14 November, 2008

Artist, Know Thyself

Photo: Lorie Klahn

"Know yourself. Don't accept your dog's admiration as conclusive evidence that you are wonderful."
Ann Landers.

Self Understanding is imperative to the risk-taker. Often, I look to my days as a rock climber for analogies to explain something. When I did the daredevil sport, and it came time to try the next harder grade, it was only when I could do a thorough self-diagnostic that I knew I was ready to advance. Energy? Check. Fitness level? Check. Equipment? Check. Weather? Maybe, well okay-check.

The artist may advance his images with greater confidence if he knows what his limits and abilities are. When you began the painting, you were envisioning a Michelangelo. In the end, for some reason, it turned out as a Klahn. Not that it's bad, but still not what you envisioned!

"Trust not yourself,
but your defects to know;
make use of every friend
and every foe."
Alexander Pope.

Do I mean introspection? Navel-gazing? Not too much. We are not writing philosophy; we are making pictures. Wasn't it Oscar Wilde who said, "...the shallow
know themselves"? But, a little self-awareness of, for instance, the will to finish a particular painting might be good to have. You may ask yourself, "Do I care enough about trees-in-a-glen to make this image really speak?"

Some self understanding will keep you against that day when the nay-sayers come about and denounce your work. "If I ever decide to buy something like that, stop me!" "Everyone can't be Rembrandt!" "Art is okay for you, if you can make a living at it!"

Why do you make this art? Are you strong in yourself? Do you feel the art in your bones? It might be good to know the why of it for when that day of doubt arrives.

"To reach any knowledge of oneself is a rare and precious bonus. Most people live to the end in doubt and uncertainty. What a torment! It's not a matter of finding the right path, but of finding one's own path, as Nietzsche said, 'Become who you are.' Alas! for [sic] one moment of certainty, how many hours of doubt!" Henri Edmund Cross

I think that having a solid "first person authority," knowing what you think, understand and believe, can help in making your art unique and authentic. It is one piece of the originality puzzle that all artists seek to solve.

Have you ever had the experience of revisiting a painting that you haven't looked at for a while, and discovering that it has a trace of van Gogh in it? You didn't know you had that in you, and you are wondering how that happened. There is no end to the delight of self discovery through art.

"I know...that I myself have no special talent; curiosity, obsession and dogged endurance, combined with self-criticism, have brought me to my ideas," Albert Einstein.

Another common phrase for the self-seeker is "Don't fool yourself". Once in a while, use some tools for checking in on your own ideas and beliefs about yourself. Sometimes, the mirror is a good device, and sometimes it is the mirror of a friend that tells the truth.

Have you ever overheard others speaking well of you? I hope you get the chance, as it is a wonderful thing to hear un-solicited praise. And, at the same time, the truth can be helpful when it's not exactly praise.

Another fun example of third party input is to secretly observe people looking at your art. I once posted some cartoons on a bulletin board, and a friend of mine made sure that I stood ten feet away and watched reactions. Didn't Mark Tobey make a point of going to his own openings in disguise?

Next Post: I'll be asking you to add your traits-to-be-gained. What are your desired traits for the artist's life?


Stanford on Self Knowledge.
Extreme self-thought.


jafabrit said...

my dog thinks I am the bees knees and loves my artwork. I know because he told me, I asked and he barked three times :)

Weak humour aside, I think your questions to self are important. I don't ask myself why I should paint this or that though mostly because I only create when moved and I seem to be moved a lot lol!

Judith HeartSong said...

when I did shows I would purposely stand about ten feet from my tent to watch people... even though there had been lots of articles and interviews... lots of people had no idea what I looked like. It is often a humbling experience, and still I am here, with the imperative.

I am AM strong within myself. Great post.

Philip said...

The only person I ever or paint for or have to please is me. If others happen to like my work then that is a bonus. Just as I don't like every painting I see, I don't expect very many people to like my style. I would be painting pretty pictures if I were seeking popularity.

Casey Klahn said...

Good Heavens! It is a great thing to see you and hear from you, Phillip. I believe it's been over a year! Glad to see you well, and thanks for reading, too.

You would like this link to an essay on creativity that starts with "Ignore Everybody!"

Good to meet you, Judith. Thank you for following here.

Hey, Corrine, I want you to write a post here. I'll be out-of-action for a short while.

Deborah Paris said...

Wonderful post,Casey! My own favorite quote along those lines: "Know your own bone"-Thoreau

Casey Klahn said...

Thanks, Deborah. That quote is a new one on me.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful post!!!! I firmly agree with you that knowing oneself makes all the difference.

Yeah, I have on several occasions picked up a work I had totally forgotten about and realized there was a trace of Van Gogh in it. :)

Casey Klahn said...

Thank you for reading the artist's traits, and for your comments, Nkolika. It is wonderful to have you reading, here.

Joan DaGradi Studio said...

Great post, Casey!
Sometimes it seems like it takes a lifetime to "become who you are". As a artist, knowing who you are, what inspires you, and what you have to say-regardless of popular opinion, makes dealing with the inevitable disappointments easier.

Casey Klahn said...

Good wisdom there, Joan.

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