This is the studiOH! podcast season 1 episode 5 ‘Isn’t it supposed to get easier?’’
Before I begin the show today, I’d just like to take a moment to thank listeners for all of the kind comments and remarks that I have had about the podcast. I am really pleased that this project has been so well received by everyone. At the outset, I wanted to record something that was not only relatable to other creatives starting out on this road but also to those returning to making art after having taken a long break from it. So I hope that I have gone some way towards achieving this.
Sometimes I can get a little bit personal with the show’s content so I was acutely aware that this might not be up everyones street, but from the comments I’ve had, that appears not to be the case and it seems to be going down quite well. So, thank you everyone, I am so very grateful.
Of course, if you could all continue to rate and review the show on apple podcasts, that would be just great as it helps to boost the audience a little.
Now, on with the show.
I don’t think that anyone would dispute that being able to make art is a luxury. Often, it’s the thing you do when you have enough food on the table and somewhere safe to rest your head. It’s a practice that you pursue when the immediate necessities have been taken care of, or at least have been catered to sufficiently to no longer be a considered a burden. I’m in no doubt that those of you who get to create on a regular basis know this all too well and are fully aware of the privileged persona that pursuing an artists lifestyle can portray to others.
From the outside we can be considered as being eccentric, aloof, whacky, adventurous, arrogant and reclusive. Any of these labels, and many others no doubt, might be accurate but to assume this is the case is like assuming that because I’m unto my neck in water that I can swim. Which I can’t.
But despite the outward appearance, this is not an activity that is undertaken because the end result is an easy life. For anyone who intends to play this game for any length of time and, as alluded to by Malcolm Gladwell, they have logged the prescribed 10,000 hours, they could be excused for thinking that the sum of those hours will equate to that easy life. Although arguably 10,000 hours is an arbitrary marker of achievement. It is clearly not the amount of hours that is important, rather it’s making the most of the time we have available which ultimately counts. Working smarter not harder comes to mind but that is a discussion for another day.
During those 10,000 hours you will have probably developed a working formula that you employ time and again. You take comfort from that formula and accept the familiarity of the end result.After a while you should all be accustomed to your tools, your medium and your chosen techniques. You should be able to speak their language or at least be able to interpret their message and produce work that you can be proud of and be willing and able, if lucky, to exhibit.
In essence, over time the process, if nothing else, becomes familiar and comfortable. It becomes second nature. It becomes reflex. It becomes easier.
Because, isn’t this all supposed to get easier?
The more we do a thing the easier that thing becomes, right?
As artists, aren’t we supposed to reach a point, when the work is no longer a battle between the materials, the subject and our hands not doing what our minds think they ought to?Aren’t we supposed to sit back and rest on our laurels, basking in any small amount of success that we have achieved?
For a while, perhaps. But no matter how deserving that success may be, it should’t be allowed to get in the way of further development and exploration.It should never be enough for anyone to simply be satisfied with an end result. Some might be content to settle for what they have made, but I’m restless. Which, I guess, is both a blessing and a curse.
On any given day there are so many ideas running through my head that it often feels like my mind is stuck in a traffic jam on the M25. You know, when you spend so long looking up the rear of the car in front that it becomes too familiar and you become acutely aware of every rust spot and that it hasn’t seen the inside of a car wash for six months. A case of familiarity breading indifference and you find yourself impatiently wanting to get past it to see what’s ahead.
I’m like that with ideas. They line up, nose to tail, waiting for their turn in the spotlight and a chance to get to the front of the queue. But I can spend so long planning and exploring an idea that before long it comes close to losing it’s appeal and I’m eager to get past it onto the next big thing, which gets waved through to take pole position.
And so the cycle continues.
A quick note here, for those listeners not from the UK you might want to google M25 to see why it’s often referred to as Britains biggest car park.
Last episode I mentioned the roll call of commandments that I have on the wall of my studio designed with the intention to keep me on the strait and narrow. The final bullet point on that list being a reminder to ‘create like a shark’.
This is a reminder to myself to never stop making and to never accept familiarity as the endgame. I have since added a foot note to this to remind me to never to become so overwhelmed with ideas that I become swamped under their weight.
I do try to work on several paintings at one time though. But these tend to share similarities that make them relate to each other. This way I am operating under one mindset, rather than having to switch hats to accommodate the needs of an entirely different project as sometimes it’s difficult for me to flit between projects of differing formats and objectives.
For instance, I have a batch of 100 vintage postcards that I found and bought from a collector on eBay. And by vintage I mean that each one is over one hundred years old. Each has been written on and has endured a journey through the Royal Mail, each proudly baring it’s frank mark as a medal of honour for making it through that ordeal.
My intent was to use these as surfaces on which to paint, or collage, or something… In all honesty, I’m still debating what to do with them.
Yes, it’s a derivative idea and I myself have seen wonderful paintings and art works produced on reclaimed items such as vintage books and post cards. But it’s new to me so I’m determined to do something with these.
At least, that was my intention when I bought them over a year ago.
At the time I loved the idea of this but it soon took second place to something fresh and new, then it was relegated to third place and so on until it stopped being an idea and just became a stack of postcards from before the Great War.
They’re glaring accusingly at me from my desk right now.
But, as I’ve said, the cycle continues and these have now resurfaced on my infinite mental todo list. Problem is they are pushing out other things that I really need to get on with. I’m not a disorganised person by any means but when it comes down to making things, I’m literally like a kid in a sweet shop (or when I was little, like a kid in a comic book shop).
Having all this choice is far worse than having little or no choice at all. What a dilemma. But it’s only first world problems so perhaps I should stop prevaricating and just get on with it.
I’ve tried making project lists and prioritising the work but to be honest I just forget to read them. They go unnoticed even when they are right in front of my face. When it comes to my studio I seem to have a blind spot for prioritising, which if you ask anyone who knows me is generally not the case. Lists just don’t grab my attention. Perhaps I could get Alexa to remind me to move on to something else every hour, on the hour.
Though, I’d probably unplug her after the first couple of reminders.
Note to self. Must. Try. Harder.
Except I’d probably forget to read that note too.
So it’s not just a matter of painting pretty pictures. Andit’s more than just showing up in the first place. According to Malcolm, you have to put in enough hours to become intimately familiar with your process. There is also the acquisition of ideas and employing the discipline to keep the ideas in line and under control.
But remember that you are allowed to change your mind. Don’t beat yourself up about not finishing a project because it’ll either get done another day, or it won’t. When you do finally begin, not every thing that you make will be of gallery quality. That alone is a rarity in my studio.
But remember that the failures go on to fuel the successes. No one can perform at 100% all of the time. Even David Bowie had his off days. Any one remember The Laughing Gnome or Tin Machine? Not his finest work, I think you’ll agree.
If I’ve learned anything recently it is this.
When you find yourself overwhelmed by your own creative goals, just take a step back and evaluate the situation. Don’t always listen to the ideas that shout the loudest. Sometimes the smaller, quieter ideas need to be heard. Use these as a pallet cleanser, if you’ll excuse the pun, then move back to those big ideas when you, and they, are ready.
What it all comes down to is don’t sweat the small stuff. Remember that sometimes creative work is hard, and, in the end,
you have to make peace with the fact that it might not ever get any easier.
Once again, thanks for listening to the show.
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You can find me on the web at mickstatham.com, on instagram and facebook at MichaelStathamArt and on twitter at mikestathamart.
I’m Michael Statham and you’ve been listening to The studiOH! Podcast