19. The Virtue Of Solitude

Dear Sade,

In that great old movie, "The Sting", actor Robert Redford says to a waitress: "It's four in the morning and I don't know nobody." It was one of the loneliest things I've ever heard in my life.

However, to be a full-time, self-supporting artist you have to like working alone - that's how it is, that's part of the artist's deal in life. Painting is not a team effort, so the buck stops with you, the responsibility is yours alone. This, I believe, is one of the reasons why so many artists fail - as talent needs to be applied with energy and administered with responsibility. And we know just how irresponsible creative people can be.

If you're the type who constantly needs people around, then working as a painter you're going to experience withdrawal symptoms - the loneliness of the long distance painter (with apologies to Alan Silitoe) is going to become an occupational hazard. Have you ever wondered why some artists are antisocial, eccentric and peculiar? It's because they spend nearly all their working time alone!

I have never had a problem with the Solitude Situation because I quite like working alone. It's I, me and myself who have to make it happen with the help of a few large doses of inspiration and self-motivation each day together with the support and encouragement of a solid, caring family unit and the spiritual sustenance, faith and guidance received from a loving God. Daily as I make my way through the challenging maze of creative endeavour I have to come to terms with the fact that, like the writer, my workplace is in my head and there is only room for one. At the end of each day's imaginary 'Art Movie' when the titles come up on the screen, you find your name appearing as the screenwriter, director, producer, actor, special effects and make-up specialist, cameraman and financier! Although this can be quite daunting in the beginning, just think of the benefits: there's no-one to butcher your script or criticize your performance and you are the chief reviewer and critic of your creative output!v

However, like most things, there is a down-side to my scenario: you get so close to your work that you stop seeing it and consequently things go a little out of focus as your judgement falters. An artist is the worst judge of his own work proven by the fact that most painters think that their latest work is the best when often it's not. So what can you do to put things into perspective? Firstly, never pass an opinion on your work on the day that it is completed. Stand back and review it as objectively as possible the day after when you are fresh, rested and on a new wave-length. Your reaction will either be "Ah-hah, I did it" or "Ouch, not the best now is it?"

Secondly, you can hold your painting up to a mirror and take a close look - can it stand up to the scrutiny of a reverse image inspection? Portrait paintings often hold some big surprises when it comes to the Mirror Test.

Thirdly, you can photograph your painting. If it holds it's own in the anti-climactic small format of a photographic print without the advantage of a large format in-the-face presence then things are looking pretty good.

Now for the most important 'outside' reviewer of all: your own personal 'Art Confidant'. This is someone whom you trust, a person who knows you, your work, your strengths, weaknesses, potential and capabilities. Someone you respect and even admire; someone whose opinion means more to you than anyone else's. A fellow artist perhaps who has lifted you up throughout most of your Artwalk? In this regard I am blessed to have not only my very own 'Art Confidante' to 'crit' my work, she is also my soul-mate, my best friend, my lifelong partner and my loving wife, your artist grandmother Audrey, whose intuitive spirit has never let me down. Although I know that the final judgement of my work rests with the toughest judge of all... me, Audrey is always there to give me what all artists need - a fresh, unbiased, balanced opinion that is provided with sincerity, sensitivity and total unbridled honesty.

Creatively yours, Gramps
May 1999