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Posts Tagged ‘Work’

This short snip from a letter Vincent Van Gogh wrote to his brother, Theo, in October of 1883, might be the best piece of advice that any working or aspiring artist could receive. And it most likely applies to any other field of endeavor.

I can’t speak for the experience of most artists but, concerning my own work and abilities, I travel through an internal landscape with soaring peaks of great confidence that often plummet into deep valleys of doubt. One moment and I am high on a peak with a seemingly endless view that shows me all sorts of ways forwards. But in the bat of an eye I find myself in a deep and dark ravine with no indications of any path on which I can climb out.

I begin to doubt my abilities, begin to wonder if I have been the fool in thinking myself an artist. Ideas that just a day or so ago felt special and ready to burst out from me suddenly seem dull and lifeless. Inspiration dissipates like a mist in the sunlight.

But, as the decades doing this have taught, the answer always comes in working.

Empty the mind, push doubts to the side and pick up a brush.

Make a mark. Then another and another. Let it lead you somewhere, let it be the path out of that valley.

Work. Just work.

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Francis Bacon
Portrait of Michel Leiris 1976

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As you work, the mood grows on you. There are certain images which suddenly get hold of me and I really want to do them. But it’s true to say that the excitement and possibilities are in the working and obviously can only come in the working.

–Francis Bacon

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I am swamped in work today. I say that a lot and it might sound awful to many folks. But for me it is the best possible situation because being at work means that, like Bacon says above, I am amidst the excitement and possibilities that come with working. Thinking about ideas, mulling what you’re going to do has a place but they are worthless nothings until they go into process, become work. Then they usually become something altogether different because the work allows you to flesh out what the mind alone couldn’t imagine.

The process of working is the true generator of ideas.

There have been many artists through time who have expressed this same sentiment, that doing work generates new work, creates new possibilities. I know that it is true for myself.

Breakthroughs in the work always come while working, with hands in paint and eyes and mind straining to see where the piece before me ends and the next begins.

Here’s one of my favorite inspirational pieces from artist Chuck Close that very much says the same thing: Don’t wait on inspiration–make your own!

The advice I like to give young artists, or really anybody who’ll listen to me, is not to wait around for inspiration. Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work. All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the… work itself. Things occur to you. If you’re sitting around trying to dream up a great art idea, you can sit there a long time before anything happens. But if you just get to work, something will occur to you and something else will occur to you and something else that you reject will push you in another direction. Inspiration is absolutely unnecessary and somehow deceptive. You feel like you need this great idea before you can get down to work, and I find that’s almost never the case.

I am taking that advice and just doing what I do. You do what you do, okay?

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