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Mind the Gap

25th Jan 2021

Lewis Noble is a prolific abstract and expressive UK artist who regularly posts videos of his art making on Youtube, explaining the process and decision making behind his creations. I love his approach and he has inspired me to go out into the fields, hills and beaches; kneel down in the wet ground; splatter myself with paint and charcoal; and to paint what I feel, not just what I see. I avidly watch his films and in the one I viewed this week from October 2020, I made a note of one thing he said ‘I make the paintings I want to see’.

Despite it appearing to be obvious, it had struck a cord, this is exactly what I want to do - paint the pictures that I would hang on my walls. Why would I bother painting anything else? There’s an argument that it's good to practice different genres, like drawing, still life or portraiture, to advance one’s skills and many artists do commissions or practice a field of creativity to pay the bills, that doesn't alway fill their creative cup. I know for me, if I do something I don’t love, I’m never going to excel at it. What is it they say - 10,000 hours to be an expert at something? No way am I spending that amount of time doing something that I’m not passionate about.

Last year I did a free online course with Louise Fletcher - ‘Find your Joy’, which I can highly recommend. I think it’s fair to say that one of Louise’s mantras is - if you love it do more of it, if you don’t, do something else. I found this approach incredibly liberating, what’s better than permission to do what you love?

But what if the creations you love to make look like a dogs dinner? What if you produce something you most certainly wouldn’t hang on your wall and all you want to do is hide it under the table? What if every time you try to recreate the paintings you love to look at on Pinterest they turnout nothing like how you’d imagined they would? For me the frustration I’d feel each time I tried to paint would crush my enthusiasm, it stopped me in my tracks, until sometime, months later I’d feel inspired to try again.

In part, some of my frustration came from the belief that the art I liked looked so easy to recreate. We’ve all heard it said of modern art - ‘how hard can it be? My five year old could do that!’ In fact there is a book called ‘Why your five year old could not have done that - modern art explained’ by Susie Hodge. (For the record, I didn’t really love this book - it’s a little superficial and in my opinion didn’t really do justice to many of the avant-garde artists. There are more compelling explanations of the importance of their work but it’s ok as a general introduction. But hey, I'm no art critic!). So yes the work looks easy to replicate, but for most of us it isn’t. That in part was why I went to art school as a mature student - a recognition that I had never been taught how to do art - I just tried and failed to produce anything I liked. Maybe with some guidance I’d get better at it. I went, and I have.

However, what I didn’t know is that even established artists have ‘failed’ pieces, those that didn’t make the grade. Some they return to and transform, others they paint over and start a new painting afresh.

So, the learning curve continues. Currently my pile of unsuccessful paintings is bigger than the successful pile. Still the number of paintings I would hang on my wall is fewer than those I wouldn’t. But something I came across by Ira Glass, a successful American writer/reporter gives me hope:

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

Ira Glass

Replace ‘story’ with what ever our recreative vibe is and this is a reassuring message. Our taste is what causes us disappointment and to overcome it, the gap between taste and ability has to be bridged. The solution is to turn up and do the work. The aim, is not to give up before the gap closes and the transformation happens. Simple as that. 🤗

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