So far, I have been really enjoying the "Extreme Composition" class I'm taking on-line with Jane Davies. The exercises have been challenging, but fun. I've been eager to work on what I've learned and wishing there were more hours in the day to practice.
Until last week.
Last week it was time to dive into part 2 of lesson 2 and I froze.
Lesson 2 is all about shape.
Part one of the lesson involved finding as many different ways as possible to make shapes, and then to do some simple compositions/explorations using only black, white and grey.
This part was fun - loose, no pressure explorations.
It was all experimentation without judgment - exploring combinations of shapes, their relation to each other and to the page. It didn't matter whether I liked my results or not.
The assignment for part 2 of the lesson was to create compositions (in color) using two shapes and a line. I didn't think this was going to be very hard - I expected more of my free-wheeling attitude from part 1. But days went by without me working on it. At first I could pretend I didn't have time to work on it, but somehow I managed to find 3 hours to spend on the internet, so I couldn't use that excuse.
Every time I thought of the lesson, I had a little flutter of anxiety - I have no good ideas, I don't know how to approach this, I can't see anything other than what's already been done by my fellow students and I don't want to copy them...
Meanwhile, lesson three had been posted and it was all about color, and it looked like SO MUCH FUN. I was rationalizing that I could just skip this last part of lesson 2 and move on so that I didn't fall behind. That's when it really hit me that I was avoiding this lesson. I have a life long habit of avoiding the difficult and uncomfortable. It's a habit that holds me back, is counter-productive and can sabotage my success. The work of my 40s has been confronting and trying to break that pattern.
When I saw myself fall into the same old trap, I got pissed off at myself and that anger was enough to make me do the work.
A few of these pieces I like a lot. Some I downright loathe. Most are just “meh.” But that’s not really the point.
This class has brought me face to face with my fear and I’ve come to some realizations.
When I started making art a few years ago, I was somehow willing to accept that my work wasn’t going to be great out of the gate. I largely kept the critic at bay, and just practiced, practiced, practiced. The sheer joy of creation was enough, and I had faith that daily creativity would improve my technical skills. And it did. And I hit a stretch of being really pleased with my results and with how far I’d come.
Are you familiar with this great quote from radio host (and total nerd crush) Ira Glass?
“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”
This was revelatory when I first read it. It made so much sense and helped so much.
Now all of a sudden, for the last few months, I’ve been mildly dissatisfied with almost everything I’ve made. I haven’t really been able to put my finger on it, but it’s been frustrating.
This week’s class experience made me realize that my vision (or taste) has outstripped my skills again, and I’m going to have to go through another period of hard work to try and close that gap. And I will probably have to go through this again and again because as my skills grow, I see my potential and my dreams start to race ahead of me.
Putting it in this context makes it all okay again. I am tuning in and paying attention to this fear and frustration – it’s showing me that I’m on my way somewhere new. I will tolerate this discomfort, suspend judgment, and just show up and do the work.
(and with a profound sense of relief I move on to lesson 3!)