Friday, March 7, 2014

Confidence vs. Ego

I've always had a natural bend toward art. For as long as I can remember I've wanted to be a gallery artist. Something about having my work hanging on gallery walls for patrons to admire and purchase for their own walls seems somewhat glamorous to me. I took art classes all through grade school and college and was consistently top in my class. Praise from teachers, classmates, friends, and family encouraged me to keep pushing for more while gradually building in me a false sense that I absolutely knew how to draw and was on my way to figuring out paint. Though there was always the little voice in the back of my head that said I wasn't sure about my abilities, outward influences said I did. I was fortunate enough to have found the Florence Academy of Art while in college. When I saw what their students were producing I knew that I needed to get that education in order to produce the level of sophisticated, professional work that I had always envisioned for myself.
I applied to the Academy's Painting Program. I figured that I already knew how to draw, so no sense in starting from the beginning. After all, I had taken, like, a year of figure drawing. I mean, come on, how much can you really study on a figure? I had finished pieces within three hours. And the college actually purchased one of them. That had to mean something, right? I can only assume the knowing smile that would have come across Daniel Grave's face while he reviewed my application. Probably something of a "she thinks she knows what she's getting into, but from the work she's submitted, clearly she doesn't". Nonetheless, I was accepted into the Academy, though I can't deny my slight disappointment when I saw it was just into the Drawing Program. 
On my first day at the academy I was set up onto a Bargue copy drawing by one of the student teachers. He gave me a basic five minute rundown of how to go about it and left me to my own devices. So I went to it. I had a finished drawing in two hours. What was so hard about this course, again? Okay, it wasn't exactly like the Bargue drawing, but where's the fun in complete fidelity to your subject anyway? I could only imagine what heights I would rise to within the academy. I would be top of the class, again. People would be looking to me for inspiration. I was the best... and then the student teacher came back in to give me my critique. Everything that I thought I was, everything I thought I had ever accomplished, all of the confidence vanished in 30 seconds. As Ryan Brown has so aptly named it, that was my donkey kick to the face. I was forced to start over on the drawing and I got a glimpse of all the things I didn't know. I was crushed. And that's exactly what I needed. I tried to justify in my mind that, no, I'm right. They just don't understand me and how I work. But I knew, deep down, that I was wrong all along. 
After much contemplation over the lies I had built up in my head, I got back to work. I listened to critiques and tried to absorb as much as I could. I realized I had a long way to go, but I wasn't going to give up on my goals that easily. Though I was starting back at square one, relearning basic rules and principles of art, they were presented in a way that I had never heard of before but that made more sense. That was the start of the long road that I'm still on today of trying to understand truth, beauty, the necessity of art, and my own abilities in relation to those. 
At the CAS we've seen many students come and go. Some just couldn't understand what we were trying to teach them, other's didn't want to understand. Egos are dangerous things that can get in the way of true knowledge. Telling a student to start over on a drawing today brings up those emotions I felt that day at the FAA a long time ago. Though their experience might be different, their egos are always slightly (sometimes not so slightly) crushed. Having the humility to not only physically, but mentally start over is a tough challenge. But the old saying of "whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger" seems to fit here. If the student is humble enough, they will overcome what ailed their thinking and come out a better artist than before. 
Part of the problem of humbling a student is forcing them to see the mistakes they chose to make. The instructor cannot and should not explain every detail of every drawing and every problem that can arise before the student even starts it. If they did the student would be more confused and veer even more off track than if they are slowly guided through. However, this poses the problem of the student lashing out at the instructor for not warning them of the consequences should they make whatever decision that was incorrect. "Why didn't you tell me?" is a phrase that I have heard countless times around the studio. I've even thought it myself at times. But the fault is not with the instructor. No, it's in the student. The student must interpret what the instructor is teaching and that interpretation will reveal itself on the paper. Sometimes it's right. Sometimes it's wrong. But should a wrong decision be pointed out the student must be willing to step back and fix the problem instead of sweeping it to the back of their mind. The goal of the CAS, ultimately, is to give students all of the tools necessary to be self sufficient as an artist. If the student is unwilling to face their poor decisions they will always err toward mediocrity. We all have our blind spots. Teachers are there to help us overcome them. 
In order to be truly great, we must continually study and be humble enough to change when we need to. Confidence in our work is a necessity for an artist, but we must be careful not build egos. True confidence only comes with understanding each decision you are making and the consequences of those decisions. Egos are built upon lies and na├»vety. I am constantly shifting between confidence and insecurity in my own work. One day I may feel really great about a piece, the next I may want to rip it to shreds. This keeps me digging deeper to understand my decisions and how I can make better ones on the next piece. 
I guess the moral of this story is to never be complacent with where you are if you want to be anything more than mediocre in any field. Not that there's anything wrong with mediocrity. I want to learn how to play the guitar and be able to understand the instrument and music. But I don't want to be a rock star. I don't even want to perform for anybody. I just want to be able to play for myself- I want mediocrity. But art is different. I want to be one of the best in the world, and the only way to do that is to be humble enough to overcome my weaknesses so I can accomplish more on every new piece. 

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