I know you shouldn’t compare yourself to someone else, down that road lies disappointment and inferiority, but, if you’re asking yourself if you’re any good, then comparison is inevitable. Happily in my case that comparison is evoking more of a challenge to exceed my current abilities, but comparison could just as easily lead to what used to be called melancholia… the blues.
“A boy who practices painting too much may be overcome by melancholy. He should learn to play string instruments and thus be distracted to cheer his blood” – Albrecht Dürer
I mean, look at young Edgar Degas. If you look at some of the detail in his paintings – detail that I’d sweat buckets over – it’s terrible! Hands that on close inspection are nothing but a few raw, loose brush strokes that at a distance look depressingly sublime. That sort of skill could easily lead you to what Dürer calls melancholia indeed.
Just look at this: (Mademoiselle Hélène Rouart)
I couldn’t sleep at night if I left a hand looking like that, but Degas could. He could see the image as a whole without sweating the tiny details. In fact if he had sweated the tiny details his images would have lost much of their vibrancy. That said, he did get looser in technique as he matured and was much tighter stylistically in his youth. Old age obviously agreed with him.
One of the problems I have is that I’m somewhat isolated from my peers, not part of an artistic community. My family see my work, but they see it at every stage of development, so by the time I’ve finished a piece they’ve seen it for days/weeks and I’m lucky if I get a “uh huh, nice”. I often feel similarly.
My wife Michelle has suggested I cover it up, so that when it’s finished I can unveil the painting with a “ta dah!” Accompanied no doubt by rapturous applause, the popping of champagne corks and gasps of wonder from my assembled family, perhaps even a shed tear and an exclamation of “my goodness, such beauty!”.
However this isn’t the present reality and I have to wrestle with my doubts myself. What seems a little disturbing, is that the more I paint the greater the self doubt and it would seem I’m not alone. Many of my art heroes seem to have suffered the same affliction and it makes me wonder if there is a link to creativity and depression. I mean, if I’m gonna end up like poor Vincent I might need a less strenuous career like professional cage fighter or primary school teacher, and people say art is relaxing.
For now I’m taking all this as a challenge, a provocation to step things up a gear, to continue to go where no me has ever gone before. After all, with each project I undertake I learn something new. The current project is no exception, it’s taught me a lot and considering I’ve probably only done less than perhaps ten oil paintings in total ever, I shouldn’t be too hard on myself. Unless Degas’ first ten paintings were masterpieces of course…
If Robert Hughes (Australian born art critic) was correct then we’ve all got reason to hope. For he said:
“The greater the artist, the greater the doubt. Perfect confidence is granted to the less talented as a consolation prize.”
Anyway, here she is – Lily. This one is painted mostly from reference photographs, but I’m thinking that to get more depth I’m going to perhaps start working from live models.