Loving Art-Making in Times of Resistance

Growing Wings

In the past months, I have seen a renewed confidence in my abilities involving creative energy. That I love making art and being an artist, has never been questioned. It brings me such joy to go about challenges calling for imagination and firing up the wide net of invisible and visible connections that make up for, well “me”. I can hear the inner gears turning and feel the boost of energy that sweeps me off my feet into the flowing current of pure potential. Then, I walk humbly towards wherever the muse is taking me. This is one of the most precious gifts in my life. Something I have learned not only to appreciate but to expect.

There’s a silent deal between life and me, I do my best and the Universe takes over the rest. This agreement hasn’t always been an easy one though, it requires faith, surrender and a presence of mind-spirit that I fail to reach more than I care to admit. I find my imperfect humanity fighting and being beaten by my ideal of perfection on a regular basis. Which in practical terms translates into an unwanted visit from my ever-present frenemy: resistance.

Resistance vs Love

Mercedes’s Resistance is a complex blend of fears, beliefs, and emotions boiling in the stagnant waters of the past, spiced with validation and control issues and cooked in the fires of doomed self-fulling prophecies. Such nonsensical recipe has exerted unbelievable power over me for far too long.

What is behind my resistance and how does it make itself present?

1. Impostor Syndrome

If they knew… I don’t have a degree in fine arts!

Coming from a family and culture that places such emphasis on a college degree and dismisses experience and intuitive exploration, doubts can plague my endeavors as I fail to shut up the unremitting jingle in my head scoffing at my “raw talent” and “wanting” artistic explorations.

I have been a multidisciplinary researcher, performer (with college degrees) and explorer for years. Yet, a part of me is always afraid that I don’t know enough and strives restlessly to fill the gaps.

Straining to be ahead of every unforeseen event is a mark of my Impostor Syndrome and there’s no end to it.

Exhaustion is real and is also an excuse to avoid doing something that scares me. Being tired allows me to dismiss fear as a sign that I am on the right track. Fear pops up when something matters when you are cutting pretty close to the bone. It says, better back up and stay put for a while, you are tired, what is the rush?

Does being aware of my self-sabotaging techniques makes it easier for me to bit resistance when it hits? Nope. But it helps me to see my reactions for what they really are, learned coping mechanisms. I do my best not to hide from or ignore them. I meet them with acceptance and courage, and this opens a door for love and curiosity to slip in and do their bidding.

2. The Eternal Student

But there’s so much you don’t know!

I have a solid academic side that pleases the left brain demands and meets social standards around specialization and certifications. The student is an identity I feel comfortable with, consider highly successful and it goes hand by hand with my insatiable love for learning. It is also an identity that might persuade me not to take risks and endeavor to break free from patterns and trains of thought that keep me living and thinking small.

Most of my art comes from observation, experimentation, and research.

I joined drawing groups and attended art workshops many years ago. There were no lectures on techniques or history, not even mediums. They were mostly based on trial and error, hands-on approach. It felt like learning by osmosis! This unstructured styled might have not been what you would call “academic,” but it brought my natural instincts and skills to the surface. Trying stuff, asking questions and filling up sketches shed light on some essential characteristics that still permeate my work today.

Yet, my scholarly side feels diminished by its lack of formal education.

I confess I am not sure if it is due more to the market constraints and trends or what is supposed to be “hot” in art today, or the belief that I cannot produce anything original unless I have the “right” knowledge. Whatever that is!

3. Exploration! Or Excuses

Oh, I should try this!

Annie Spratt via Unsplash

I am a sucker for learning, it is hard for me to pass an opportunity to grasp a concept, try something new or go deeper into a subject that interests me. There’s nothing that sparks more drive in me than being part of a like-minded group honestly exploring artistic expression. My soul sings!

I have come to believe that I process experience and feed the muse with the accumulation of complex and high quantities of related and unrelated information until I am ready to explode. I call it my “Volcano Syndrome.” Once the flames and lava flow freely, I am ready to work with what remains in the center.
This takes time, effort and it can be overwhelming. The state of mind sways from determined to creative anguish, energetic to one of frustration, love and hate and back again. While I am in Volcano state, I am “busy”, but this is also a “preparation” stage, one that can be extended forever, if I am not careful.

4. That is not original!

You need to have a style! … the Correct Style!

I am not into trends, at least not intrinsically. Since I was a kid, my fashionable attributes, or lack of them, were severely criticized. I disliked been told what to wear, sometimes because I found the clothes terribly uncomfortable, others because they didn’t match my identity and no matter how nice, I felt I was wearing the wrong custom while crashing a party I didn’t want to be invited to.

I do recognize trends and elements that tie my work through different disciplines, and they are innate to my view of life. The problem is, I keep moving on. When I learn about a technique or product, I want to try it! Just for the sake of it, something in me asks -what if? Still, they all feel as samples in a vast exploration of concepts or qualities, not a “Me Style.” Sure, people tell me, “that’s just like you!” But when I go to galleries, I sink, I feel isolated, as I cannot usually relate but to what today might be considered as “old masters.”

Where does the line between expertise and creative exploration get blurred, broken, separated, denied, accepted? When Being original, contemporary or marketable becomes empty or plain deadly?

Now, what?

Teachers and apprentices of the world

Ben White via Unsplash

Though previous generations were taught that finishing school was the guaranteed gateway to a successful career, I am reminded how some famous self-taught artists forged new paths and became very successful by trusting their instincts.

Google and I are best friends. In an age of copious, often free online tutorials, it’s easier than ever to learn an artistic discipline and steadily turn it into something meaningful and enjoyable. I am grateful to all of those who share their skills and experiences in social media and have helped me build a handy “how to DIY” library with answers to almost every question! I also love going to art supplies stores where salespeople know their craft and inventory and can give you expert advice on the best products and practices!

What feels good for you, art school? Zapping through You-tube?

Workshops or a mentor?

Today we have a choice! Follow your instincts and remember nothing is set in stone.

Screw it Let’s do it. No time to be invisible!

Education alone does not guarantee commercial or artistic success, never mind fulfillment. There is no best way to educate yourself on or learn how to create art. It is a personal choice. The idea that talent and determination must be smartly met with marketing and promotion of yourself and your work is reasonable. But until you are ready for this, remember: practice grow skills, failures can become unexpected successes, and free exploration can be filled with potential if we allow it. The more we do, the more we learn. The overall experience helps us create quality and consistent work that reflects our unique style and artistic vision. We cannot convince others or touch others if we are not convinced that our vision is valuable and worth pursuing.

Ask yourself…What do I want from art?

In my case, I want art to be transcendent, to transform me and others. I want to leave an exhibition with the feeling that even if I don’t know how, I have been “touched” by something bigger than me…

Great masters of many styles and eras give me goosebumps. Every time I am faced with their work, I know I have been taken, my heart and soul kidnapped by the vision of the artist, my mind has been blown out. Some pieces feel like looking into a magic mirror that shows a different dimension of experience when I plunge into them. Others, are evocative, warm, comfy as my blanket in winter, and I know that no matter how down I might feel, the work answers back by wrapping me in love and understanding. Of course, there are those shocking, challenging works, that compelled me to, both run and stay frozen in place, until their beauty slowly and cautiously bring me in.

What do I want from art?


Being an artist

Beauty is a difficult abstraction, like a jewel with myriads of facets, each of us sees, what we are prepared or want to see.

I believe good art is the result of meaning and quality of craft coming together to bring a vision into a tangible and pure expression of what is most essential for us, the naked truth of our inner core. I might not like the style or technique, even the subject, but when I see artistry, something in me recognizes it. Artistry leaves permanent traces where fancy dissipates.

I still navigate the stormy waters of making art, loving art and resisting it. I understand that life as an artist has challenges and will present me with things I dislike or fear. Nevertheless, allowing others to determine what is meaningful or beautiful to me or what is or not marketable is a sure road to misery. There is no style, no personal voice without character and integrity.

I shall live then, as the apprentice who is willing to explore, fail and open herself to guidance wherever it comes from. When I bow to pressure, my work is fearful, uneven and often unfinished. When I follow my instincts, I feel the love and flow that’s there for all.

May we listen, and trust.

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