Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Cabin Fever

A week alone sounded like a good idea.

Liz's parents asked her to bring the baby for a week's visit, and to see my parents as well. She asked if I'd be all right without her. I joked that I'd need some money for pizza, but she should go and have fun. I had too much work to do to take off for that long, so a week alone sounded like a good time to get things done.

The strange thing is, when I'm around other people, I'm full of energy, anxious to start and finish projects, always slightly annoyed that these people are distracting me from all the important work I could be doing. Then, when I am alone, I shuffle around restlessly, wanting to talk to someone, not wanting to work at all. Granted I've gotten a lot done these past few days, but not the Herculean tasks I'd envisioned would occur the moment I had the house to myself.

I think I'm some kind of enthusiasm leech.

I suppose the thing that bothers me most is that I don't enjoy drawing anymore. There was a point, not too long ago, that I asked another artist whom I respected for help and advice when I was at a very low point. His response was scathing, tearing apart the works I had worked long and hard to perfect... works I thought were pretty good. His bit of condescending advice was that I should take a foot-high stack of paper and draw my way through it. When I had done that, he said, I would be as good as any artist.

I'm sure he thought he was helping me, but the thing is, I've been through many feet of paper in my life. I've burned through reams of the stuff, perfecting my craft, and this guy talks to me like I'm some kid who needs a kick in the pants for inspiration. The gnawing thing about it is that I can't shake it off. I mean when I've been criticized in the past, I may have been flustered by it, but I could always justify it to myself. If they complained there was no background behind the figure, it was because I hadn't had any desire to draw one, once finished with the central character. If the anatomy looked off, it was because I had taken a shortcut and not checked my work, and I learned from the mistake. This guy, however, blindsided me, 'cause I couldn't see the flaws until he pointed them out, and that scared me.

To be a great artist, you have to be able to look at your work subjectively. If you can't step back from it and see it as others do, you can't see the faults. Now I question everything I do. My confidence is shaken to the breaking point because I honestly don't know if can see my art that way.

The funny thing is that I don't even like his work. He comes from what I call the "Dead Meat" school of art. Sure, he knows every muscle in the human body, but his characters just look like piles of muscle tissue, skinless and streaked with sweat and grime. His world is black and red and brown, gnashing teeth and spurting blood. Unfortunately for me, it is all the rage. I visit a website where he is a contributor, a site for "concept artists", and what I see there are nightmares of soulless flesh, painted with the skill of the Great Masters. A freakin' cult of gristle-worshippers, and I'm not invited.

These "concept" pieces must have taken days or weeks to complete. I seldom spend more than a couple of days working on a piece. I don't feel the need to render photorealistically when we've already invented cameras to take care of that sort of thing. In my mind, a true artist should be able to evoke an emotional response in the viewer with a few strokes of a pen. Artists who feel the need to paint every vein throbbing beneath the skin of their subjects don't trust their audience to fill in the blanks with their imaginations.

The hell of it is that I know I'm right, but I still can't walk away from it. I know that I don't want to be a "Dead Meat" artist, but, dammit, I feel like a loser walking away from a challenge. Part of me keeps saying that I'm only justifying my lack of talent by steering clear of the photorealism school. It unnerves me to realize that I'm just not that good at drawing things I see. It always comes back to my abstract perception of those things, and when I mix the styles, it just comes out a muddled mess.

I guess I'm just depressed because I have a lot of work to do. I know it should be a cause for thankfulness, but freelancing always brings me down. There's very little feedback, no chance to see a viewer's reaction to my work with freelancing. All artists, I think, do it for the applause, in one form or another, but freelancing feels kinda like pouring out your heart in a beautiful love letter, and then sealing it up and dropping it down a well. I already find it hard enough to bring pencil to paper, but now I have to do it for someone else, spending what little creative energy I can muster on someone else's project, and when I'm done, I sure as heck don't want to spend my free time drawing. I've seen the great artists, always with a sketchbook, every page crammed with scribbles, drawing constantly, never not being an artist. That's not me. Maybe there was a time that it was, but now, when I stare at the page, I just keep thinking how much whatever I draw is gonna suck.

I guess I've been burned out for a while now, years maybe, and I don't know how to get my head straight. I don't trust my own judgment anymore, and there's this pressure bearing down on me that I need to figure it all out and soon. I feel like there's a battle waging all around me, and a great victory to be won, but the people I thought were my allies just knocked me down and backed a tank over my eyeglasses. I don't even know where the front lines are, and people are calling for my help all around me.

Geez, I just wanted to draw some naked fairies!


Blogger Heath said...

Aye, laddie. The doubt demons visit us all. All artists live in a world where they must fight a constant battle, fending off not only the naysayers, but their own demons. I think it gets harder as we get older.

When I was young I knew unquestionably what I was going to do with my life. Consequently I wasted a lot of my youth instead of actually trying to get there. Now I constantly wonder if my window has passed, if I just just forget it and get a decent "real" job and at least have the consolation prize of some better income, but no matter how much those doubts rear their ugly heads I always come back around to the realization that my creative pursuits are not a hobby, they are who I am. They are why I am here and a part of the very fiber of my being.

We may be swinging in the dark and at times we just want to quit fighting and give in, but hopefully we will always find the strength and resolve to keep on blindly swinging.

3/21/2007 09:34:00 PM  
Blogger Wormius said...

Yeah, you're right, of course. I would never really be happy if I gave up on being an artist. I guess I just wish I could find my focus... the kinda of art that I really feel right doing. Something where I'm not just doing an impression of someone else, but doing something that isn't being done, something that makes the world a better place.

I would like to have the smug self-assurance that I am doing exactly the kind of art I want to be doing, and I can tell the dead meat guys that I'm really not interested in their opinions. Maybe I'll start making a list of all the stuff I dislike about contemporary art, and start working on an antidote for it.

In any case, I don't think the idea that you wasted the past and missed your window holds much water. I know a lot of people that worked their asses off and never got anywhere, and just as many people who goofed off all their lives and wound up in the right place at the right time. We only hear about the hard-working success stories because everybody else keeps their mouths shut and enjoys their break. There are plenty of windows out there, and doors, and unguarded drainpipes.

Keep up the good fight!

3/22/2007 01:28:00 AM  
Blogger Jess said...

I don't feel the need to render photorealistically when we've already invented cameras to take care of that sort of thing.

I'm so glad to hear someone who actually knows about art saying that. I always seem to be on this end of a debate with people, usually when they're criticising abstract art or modern architecture (at least I can hold my own in that department), and it's like the only thing they can admire is when artists draw gristle, because that takes 'skill' and the other thing is 'just' something. Just colours or just shapes or whatever. But isn't the skill in provoking an emotional reaction, in speaking to someone? And if that's the case, how can one means of doing it be more valuable than another?

This is my long-winded way of saying you should stick with what you believe in, whether or not it's currently cool. Not that your art is abstract, but you know what I mean.

3/22/2007 09:36:00 AM  
Blogger Ginger Hunter said...

That yours is the heart of an artist is evidenced by the struggle that you are going through. If you want to illustrate anatomy books, then get another ream of paper and perfect that skill. But that is all it is, a SKILL. True art, true beauty and talent shine through in another way and you know all about that elusive muse. You just gotta trust her. Paul Cezanne said "A work of art which did not begin in emotion is not art." A working artist will always struggle with this one.

And as for the "flaws", my favorite artists would have made F's in art school. Hang in there.

9/16/2007 09:25:00 AM  

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