The Lows

This is a low. I haven’t relapsed, it isn’t a depressive low. I am, like I posted yesterday, suffering from a major confidence dip in terms of my painting career. More like a plummet. It’s one of those days I spend in front of my easel where I doubt everything: my subject, my medium, my talent, my drawing abilities, my painting abilities, my ability to convey something to an audience, my ability to produce a painting. All I can see is all the uninterested, hostile faces who’ll pass over it disdainfully. Last year I thought I was producing paintings that no one will ever see, this year I am terrified that people ARE going to see them.

It’s been like wading through mud recently, my painting practice. Have you ever tried to paint while crying? It’s hard. And faintly ridiculous I realise too, how melodramatic!

So back to mindfulness. No believing the thoughts, simply observing them as they come and go. And observing the low days (and months) as they come and go.

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Insecurities about my Paintings No. 1

Another day, another post, another one not about introversion.

As I mentioned yesterday, I have been experiencing the most catastrophic comedown from my exhibition high. It has been tempered somewhat by a nice man coming round yesterday and buying a painting and giving me encouraging words but generally I am at a low.

My first exhibition was in April and it went fantastically well. I got an overwhelming amount of praise for my paintings. People didn’t just like them, they loved them! After all the solitary toil and all the doubts I had arrived! Buoyed up by this I signed up for every exhibition I could and ideas flowed thick and fast. I was on a painting success high!

But everything in the material world is impermanent, and feelings even more so. Slowly but surely, my invincibility ebbed away. I was no longer the celebrated young exciting artist, I was a solitary sad figure again, working away at my paintings, head full of doubts. Before my first exhibition the question was “will anyone actually like these?” after it is “will anyone actually like these?” AND “are these as good as my old ones?”.

Ah the problems of success.

I set out in October 2009, in the midst of my depression to do a series of paintings of the streets of my hometown. It’s a pretty enough town but the thing is I live in an island where there are much prettier towns (with castles, thatched cottages, fishermen’s cottages, massive waterwheels etc. I live in a film set) so my town isn’t often celebrated. I thought it was a genius idea and it turns out so does most of the people who’ve seen them. How fantastic to have validation for an idea, especially one born out of depression.

But in October 2009 I knew none of this. I started from nowhere, with no support or encouragement. I just had my idea and the knowledge I wanted to achieve something with my time. I also thought in this first set of paintings would be the solace I would need in the future, the faith that I had the courage in myself so that I can always start over. I started somewhere once, I did those paintings, I could do it again.

Except it doesn’t work like that! Yes I did these paintings and yes they have been popular but now I have expectations and I have pressure. I had none of that 3 years ago. I soon realised that this is it, it doesn’t get any easier. The doubts, the insecurities will keep coming. I always will have something to live up to. Also I will always have to deal with large periods of time alone, in the company of my worst critic and then a couple of times a year intense periods of enforced socialness where I have to talk to many people about all this work I’ve done on my own and I’ve convinced myself no one cares about.

This is the path I’ve chosen. The question is, how will I be able to live with that?

Competition

Strange how the day after I admit I don’t know whether to blog anymore I find myself wanting to write. But something happened yesterday, nothing major but something.

I have said I’m not a competitive person, that people can do their thing and I’ll carry on doing mine thanksverymuch. But I do feel threatened sometimes and I do feel like I’m competing. Even in my non-competitive yoga class I think about how my strength/flexibility/general air of calm compares to those around me. These days I’m mindful of it and I say to myself “ego” or “judging” if these thoughts arise. They still come.

Months ago I applied to be represented as an artist by a gallery (the same one I’m applying to be artist in residence for). I was rejected initially, along with another painter. However, the directors of the gallery overturned this decision and decided to accept us both. Unfortunately I had already followed up my application and was told I’d been rejected. The other painter hadn’t and got accepted. Over the coming weeks after hearing about this I came to terms with the corruption and unfairness of it and I dealt with it.

Until I suddenly suspected the super-duper-ace yogi in my class was that rejected/accepted painter. She has the same name, the same hairstyle, the right accent… it all fitted.

My god I felt jealous and resentful. Jealous of her handstands, her forearm balances, her headstands, her incredible strength, her thinness, her acceptance within the yoga class, but most of all the blissful ignorance she had of the inner corruption and politics within that gallery. All that had happened to her is she had applied to be an artist and she was accepted. I (who was recovering from depression, with no other job) had to deal with the initial rejection, the criticism of my work, the hurtful comments of the director who was supposed to be supporting me, the ripping apart of my identity, the worthlessness, the doubts, the insecurity.

As you can imagine, this all put me off my yoga. I am very proud of my dual identity: my yoga and my painting. I think it makes me unique, different, special. “But this woman does both too, and she does it better!” I said to myself. This is all ego. I do what I do, let others do what they do. I am not defined by my talents or my practices, I am me regardless. I wish these lessons were easier learned.

The bizarre end note to my little story is I don’t even think this woman in my yoga class and the painter are the same after all. How does that change my little narrative?

Yogic principle to take to my art: Persistence

Persistence is an important principle in art and one of the ones I’ve valued from even before I started practicing yoga. It seems obvious, you just keep going.

People tell you your art is good, you keep going

People tell you your art is not as good as you thought it was, you keep going

People tell you to keep at it, you keep going

People tell you “don’t bother trying to sell when you’re 20, wait 30 years” (an “artist” actually told me that) you keep going

People buy your art, you keep going

People don’t buy your art, you keep going

People tell you “you can’t just paint”, you keep painting

Good days, bad days, sad days, busy days, lazy days, just show up and work at it. I haven’t been trying to build up my art career for very long, only seriously for a couple of years but I have had more than my fair share of setbacks. Strange mixtures of encouragement, rejection, discouragement, closed doors and complete bewildering silences. I have persisted despite being depressed and every setback being a little knife in my poor sensitive artist’s heart. But on days like today when the path seems a bit too much like an uphill struggle (or a sheer cliff face) I need to attach a lightness to my persistence. So it’s gentle persistence, not drudgery. A river carving its way through stone, that kind of thing. (I apologise for the mixed metaphors, I am not a writer)

I need persistence, yoga-style.

I have recently committed to practicing handstand everyday. This is a slow process that I realise will mainly consist of a few hops to nowhere for I don’t know how long… weeks, months? I have never done a handstand in my life before, never got anywhere close. I do not expect to be able to first time, second time or twentieth time I try. I persist. I realise the  journey is long but it some ways that is the reward, the persisting. You just do it to do it and who cares about “getting there”?

I can paint, and persist. I do what I do for me and I carry on and deal with whatever blows other people decide to throw at me. There’s nothing like a spot of depression (or 5 years, whatever) to instill a steely calmness.

So keep at it, keep going and let go of attachment to the results.

Yogic principle to take to my art: Patience

I’m going to have a series of posts about my continuing work at bringing the principles I use in my yoga practice to my painting practice. The first principle is patience.

Patience is a very useful thing to cultivate in all of life. Now I am not a particularly patient person but in my family I am a regular Dalai Lama of patience and calm. My father will swear and rave when he can’t think of a crossword puzzle clue and my mother is prone to outbursts of anger when the cats sit near their food bowls and look at her when she’s doing something else. So you see where I’m coming from.

I have cultivated patience in my yoga practice. Everyday I will turn up to my mat and I do my poses and I wait patiently for my body to respond. I wait patiently in pigeon pose, in forward bends as well as in boat pose and plank and headstand. Sometimes I wait for my body to respond and make more space and sometimes I wait for the strength to build. The thing is I am willing to wait for this, to be patient. I do the ‘work’ and I wait for my hips to become more flexible and my core to be stronger. And it happens, miraculously.

This would be an absolute boon to my painting practice. To just turn up and paint and wait patiently for ideas and for new skill to present itself to me. No more berating myself that I should be able to work competently in ink despite never having practiced it much. Or to just expect to have infinite ideas of what to paint and how. Also it would be helpful to have patience when reaping the rewards of my painting, to realise that it takes time to build up a painting career. Sometimes you have to do all you can and then step back and wait.

What’s the rush anyway?

Bringing yoga to my art

This has been a big theme for me recently when I realised that I will berate myself liberally when painting but not when doing yoga. And then I wondered why I like doing yoga more than painting…

So I decided that I would bring my yoga attitude to my paintings: acceptance, patience, joy, maybe a bit of fun? But for some reason I couldn’t just do this, no, I had to plan some time to sit down and think about this before I did it. Preferably the beginning of this year before I had to just work work work for my first exhibition.

Well that didn’t work out thanks to my 2 week mega cold. So now I’m learning on the job. Less thinking more doing.

I’ve spent the last 2 weeks producing the same kinda stuff I’ve been doing for the past 2 years. They’re good enough, nice solid acrylic painting with the same bright colours. Sooner or later I want to change though (preferably sooner to show that I’m not just “that lady that does those”) I want to progress, try different things, experiment.

So today I’m doing an ink and mixed media painting (also known as using whatever the hell is left over from my school days) which is more based on drawing and tone than colour. That was the plan anyway. I don’t think it’s a great painting and I knew it’d be difficult as soon as I started it.

But that’s not the point, the point is I’m trying something new and I decided to be aware of my feelings and my thoughts as they were happening. I brought all my insecurity with me and it sat with me while I did something I’m not comfortable with. But I did it.

And I’ll do it all over again tomorrow.

What do people really think about you?

I wanted to call this post “are you taking the piss?” but thought it might detract from the actual thing I wanted to talk about.

I’m having an ongoing battle to get my paintings into a studio. Here is the timeline so far:

  • December 2010: Started to put paintings into their shop. Paintings sell well throughout the next year.
  • March 2011: Get told that people have been asking about me and my paintings.
  • July 2011: Get a commission from someone through the gallery.
  • July 2011: Decide the time is ripe to apply to be completely represented by the gallery.
  • August 2011: Get rejected by the ‘panel of artists’. Feel completely bemused and angry and lost.
  • August 2011: Get told by one of the directors (I shall call her Magda) that I should have been accepted, she continues to support and help me.
  • October 2011: Accept “mentoring” from an “Artist” at the gallery. This woman hasn’t painted before in her life. Meeting is insulting and patronising. Decide to give up with the gallery for now and try to gain confidence in my paintings again.
  • January 2012: Magda says she’ll help me apply again so I go to meet with her. Find out that another artist applied with me and the directors overturned her rejection from the panel of artists. Next day I receive an email meant for someone else at the gallery ABOUT ME. And it wasn’t all roses and kittens.

So. Where do you begin? I certainly don’t know. I have been so harmed by this organisation when all I wanted was to put my paintings on their walls. I have not done anything to harm them, to threaten them, and I’ve repeatedly been caught in the crossfire of an organisation that is imploding. The politics and infighting has unfortunately got a victim and at this point in my life I could do without it. Even when people are friendly to my face that does not mean they will not harm me at some point.

It really is taking the piss.

This email revealed that Magda thinks I am difficult, stubborn and unwilling to compromise. She described me as “clinically sensitive”, whatever that means and said I am “obsessed” with painting my chosen way (what painter isn’t?) There was probably more stuff but I can’t be bothered going over it again.

I assume that this has happened to everyone in the past: to find out directly what someone is saying about you to someone else. It’s happened to me too but never in such a serious circumstance. I can’t deny it doesn’t hurt but my reaction was surprising. At first I laughed, then I felt bemused, then I felt angry and hurt, but after a cry I accepted it. I explained how it made me feel and about my depression.

Her reaction was a bit more extreme. I got many emails throughout the day apologising, saying she was going to resign, saying it was the worst thing she’s ever done, she’s going reevaluate how she sounds when she talks about people, she had to go for a walk to calm down, she’s probably going to wallow in the humiliation… It went on for a while. I thought I was supposed to be the sensitive one?

It did shock me the flippant, callous way she made judgements and was freely willing to discuss these with someone else. She has barely talked to me and she certainly doesn’t know me well enough to make these kind of judgements (most were wrong) It made me think about how often we’re so thoughtless at the way we cast judgements at others. How we think or say things because we know (or hope) that that person will never hear it.

What if they did?

What kind of hurt would we cause? Is it justified? Maybe we should go a little easier on other people, stop the judgmental thoughts. After all we don’t know anything about their lives, their suffering.

Or just make sure if you do say these things in email form, that you don’t send it to the person you’re talking about.

Getting There

Today is a strange day. Recently I have been wallowing a bit, between my rejection my sadness and various illnesses I haven’t had much energy or drive to devote to recovering. I’ve just been enduring for a lot of it, sometimes having energy enough to hope it’ll get better, sometimes having no hope but just going through the motions anyway because it’s easier. The past few days have been a bit better, more running, more painting and today I went back to see my counsellor. I hope I’m back on track.

I also feel I’m in a period of change. 2 years ago I started a series of paintings of the streets of my hometown. It’s been my first sustained set of paintings and has gone really well. I’ve had a bit of tunnel vision with it and part of me has wondered if I was ever going to get any new ideas.

I find that’s changing a bit now, I’m drawing more and I’m thinking more… free. I don’t know exactly where I want to go but I know I want to go somewhere. It’s hard to explain right now because it’s all in such an embryonic stage but I just… feel it. Maybe the winds have changed?

Anyway I liked this article about the link between artists and yogis. Now my yoga practice is great and a source of solace, of joy and of peace. Why can’t my painting practice be like that too?! Maybe a shift in mindset is due.