Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Challenge of Becoming Successful at Having a Creative Life, Part 3

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Perhaps I should have titled this post series, “The Challenge of Becoming Successful at Life!” Impulsive Artistry has a creative lifestyle theme, which was ultimately the reason for the longer title above, but I think that Part 3 of this article series has applications beyond the spectrum of creative activities and can be applied to working toward a successful life in general.

A Brief List of Challenges to an Artistic Lifestyle

·      Money
·      TimeManagement
·      Overscheduling
·      Lack of Planning
·      Anxiety  

·      General Laziness
·      Procrastination
·      Fear of Failure
·      Self-Doubt
·      Low Self Esteem

Personal Challenges

Today, I will be discussing I think a few of the most personal issues that many artists that I have met struggle to overcome: “Anxiety, Fear of Failure, and Self-Doubt and Low-Self Esteem.” This discussion will be applicable not only to more experienced artists, particularly those who have an artistic/creative personality type like me, but also to beginning artists who may be trying a new creative activity at the hobby level. I have decided to save the topic of “Money” to a later part of this article series.  

Fear of Failure

While the typical response that I have got when I mention to someone that they should try a new artistic activity, such as painting or learning a musical instrument, is that they do not have the time — an issue that I discussed in Part 2 — I often wonder if a more personal motivator to NOT attempt creative activities is fear of failure.

I know that in my American society, failure is generally considered something to be avoided at all costs. Success is what is rewarded, valued by society, and failed attempts are viewed as sub-par. Of course, you may ask: “how else do we grow without standards?” I am in no way arguing that all attempts are equal, because that is absurd; however, we can change the way we think about failure in our lives and choose to take a higher perspective.

Failure should be seen as an opportunity to grow and to challenge us to reach higher levels of personal enrichment and success in what we do. I believe that we must bring 100% of our mental abilities and effort to each project regardless of the outcome, and that we should not be too discouraged if it doesn’t work out as well as we may have wanted.

Painting Failure in My Own Life

I would like to include this picture of a painting that I worked on for four hours yesterday, struggling to capture a delicate balance of a misty lake. As you can see, while it is not bad, I am not happy yet with the result. I was working with acrylics, and discovered that they were drying too quickly for my taste and were not blending together as softly on the canvas as I wanted. In hindsight, I probably should have used oil paint for this work instead of acrylics, because my approach would have had a better chance for success and taken much less time, with a wet on wet painting technique.

Misty Lake, Original Acrylic on Canvas, 18 x 24 in., Artist Charles Wolf, Charles Wolf Studio © 2015. 

Perhaps the biggest problem is that the composition did not unfold as well as it should have, too much emptiness on canvas in center, not enough variation in color to provide interest, too bland and washed out from an overuse of white. Essentially, I failed to create the piece I wanted, but I also learned something from the process. The trees I think were successful, loved using a liner brush for those delicate branches. I also have never tried to paint such a diffused light effect before, and some of it is quite effective I think, less white in the center of canvas perhaps, maybe more blue…?   

How do we handle it when we do not achieve the level of success in our artwork that we are attempting? What are good strategies for success? Why is fear of failure such a powerful motivator that we do not even try? Anxiety? Self Doubt? The answer to these questions may vary from individual to individual, but I will offer some tips on what has inspired and helped me to continue to try when I have not succeeded. Some of these will apply even to the painting above.

Strategies to Improve Artistic Success

For me, I think the fear of failure as an impetus to not try at all comes when we try to “bite off more than we can chew,” as the saying goes. Let me give you some examples from my experiences:

 1. Start small in both time and complexity of the project

I am a piano teacher and been teaching piano lessons for over eight years. Over the years, I seen students become very frustrated when they do not immediately perform a piece of music correctly, or when a higher level of success if asked of them. Other than mindlessly repeating the entire piece of music from the beginning over and over again—where the student simply compounds the problem through incorrect repetition, a common strategy among many piano teachers I am afraid—the student should stop, and with the teachers guidance, critically think about specifically where they are making the mistake in the music and how they can improve. One of the things that I like to employ is called “Performance Approximations:” where we simplify the passage back to something the student can perform 100% of the time correctly, and then we work quickly back to the actual piece of music—looking for 2-3 correct repetitions of each step on the way.

This same principle can be applied to the visual arts as well, begin with something simple that you know that you can do. Slowly and gradually, attempt more difficult projects until you reach the level of success that you want. For example, instead of trying to draw a whole landscape, start with a simple tree like a pine or bush, a nice fluffy cloud or a lovely blue sky fading to white at the bottom?

2. Research more about your artistic interest

Go to library, use Youtube, or Internet searches and look up some books or videos on basic drawing or painting and learn about light and shadow, techniques and types of materials, to increase the realism or your artwork—I plan on making some video about this eventually. As I tell all of my new piano students: “the more you put into it, the more you will get out of it!”

3. Reward yourself and celebrate each completed project

Every day that you complete a project, reward yourself in some small way to ensure that you continue to work at it: snack, new paintbrush, watch a video online... Cognitively, these rewards will give you a structure to your longterm goals, and help you reach whatever level of artistic success that you strive for. It’s a lot easier to work on a project if you know that when you are done you get a reward.  :   )

4. Be kind and patience with yourself

We all, myself included, have to be patience with our progress and savor our small successes.  Everything takes time and effort. Don’t set too high of expectations for yourself all at once, patience is very important, and nothing happens overnight. With me, I am idealistic, there I said it: I… AM… IDEALISTIC. I have high expectations for my life goals and myself. My vision for the future keeps me going each and everyday (chasing my dreams), I also at times am impatience with my progress towards my goals, this is wrong. 

I know that I could become upset that my painting didn’t work out as well as I would have liked. I could quit painting because “it’s too hard,” as children have complained about learning the piano, and they are right, it can be hard to learn a musical instrument, or paint, or any number of creative activities, but that does not mean that we or I should throw in the towel and quit! I also know that every time I fail, the next painting may succeed, and when it does, that feeling of success becomes even sweeter (this may sound clich├ęd, and maybe this all is, but I do feel this deeply and it has profound meaning to me).   

 It is so easy to become discouraged and to give up, but we have to push ourselves everyday to keep at it! Blogs like this one take on average about 6 months to a year to take off… this is week four, I think, so I have to keep writing these articles, painting, drawing, writing music, and living a full and creative life in the meantime.

Self Doubt

Another major challenge to having a creative life is self-doubt. This of course is directly linked to the fear of failure and the anxiety that that fear can provoke. I have never been happier until this past month when I really found my passion for life and art. Blogging is a wonderful creative outlet, and if I can brighten another person’s day with art, I know that I have meaning, and that I contributing to my society in a positive way!

I am an idealistic dreamer, perhaps the biggest enemy of having a successful creative lifestyle is ourselves? For me, I often ask myself will I ever reach the level of success and respect that I want? Do I have the talent to become a “real artist”(whatever that means)? These can be related to low-self esteem as well, but that is another topic for another time.

These are strong, deep emotions that I feel, self-doubt can really hold you back in life. In these times, and this is something that I am learning more and more about myself even now, I should instead focus on what I have accomplished so far, rather than worrying about where I am going. Just things to think about…

An Inspiring Story About Overcoming Failure

As I mentioned above, I am a piano teacher and I recently had a Winter Recital for my studio here in NC and this is a true story. We gathered together in a community center room a good size audience of 65-70 people—friends, family, and students. There was an excitement in the air and everyone was ready to perform some pieces that they had learned this fall semester.

An unexpected addition to the program was a community orchestra rehearsing quite loudly down the hall, only faintly audible, thank goodness, after we shut the doors, and the recital was able to begin. Overall it was a successful recital performance, everyone had a wonderful time listening to each student as I called them up one by one, performing duets with me, and solo works of varying difficulties.

Over halfway through the recital, I called up one particular student, who I will call Sam (not his real name of course). He is around 12 years old. As soon as he came up, I could see that Sam was very nervous. His hands were shaking slightly, his brow was sweaty, and he was avoiding eye contact with the audience. Sam was performing a traditional ballad and began unsteadily. When we last met, Sam was having some difficulties with a few sections of piece, but could get through it ok. Today however, his nerves got the better of him and he stop playing near the middle of piece with a mumbled apology. The audience was totally silent. He bravely tried again, even more haltingly and he couldn’t get through it. The audience was still silent. I whispered to him to keep going, but he was unable to. He asked to go the restroom and to come back and try again. He grabbed his music and dejectedly walked out of the room.

I can’t describe what I was feeling at that moment, how much it hurt to see him fail, how bad I felt as I could actually feel his inward despair and sadness at not completing. I announced the next student, and watched as Sam’s father followed him out of the room, and could see the two of them in a passionate discussion through a pane of glass in the hallway door. 

The recital continued until the final performer on the program finished, Sam reentered the room and I asked him if he wanted to try again. He nodded, seeming more confident from his talk with his father. He began, and while it was not the best performance of the work, I admire the courage it took for him to go back up in front of the crowded room of strangers to perform again the ballad that he couldn’t finish before. I waited, breath held, as he once more reached the part of the piece that he had stopped at earlier. He made it, reached the ending and finished the piece; the room was electric with the cheers of the crowd, not because it was the best performance of the recital, but because of the bravery of Sam to face his fears, his failure and to emerge triumphant. In my mind, it was the best performance, not in musical terms, but because of his success of overcoming failure. 

Fear of failure, anxiety, self-doubt, and low self-esteem will all hold us back from being more creative and successful in life if we let them. Don’t let them. Chase your dreams, and live the fullest creative life that you can!


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