On Attaining Artistic Maturity

“The Old Veteran”

Watercolor 30 x 22 inches

I cannot say that I am an expert on this subject, but after nearly thirty years of working hard to attempt to attain such a state, I do have a few opinions. . . . .

The first of which is simple:   In order to become mature as an artist . . or “good,” . . . .one has to put in the “work.” Not only the work, but consistent, constant practice.

For some reason there is a pervasive opinion in our society that the only place to learn anything is at a university. And if that is not available, one “should” go to art ‘workshops’ to learn for other painters.

I don’t think so!

What can a university teach us about our own tastes?   What can the university reveal to us about our own creative preferences?   (more about that later.)   What can another painter teach us about how our hand moves unconsciously with a brush in hand?   And, how can any of these institutions expose our ability to think critically about our own work . . . .all they can do is render their opinion that is nothing more than conventional wisdom.

Shouldn’t an artist abide by conventional thinking?   Frankly, most who do find themselves attempting to record, or photographically explain what they see.

Over time the painter begins to shun that ‘wisdom.’   One comes to a state of mind that is strictly selfish and opinionated about the qualities of their own work instead of emulating an admired artist. In other words, after years of trying and failing to make another masterpiece (which looks like many of the others that already exist), we realize that when we make something that has NOT been seen before on this earth, we have arrived at the place we have always intended.

There is no amount of training by any institution or teacher that can bring us to accepting our own vision.

How does one find the training and ‘learning’ to reach that level of artistic maturity?

At first most new painters focus on how to deliver the paint to the surface . . . that is technique!   Unfortunately, many painters get stuck there and never grow their curiosity to include design, composition or emotional content.

The maturing process is actually fairly common among artists who have “arrived” at a state of accomplished maturity.   Those who have “arrived” all followed a similar process . . . . .somewhere in their quest, they decided the best teacher they could find was their own easel.   That is they made a conscious decision that they needed to set aside all other actions and diversions and to spend a few years at their easel putting in painting time and wearing out their brushes.

It is here that we find / discover our creative preferences;   we see that our habitual tendency is to emphasize patterns of value, or experiment with color, or become infatuated with textures.   Every artist leans on one such design element in their growth and that becomes a central part of their “style.” (which is nothing more than habit!)

It is there that the artist will begin to experiment and take chances he or she would not otherwise take when someone is looking over their shoulder.   In those experiments (some of them bizarre) the painter reveals new un-thought of options for future work.   In my humble opinion, the process of self discovery is what opens an artist to relying on their own work above all other.

Perhaps the painter will go to extremes, a la Jackson Pollack, and sling paint in hopes for happy accidents.   Or, the artist may take on a disciplined method of exploiting one or two design elements and try learning all the possibilities that lie within.   There many methods, but the true basis of maturity development is focused individual work.   There are lots of different names and descriptions of that sort of work, but it all boils down to having the courage to plow through the frustrations and failures and just keep on painting . . . .and doing it alone for an extended period of time.

For those of us who have done such “work,” I honestly don’t recall ever thinking of it as W O R K.   It wasn’t!!   It was P L A Y!   For me, the act of putting paint on paper or canvas was simply the most satisfying and exciting thing I could have done.   The outcome didn’t matter as much as the act of the process.

If you are an artist seriously thinking about finding that “next level” and beyond, you might want to give this article some very serious consideration.


One thought on “On Attaining Artistic Maturity”

  1. Mike, this article is so right on! There’s nothing more enriching and enlightening than time at the table. You’re right, this comes with age and facing the truth that one just needs to paint! I only wish I would’ve picked up a paint brush when I was a very young child, as now my “learned experience” gives me too few years of further exploring! Nonetheless, most gratifying! Thank you for your insight!

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