The Excellence Mindset

“Spring Cotillion”
Watercolor 22 x 30 inches
There are, literally, thousands of  painters out there who desire to attain excellence in their painting life.    Most all are missing something.
One would think that something is skill.   I say it is NOT skill.   Skill comes with familiarity, which is born of practice.   I dare say there are a lot of painters out there who practice plenty, but excellence has not crept up behind them and took up residence in their output.
I believe there is an aspect of mental attitude (this is that something), which must be ever present in order to invite in excellence and have it stay in residence.   That aspect, to which I refer, is something akin to an attitude of carelessness.   Eh?   Did you say carelessness?   Yep!   I did.
Let me explain . . . .one needs not care about what others think about their paintings.    That care less attitude must also be present about the aspect of failure.   Do you know any painters who are nervous about failing?   Do you know any who are concerned or even worried about what their peers might think of their paintings?   In fact, do you know any painters who are “afraid of breaking the rules ?”
These are mental barriers or obstructions to achieving fine work.   One must be willing to fail . . . .and I mean OPENLY willing to go down in flames in front of anyone who might be watching.   And rules??   What rules??   That’s right!  WHAT rules??   There are no books out there written by painting experts about “RULES!”   There aren’t any!!   At the very least, the painter must be willing to turn his or her back on anything thought of as “rules.”
And there is another aspect of attitude that all painters must eschew . . . . . . that is steering away from the unfamiliar subject.   We must be willing to take on any subject at any time and risk falling into that deep canyon of failure to ‘do it well.’
We are a sensitive bunch, us painters.   We fall for those sentimental scenes that evoke loving emotions of comfort.   We frequent galleries and museums to look upon the excellence achieved by others and are often swept up in other artists’ techniques or design approaches.  We even admire those paintings that appear to be vastly different than anything otherwise seen out there.   Yet, when confronted with painting the unfamiliar, we veer away at a speed not often seen.   We openly avoid the possibility of failure.
I must confess that I am no different in that respect.   I, too, experience the fear . . . those pangs in the gut that warn of abject exposure that I might be a fraud.   Yep!   I have it, too.
I have learned, however, that we must take on R I S K with a lustful appetite for it.    Yes, taking risks is what bridges us across those chasms of skill and familiarity with painting challenges.   When we cross into unfamiliar territory and come out of it having won, there is no greater rush of emotion and feeling of accomplishment!   In some ways it is outright defeating the devil himself !  
To be more brief, let me just say that it is the repeated willingness to take risks that makes the great painters.   It is stepping into the unknown with brush in hand and tackling the possibility of outright failure without looking over our shoulder at the possibility of failure.   We must take what we know into the challenge and be open to discovery that what we know may not be enough.   We must be open to devising new techniques to allow us to swim through the rough current of possible failure.  And own the possibility that we can be swallowed up by our venture into the unknown.  
In owning that possibility . . . .in being completely aware that we don’t know enough to break into new levels of skill or excellence . . . .it is in there that we learn the next step to attain that place we seek.
There are myths and metaphors out there, such as slaying the dragon, that rightly apply to our struggles to become.   And “Becoming” is really what our search is about . . .wouldn’t you agree?
On this day, I achieved a victory.   I entered a completely unfamiliar place to paint a menagerie of dogs and people . . . .and to represent it as some sort of social event to which debutants attend in their ‘coming out.’  I wasn’t at all sure I could.   I simply didn’t know if I knew enough to make it come to life.   With limited resources, could I bring the idea to life and exploit some ersatz design stuff to ensnare the viewer and, perhaps, bring a painting to life that may be worthy of competition?   I didn’t know . . . . . . but I was willing to waste the paper and the paint and the time to find out.   Was it luck that this outcome materialized?   I will let you be the judge.   But I feel a sense of victory!! 

6 thoughts on “The Excellence Mindset”

  1. This rings so true today as I watched an exhibition being hung where I work. The artist is known for lovely traditional representational watercolours of landscapes. The artist however has for the last few years has been exploring large scale abstract acrylics. I take my hat off to the efforts it takes to construct these large canvasses and embracing the challenges of this new territory.

  2. Hi Lauren Finn . . .No there isn't a weiner dog park near us. In fact, we were in New York City last April and stumbled across this menagerie in Washington Square. It was quite a lively sight to behold, I must say!

  3. always enjoy your work & your writings (another type of work). This piece is so interesting because of the abstracted shapes and the movement. In lesser hands, it could have been sweet. Amazing, strong work–love it.

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