The Unrest of Ambiguity
What some of us struggle with in Fine Art, and perhaps life in general, is a grand sense of uncertainty about our life in view of our life work. Artist-minded individuals can certainly be introspective, if not that, certainly in constant conversation about what it is we are in fact doing. Look too deeply, and we will all most likely uncover some element of ambiguity.
Uncertainty and ambiguity lead to two things I can think of off the top of my head. One, uncertainty leads to a potential shattering of our self-confidence (as if our self-confidence were no more then a tattered, piece-meal affair of crudely sewn swatches), at least if we give to that thought enough energy and attention. Sometimes, also, an ambiguous sense of our selves (and what we are doing as artists) can render us feeling lost in our own lives, feeling as if we are groping in the dark, lost on the fringes of our authentic self, doubting if "Artist" is our authentic self at all. Perhaps it seems that I am elevating common uncertainty and ambiguity to the heights of psychological malady; but in truth, this may not be far off the mark.
In my own homespun ledger of wisdom, it makes sense to me that uncertainty and/or ambiguity in our lives as artists, (and our normal life in general), nothing else can darken our door with more paralysis than a bone-gnawing doubt. The power of this malady is seen everywhere in our field. We run into other artists that we had assumed were plugging away against all the obstacles--same as we are doing--only to learn later that they have stopped altogether; doubt, misgivings, and fear of failure took them out. What about our friends--far better artists perhaps--who simply confide in us that on a particular day, they looked at their brushes and sat down stunned by a single thought, "Why the heck am I doing this?"
This, then, may be common to us all.
Obviously, there is no universal pill to pop. If there was, we would all have a bottle handy and within easy reach of our easels! What I wonder is, when such ambiguity and uncertainty begin to attack our self-confidence (most definitely effecting our work which is, in turn, meshed into our life and consequently effects our lives), must we diminish? Is the gravity inescapable? Or, can we grow stronger through it? I have learned--the hard way myself--that the answers are not simply yes or no, but a solution does exist to this dilemma: "perspective".
Perspective, as I mean it here, is a point-of-view about our own self so sure that our core confidence--though battered or attacked or come what may--can and willl withstand any storm, any attack. And, if such a thing could be bottled into an elixir or pill, I would no longer be a poor artist! The truth is, however, that we must reach deep to find or even create this "perspective". Thank goodness, a couple tools do exist to help us each find our own strong perspective, our core confidence, rendering THIS perspective a "bulwark that never faileth". To what am I referring? Something I will call "The Counsels of Perfection".
The Counsels of Perfection (For Artists)
A perspective that has seen me through powerful obstacles and upheavals is one that allows me to forego looking at myself as one TRYING to be an artist and instead, give my life--completely--to the idea that I am an artist ALREADY, though one constantly learning. If you will, allow me to refer to the Early Christian Church for a paradigm.
Much like the earliest view of monasticism, I made a choice to see my life as a consecrated life, a life set apart for this work of Fine Art, (and the plodding struggle of learning what that means). This does not mean that I must now go and join the Angel Art Academy in Florence, take every class, and veritably live my life on their campus as a sort of "monk in residence", (though I would love the opportunity)! No, for me, to consecrate my life to this work is my personal verification that my life and my life work are one and the same and then, I begin to see that at my core I am this man--this is my identity, my core self. I did this, even when I sure didn't feel like I was an artist, and especially when my work hadn't (and in some points has not yet) attested the fact either. That's okay. I don't have to worry when the doubt arises as my "perspective" changed. Fortunately, (or unfortunately), I realized I could not do this on my own. I needed help. Thus, I began to search. Not for a new or better technique, but for a way to bring out my "core self" and begin to align my life with who I knew I was--or at least wanted to become.
So I do turn back to the early roots of Christian monasticism and ask, how did these men and women commit their life to one purpose with such focus--focus so sure that they had an unshakable confidence in their perspective? If I could crack this code, so to speak, I knew I could find a valuable insight.
The Monastic Community understood such a life-commitment would require strength they did not possess, (okay, sounds like me too). They had to rely on fortitude unlike any they had experienced before, (me again). Then, they had to live life with one singular focus, (aye, there's the rub!). It did not take them long, I am sure, to realize that this was impossible on their own. It is at this time, (at the dawn of the monastic movement), that they dreamed of what this life could potentially be like, they set this "perspective" down into some firm statements, statutes to which they would commit their life, and allow these PRECEPTS to provide the guidance and discipline required for this unrealized life they were attempting to, in fact, realize. What are these precepts? They became known as The Counsels of Perfection.
Let me not be too literal here. I am not recommending that we take up the Rule of St. Benedict into our lives and simply exchange some vocabulary, rather, I am suggesting a few key principles:
1. Determine who we are, at our core. If we are artists, then we are ARTISTS.
2. Determine what our lives will look like when that life is realized.
3. Determine what daily actions, (physical, mental, and spiritual) lead us to the realized life.
In my next Blog, I will simply layout a sort of "Rule of St. Singer-Sargent" ( :-) the precepts that lead each of us, if we are in fact artists at our core, to a more central, focused, and consecrated life to this beautiful calling of Beauty and Humanism in Fine Art.
~All the Best,