02 October, 2008

Artistic Courage - Get It!

Matisse Seeing
8" x 7"
Casey Klahn

Artist's traits are worth exploring if one wants to grow as an artist, or to understand what makes the artist tick. My list of growth traits for the next biennium is:
Commitment, Courage, Creative Integrity, Decisiveness, Excellence, Generosity, Knowledge, and Self Understanding.

Explore my previous posts on the traits here.

Courage is a two-bit word, and my exploration of artistic courage has been a head-scratcher, to say the least. What is it, and how do you find some for yourself?

What is Artistic Courage?

"All art requires courage." Anne Tucker

Some disparage the hero as a social or literary myth, but don't tell that to me. I have walked among heroes of the martial kind, and have seen first-hand the results of their self-sacrifice. For me, heroism is not abstract myth, it's oral history told to me first hand.

Somewhere down the scale of societal value lies the sports hero, and I have not only met and listened to the tales of mountaineering legends, but I have actually gotten to climb with a few. Their acts are real, and not literary vehicles.

Artist Samuel Morse, Bemedalled

The art hero is a fairly rare beast compared to the ones mentioned above. I like JafaBrit's comment on artistic courage:

"Artist courage for me is putting yourself out there even knowing that the world doesn't exactly love what you do. Risking being authentic and true to self knowing that your work has a fat chance of selling, but you try anyway and face the rejection or indifference." JafaBrit

See all of the comments on my courage post here.

Simon Schama's Power of Art series is an excellent study of the artist as hero. Schama and the heroic artist are not without their detractors. I credit Schama with his clarity of focus in our age, where convoluted and messy thinking discounts the personal courage obvious in the artists spotlighted in this series.

"The effort to see things without distortion demands a kind of courage; and this courage is essential to the artist, who has to look at everything as though he were seeing it for the first time." Henri Matisse

Matisse faced open derision from the public and art critics alike when he exhibited at the 1905 Salon d'Automne in Paris. Rude viewers would scratch at his canvases, or puddle the wet oil paint with their fingers. He was on the cusp of his revolutionary changes, and he would eventually remake art in the face of overt institutional prejudice.

Italian Olive Grove
22" x 28"
Pastel on Diane Townsend Paper
Casey Klahn

Get Some Courage

"Courage is doing what you're afraid to do. There can be no courage unless you're scared." Eddie Rickenbacker

Using examples of courage has been a time-honored way to teach both respect for the trait, and perhaps put acolytes on the pathway to gaining courage. Being around courageous people, and studying about their lives and actions can help define and arouse courage in yourself.

Wolf Kahn studied under Hans Hoffman; Albrecht Durer was influenced by a constellation of important artists, including Bellini, Raphael and Leonardo. I have gotten advice from artists whom I respect, and have used them as mentors when I need direction.

In art, the study of artists who exhibit courage - artistic courage - is of great value to the one who seeks this trait. Even though the Internet is bare of examples, I find plenty of text about artistic heroism in my book reading.

In the Matisse biographies, Hilary Spurling relates the epic that involves the boy who must overcome the powerful social and bureaucratic inertia of 19th. century France to find his (singular and timeless ) artistic voice. Spurling describes his courage in bucking familial mores to go to academy in Paris, and then the impoverishment of life on
meager coin, and the endurance necessary to advance in the narrow and competitive world of the atelier. And then, to buck that overbearing system and create his own statement and help found the era of Modern Art.

"Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities... because it is the quality which guarantees all others." Winston Churchill

"Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point." C.S. Lewis

The quotes by prominent Britishers C.S. Lewis and Winston Churchill seem to "bookend" courage around the other great traits. "Courage...guarantees all others," and "Courage is...every virtue at the testing point." If you will take these truths to heart, the bedrock of your courage will be established.

Personality & States of Mind
Photo credit: Lorie Klahn

The following traits may be directly related to establishing the courage you need when confronted with an artistic challenge:

How to Build Courage Through Personality Traits and States of Mind.See my source here. This information is from Sean Hannah and colleagues (Hannah, Sweeney & Lester, 2007) from the United States Military Academy.


Have Openness to Experience & Creativity.

"Creativity takes courage." Henri Matisse

Options are good, and may lead to greater creativity. The counter to this is fencing in the artist's opportunities. Don't let him draw abstraction; keep her painting indoors only; limit their voices to one world view only. These limits are sure to snuff-out creative courage and generate fear.

Be Conscientious.

Engage in things that not only benefit yourself, but others as well. The good news for the older artist is that this trait has been shown to increase with age. Family, social, work, and marriage commitments can all be beneficial to your character, and that goes towards standing firm when the challenges hit.

Have Self Control and Emotional Stability.

While these traits were wholesale lacking in our favorite courageous artist, Vincent van Gogh, they do score big points in leading most of the rest of us towards improved backbone when courage is required. Clue: if you think that you have little or no control over life outcomes, and are prone to use the old saw, "they won't let me..," then your locus of control needs to be reviewed. Practice and review your "I can" inventory to improve your internal locus of control.

Be constant in your emotions.

Immediate State of Mind.

Have Self Confidence.

"Confidence, like art, never comes from having all the answers; it comes from being open to all the questions." Earl Gray Stevens

If you believe you can do it, then you will be more courageous when facing the dreaded fear of the blank page, or the overwhelming fear of the audience.

Exhibit Technical Prowess.

Do you have the tools, and do you know how to use them? Practical power can be found in buffing your technique. Want artistic courage? Draw 1,000 pictures this year, minimum.

Art Medals

Take Hope.

"Tell a person they are brave, and you help them become so." Thomas Carlyle

Have confidence that the task is doable. It helps to succeed a few times, then keep those successes close at heart. This is one of the benefits of that old time device: the art medal. Post those victories; frame your certificates and awards.

Be Resilient.

Keep a positive attitude and a sense of humor! Decide to bounce back; get back in the saddle. Maintain your level of interest in things; read or have a hobby. Try a new medium. Study art history.

Got Core Traits?

Independence, selfless behavior, personal integrity and honor are fine core traits. Become influenced by things greater than yourself. You do recognize forces greater than yourself, don't you? Civilization, societal beliefs, religion, and philosophy are resources to look up to.

Seek out and engage courageous people. We've covered this ground, but remember to hang with successful artists, and think about what kinds of traits they exhibit.

Finally, let me leave you with this thought:

"Leadership is not about genius. It’s about courage." Brian Clark


jafabrit said...

oh my gosh you quoted me :)

Great post and one to reread and ponder. I like this quote:""Courage is doing what you're afraid to do. There can be no courage unless you're scared." Eddie Rickenbacker "

I find I am often afraid of a blank paper in drawing class (which is why I decided I should take this class).
I have gotten comfortable and needed to do something to get out of my comfort zone. It is really quite exhilarating.

Casey Klahn said...

I remember when Rickenbacker passed away in the seventies, I clipped out the article. He was very conservative and careful in his actions, but a successful fighter ace. That seemed counter-intuitive to me.

Thanks for reading, Corrine!

Yellow said...

I have just been looking at my recent work and although there are elements I like, the thing I dislike is that it looks 'tame' to me. I need to be braver. I need to stop worrying about the finished result right from the start, and I need to jump in and get oon with it. Determination, sticking power, belief in myself - my eyes, my ability to draw and paint. I doubt, I pause, I hesitate, I then procrastinate, then when I do work, I play safe, take the easy option. None of those things are productive or work for me. It's self indulgent of me to spout off like this on your blog, but you have a cathertic influence on me. See, it's all your fault.

Casey Klahn said...

Hey, you're jumping the gun. I'm going to cover Self Understanding last!

Just kidding. BTW, I have seen courage in your work, Steph. Thanks for taking Courage to heart!

Deborah Paris said...

You can't go wrong referring to Churchill and C.S. Lewis when speaking about courage in my opinion! Great post Casey and I love that photograph of the boy in the field!

Casey Klahn said...

That's my son, Carson.

My wife is a great photog. - I should use her work more often, I know!

MadSilence said...

What a powerful & insightful post... Makes me ponder. Although what really caught me eye are the artistic medals. Does society still honor its artists with such material rewards?

Casey Klahn said...

They seem like an anachronism, eh?

The Legion of Honour goes out, but I don't know if visual arts has much pull, to be honest.

Brenda Boylan said...

Great post Casey, how do you come up with such great subject thoughts?
Churchill was truly a courageous man, yet, in spite of all his inequities he never stopped. As should we artists. Fear is what keeps most of us from being truly courageous. What does fear look like to you? I have still not entirely found this answer for myself. Thoughts?
Oh, and wonderful photo of your son Carson.

Casey Klahn said...

Hi, Brenda. I'll tell Lorie that you liked her picture.

I got the ideas for this series by setting some goals at the start of 2009, and those were in the form of character traits I wanted to work on.

I think Churchill was the great man of WW II. He made mistakes, but he never flagged.

Fear for me? One day I ran out of coffee in the studio. Kidding. That one will require some thought. I know I shy away from the fear in art books.

Abstract Expressionism, Art Criticism, Artists, Colorist Art, Drawing, History, Impressionism, Modern Art, Painting, Pastel, Post Impressionism