By Christopher Gallego
" How about that.
Even among misfits
~ Yukon Cornelius
It happens every year without fail.
Right around the holidays.
The same useless train of thought comes creeping in.
You look back on the previous 12 months and realize you've fallen way short of your goals.
Forgetting most of the year's achievements and downplaying the rest. You should have been more productive.
Next, you start to envy the big guns of the art world. The ones who can't do anything wrong. Recognition, opportunities; everything seems to go their way.
All you have to do for the coming year is emulate them and you're set, right?
Tamie Beldue, Stairwell, 2016
Graphite, watercolor, charcoal & encaustic
14 ¾” x 9 ¾”
Along with creativity and mastery in any field comes the tendency to be, well, a little odd.
Something that all independent souls, not just artists, have to deal with. Anyone who rocked their profession, their industry, or the world, was unusual.
Vincent Van Gogh and Georgia O'Keefe were outsiders.
Steve Jobs didn't fit in.
Neither did Robin Williams, Oprah Winfrey, Nelson Mandela, Frida Kahlo, Mark Zuckerberg, Mother Teresa, Eckhart Tolle.
These people didn’t just play the rebel by changing their appearance or behaving wildly (maybe Williams did just a tad.)
They were different to the core. They took risks and changed the world, ignoring what anyone thought of them or their chances of success.
And most of them were lonely, misunderstood, or depressed.
(Three, not counting Oprah, were suicidal. Another was imprisoned.)
Because the more different you are internally the harder it is to connect with others and the deeper your feelings of isolation. Being your true, unusual self not only increases the likelihood of rejection. It makes rejection feel more personal and more painful.
And the very qualities that make you extraordinary, like the ability to have an original idea or a fresh take on an old one, are derided by a world that loves the familiar and rewards obedience.
The topper...many artists don't even fit in with other artists.
"How about that. Even among misfits you're misfits!"
After a certain number of rejections, you start to seek acceptance. Otherwise known as selling out.
Give them what they want. Get into that show. Make that sale. Do what the others are doing.
Does that sound like creativity to you?
One reason many artists become artists is their unwillingness to follow the herd. So it's painful to see anyone giving in and following a different herd.
Including the herd of the outrageous.
Someone once asked, "Why an old bag of plaster?" (an oil painted years ago on Christmas Eve).
"It isn't ", I replied. "It's a painting of light, bulk, texture, and atmosphere. The bag itself was a vessel for those qualities."
"I see. You artists are off the wall."
I've heard similar reactions to other works...Why did you paint this? Who would want to own that? The irony is that the most successful works of art often draw the most fire:
Sargent's Madame X
Picasso's, Les Demoiselles D’avignon
Richard Serra's Tilted Arc
The first Impressionist Exhibition
Because art that tries to please everyone and offend no one is the visual equivalent of elevator music.
Art that emanates from your soul will be loved. And hated.
Now here's the truly marvelous thing about being a painter...
You only need to have one collector fall in love with any given piece. A thousand others can hate it, but if one person takes it home, you've succeeded. You've enhanced someone's life and improved your own.
Rita Natarova, Drown
The following is the kind of exchange I've had many times:
STUDENT: " I can't decide what to paint next."
TEACHER: "What excites you?"
STUDENT: “Well, I like to paint still lifes and landscapes.”
TEACHER: “No...what are you obsessed with visually?” Is there some ordinary thing that you catch yourself staring at for no good reason? You can't look away and your mind goes blank. What do you feel, internally, when that happens?
Go through your day with eyes wide open, then go inward, toward those beautiful, inexplicable feelings that emerge when something excites your vision.
Don't worry how you’re going to pull it off or who will or won’t accept it. Our job is to help people see the beauty that's all around, but usually missed.
Besides, you're not as odd as you think. If you love the appearance of something chances are others will too.
The point is, don't work with some external goal in mind.
Begin and end with your relationship with the visual world.
That's where your uniqueness lies. And your authenticity.
When your goal is acceptance, you're not being yourself, and when you're not yourself you don't connect with anyone.
Michael Klein, Roses
Improve your strengths;
keep an eye on your weaknesses
Case in point: I can't, and don't, paint florals. Frankly, I suck at them.
With time and practice, I could improve, but I'll never be a Kathleen Speranza or a Michael Klein, who can paint stunning florals in their sleep.
It makes far more sense to keep working your strengths, making them stronger and yourself unstoppable, than waste valuable energy trying to be like the other guy.
You know, the one enjoying huge success doing what he or she does better than anyone else? Don't envy that guy. Be that guy.
Find what comes naturally to you and work like crazy until you become f-ing phenomenal at it.
No, I'm not recommending that you mass-produce your winners (you shouldn't.)...
...or that you shouldn't experiment and learn new stuff (you should).
Just forget about eliminating your weaknesses. It's a waste of time.
Instead, be the best at what you do.
Let that be your mission for 2018.
You'll always have your critics. They're called know-it-alls and they're a colossal pain in the ass.
Criticism simply means you've made an impact. You shook someone, so now they have to show you how smart they are.
Just remember, fitting in isn't all it's cracked up to be.
The time to worry is when you start fitting in too much.
Christopher Gallego teaches technique, observation, and the mental game of painting to advanced artists. Click here for info about private classes in your home, studio or via Skype & FaceTime.
Bag of Plaster, detail, 2000
Oil on canvas, 26 x 20 in.