Art & Design Magazine

Attitude Matters

By Ingrid Christensen

Attitude matters

Apricots and Pansies
12 x 24

I taught a still life workshop for the Stave Falls Artist Group in Maple Ridge, BC last week and had a super time!  
There were 10 painters in artist Janis Eaglesham's rural studio, nestled in lush, West Coast forest. Everyone worked hard and with great spirit.  Every time I heard "this is so hard!" the painter would always follow it with, "but that's a good thing!"  They recognized that a new technique couldn't be acquired in 4 days, but, hopefully, they could explore the new skills under my direction and then it would percolate for the next weeks and months, adding another layer to their studio practice.  
It's been my experience that artists - especially those of us who are past the sensitivity of our youthful egos - make great learners.  They find value in the struggle to learn a new painting method, knowing from experience, that something that comes easily isn't as thrilling as a skill that's come through thoughtfulness, practise, and hard work.  Going home tired and with a full head is welcome because they know they've been making a serious effort to grow and develop, and that this will, in time, make them stronger painters.  
Artists don't retire - they're just hitting their stride at 65 - so they know that they're playing the long game.  It's this knowledge that allows them to relax into the struggle: to appreciate that something is difficult and know that, with time and effort, they'll master it.  
This graceful, appreciative way of being is counter to the values of our materialistic society, and that makes artists outsiders in a way.  We don't value the easy way, and would be bored if every painting were perfect; then there'd be nothing to strive for in the future.  In fact, in my experience, when artists reach peak performance, they often turn to a new art form - one that they aren't skilled in - and begin learning from the basics.  It keeps them stimulated and challenged.  The fact that they frequently take a financial hit when they do this seems of secondary importance, because money isn't the primary goal; fulfilment and self expression are.  
Artists value the intangibles.  We do enjoy being paid, but we'd paint with as much concentration and energy if we weren't.  The act of creating and improving is the lasting reward.  It's mind expanding, exhilarating, and thrillingly addictive.  
So enjoy those moments of frustration in a workshop or in the studio.  They mean that you're on the right path, and they'll bring rewards that are truly beyond measure.
Happy painting!

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