On the green grass now lying, now mounting the hill, The spring from the fountain now boils like a pot; Through stones past the counting it bubbles red-hot.
The ground parched and cracked is like overbaked bread, The greensward all wracked is, bents dried up and dead. The fallow fields glitter like water indeed, And gossamers twitter, flung from weed unto weed.
Hill-tops like hot iron glitter bright in the sun, And the rivers we’re eying burn to gold as they run; Burning hot is the ground, liquid gold is the air; Whoever looks round sees Eternity there.
The inevitable 'wall': how to get out of an art slump.
There comes a time in one’s career (be it in Uni or outside in the world), where you hit the metaphorical ‘wall’ that runners talk about. It may come once a year or once in your lifetime, but unfortunately it hits everyone. When you hit it, there are undoubtedly so many reasons that start to add up against you, you start to doubt your work and more importantly yourself. This creates the ever so horrible and very real feeling that this struggle just isn’t worth it, maybe you should just give up and that you’re not ‘good enough’.
The problem with this feeling is: What is ‘good enough’? Who decides what art ‘is’? let alone what is ‘good enough’. This is the truth that most of us artists forget about. Art is what ‘we’ as the beholder/viewer decide, not the artist. Yes we as an artist can see our work progressing or digressing, but we also have our favourite pieces, and are bias either for us or against ourselves. It is the viewer, the beholder of our art who truly decides, and then it is as the ancient proverb says, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
I for one truly love traditional art, I was brought up on Boticelli, Raphael, Michaelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci. I never grasped the beauty of Monet, or Van Gogh in school, I could never relate to their artwork, it was too close for comfort as I was being graded or marked on it, and I never truly was able to fall in love with it, it was just another name or painting to discuss. It was only this year I fell in love with Van Gogh, his sunflowers and his self portraits. It was only recently learning about his mental health that I was finally able to relate and see his struggle and his reality through his art.
However I digress. I also love some modern artists, I’ve enjoyed many installations and thought provoking performance pieces, I still have to admit I just can’t seem to get on the Tracey Emin bandwagon, it’s just not my cup of tea. However I still see her as an amazing artist, I can still respect her and her work.
What I’m trying to say is yes you’re trying to get that curator to fall in love with your work, yes you’re trying to hit your target audience. However you should not be compromising yourself or your art for others. There will be 50 people who may not ‘get’ your art or even be able to appreciate it on some level. BUT there is that one person, that one viewer who will see your work and will fall in love. You just need to believe in yourself!
This however is a lot easier said than done!
So lets start with a few ways to help get you back on your feet (or cross legged on the floor if that’s your way - it’s mine!). What can you do to restart the fire inside, the want and really the need to create?
1. Stop worrying about what you need to do, or what other people want you to do.
The only person you need to satisfy at the end of the day is you, not with a perfect piece but with the knowledge that you tried. There is nothing worse than going to bed thinking I should have just got the paintbrushes out, I should have done this and that. A failed piece is not a failed attempt. It is merely a stepping stone on the way to getting back on your feet.
Just sit down and create, paint, draw, doodle, pour paint over the page in the style of Jackson Pollock, or paint blocks of colour. Just do something! Anything! It doesn’t need to be fancy or hard or creative, think about kids colouring in a colouring book, the lines are there but they don’t care, they just do what they want, they aren’t limited by their knowledge of what they ‘should’ do. They are experimenting with colour, their arm and hand movements, and really lets be honest. They just want to do! That is the most important thing to them, doing something.
When I’m in an art slump, I can’t get going, I can’t start, and when I force myself, I end up messing up my work, I’m trying to hard, and it shows. This is where just doing comes in handy.
I start by grabbing some paper/canvas anything and paint, I paint different colours I add glitter, whatever is around, I usually hate everything I create during this time but the next day when I look at them I see colours that have been plaguing my mind, extras like glitter that I’ve been stuck at how to use. I see trials, things I hadn’t even considered creating, trials that showed me what works and what doesn’t.
3. Write a list of what you like about your trials.
Use this to remember what you did, what worked, what didn’t. This is a great time where ideas start to pop into your head (you can write these down too). If at this point you start to get inspiration, and you hands start itching to create, fantastic! GET GOING! If not, don’t worry, it will come.
Now as Austin Kleon says “When people give you advice, they’re really just talking to themselves in the past.” Well these past few weeks I’ve been in my own art slump - lots of ideas but no oomph to get going. So I’m off now to take my own advice and get creating.
Good Luck with your own art!
*Best book for helping to climb out of an art slump: Steal like an artist by Austin Kleon.*