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Want to be an Artist? Better Start "Digging"!

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by Diane Johnson

IN RECENT YEARS I have had a growing concern regarding artists and their art. As a painter and educator, I've observed more and more artists who have no problem aiming high with aspirations to become a great artist. But what is lacking is that most are not willing to “dig deep” to get there.
We all seek that quick fix, that shortcut to success.

But there is no such shortcut. Yes, we can share ideas, thoughts, and tips through books, tutorials, workshops, and the amazing phenomenon of the Internet; however, there is no substitute for digging deep within yourself, researching for the information you need, and following through with perseverance, patience, and practice. To illustrate this, I'll use the following analogy.

When RadioShack’s first Tandy 1000 came on the scene (way back in the ’80s), my husband purchased one. Then methodically and meticulously he made a wall chart on how to use the system, what it could do, the keystrokes to use to accomplish tasks, hierarchies, etc. I was intimidated and fearful of even the thought of using a computer, if that was what it took to use one!

A year after he had his system, I announced that I'd like to give this computer technology a try. I sat down and tinkered with keystrokes, trying intuitively to learn how to use the unfamiliar hardware without first learning what or where anything was. I just wanted to use the computer, not really know anything about its features. My husband, who is known as a cool and patient person, was taken aback at my approach to learning. He immediately halted my aimless rambling away at the keyboard. (With a mere 256k RAM and early system software, one keystroke could wreak havoc that few could fix at that time.)

I was frustrated, because it all seemed to be so simple. We were told that "with the click of a mouse, you can do anything—instantly!" But because I did not have an understanding of how the computer operated, my attempts at productivity were futile. So I bit the bullet, put on my left-brained hat, and read the manual. It was a grueling exercise and totally against my grain. But I knew that if I did not dig deep, I'd never be a successful computer user.

Since that time, I've had eight computer systems plus a multitude of peripherals, have purchased many manuals, and enrolled in a technical hardware course (learning to take computers apart and put them back together again, along with troubleshooting software.) Armed with this knowledge, I can now find, diagnose, and fix computer problems when they arise, and I’ve had a long-time successful graphic design business. It was not an easy road to travel, but the confidence, comfort, pleasure, and creativity (yes, creativity) that I enjoy today is a direct result of digging deep.

So it is with creating art. I wanted to paint. I wanted to paint badly. I did not want to take all of that college life drawing. I did not want to take all those years of art history. I did not enjoy drills and instructors hammering away at me. I just wanted to paint. "Why can't I paint?" I aimed high and wanted it badly, but I did not dig deeply enough.

I’ve since studied with some of the great painters of our day and have had wonderful exchanges with artists and my students. But as with the computer, I had to read, practice, and really dig in order to be a painter. Émile Zola (1840-1902) once said, "The artist is nothing without the gift, but the gift is nothing without work."

I will continue digging deep to my last painting day. I am not the best painter, but that's okay. I have come to a place where I am comfortable and confident but never satisfied—which keeps me digging. And I am not alone in this. Many of you have experienced the same!

Some Encouraging Advice

Decide first whether you wish to create art as a hobby or as a serious endeavor. If you are a very beginner or advanced artist seeking the latter:

·Do whatever you must to maximize the talent, creativity, and desire God has given you for creating art.

·"Spoonfeed" for a time, but then pick up the glass and drink in all the information you can about the area of art you’re interested in.

·Strive to excel to the best of your ability, not that of others.

·If you “quit” at times, get back up and try again.

·Invite “mistakes,” for they are your allies. Without them, you’ll never improve or grow.
Listen to the advice of those around you and those who know you. But make your own decisions and stick by them.

·Don’t give up or give in.

·Have fun, and enjoy what you are doing.

·Strive for excellence at all times. You won’t always achieve excellence, but don’t stop aiming for it.

And finally, from Buck Rogers, “There are countless ways of achieving greatness, but any road to achieving one’s maximum potential must be built on a bedrock of respect for the individual, a commitment to excellence, and a rejection of mediocrity.”

So dear artist friend, aim high by digging deep!

Johnson is an award-winning artist and instructor with over 30 years experience and was Founding Editor of Plein Air Magazine (now Fine Art Connisseur. See all her current and archived sold works at www.LDianeJohnson.com

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