Sunday, May 31, 2015

234: How to succeed in art

GhostWoodcut, 1.5" x 1"
Due to factors beyond my control I've recently experienced a creative low ebb. To use the time productively I've embraced this fallow season to reflect on accomplishments of past years and discover possible paths forward. As I ruminate on what has helped in my journey and what has slowed my progress I confess that my mental state has been the main factor accelerating or diminishing growth.

It is with regret that I look back and see how I allowed negative individuals and events in my life to become obstacles to growth. Some of these obstacles have taken considerable discipline and force of character to counteract. Above all there is my own innate weakness that has come into play. In earlier entries I have mentioned my anxiety disorder as a key factor in slowing my progress.

Early in my career I felt I could use moodiness to good artistic effect especially as a writer because I could harness that brooding spirit to create profound artistic creations. But recently I've found such moods to be less productive and am less willing to submit to them. There are romantic notions surrounding the life of the artist that encourage a dramatic, if negative, mindset. So why should we challenge this tradition?

One reason is that negative thoughts inhibit flow. In the groundbreaking book by the same name author Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi describes the optimal state for maximum creativity. It is a book well worth reading and more complex than I can cover here but negative self-talk, moodiness, depression, and anxiety are all impediments to flow.

In my illustration career I frequently have to deliver illustrations on deadline regardless of my state of mind. If I'm depressed or anxious the illustrations suffer and are artless, inanimate shadows of what they could have been had I been in a better mood. The reason is the state of flow is inhibited by such negativity. Positive mental states provide direct access to deep emotions that allow for nearly effortless and profoundly authentic creation.

Paradoxically, in a state of flow one can access the dramatic and tragic more easily than in a negative state. In a state of flow it is easier to express empathy and respond with authenticity to deeply moving events and states of mind. Focus shifts from the self outward and communicates a more universally meaningful experience.

Painter Robert Henri wrote that the artist's chief goal is to achieve a state of mind where great art becomes inevitable. I agree–and embrace that challenge.

Brad Teare–May 2015


  1. For me, Brad, I have found that it is necessary to "paint without expectation" as it reduces the anxieties and allows you to just be more free to paint and accept the results.

    Far too often, when you mentally get fixated on trying to get something MORE out of your efforts, you end up hurting yourself or at least being disappointed which can lead to de-motivation and lack of enjoyment.

    I, too, have issues with negativity, heavy anxiety, fear, and worry. But none of those things are good for the artist. They have no value to the artist.

    For me, I'm not out to try and innovate and create the next new thing. I just want to make good paintings that people enjoy...that *I* would enjoy. That puts me presently in the area of traditional representationalism. It's not sexy today in the market place. I say, who cares?

    I'm getting better at creating works that move people, and that move me. I just think we all need to let the rhythms of life and art flow naturally, to let worry and fear go, and just paint. Enjoy the journey. Explore. Have fun!


    Enjoyed the post. Hope you find that harmonic place that allows you to be free to create and to enjoy!

    God bless!

    1. Thanks for the thoughtful reply, Bob. As always I enjoy your comments. I think your work is fantastic. Plus it has a feeling of optimism that I really appreciate.

      One thing I came to realize as I was writing this post is that frustration is not necessarily an obstacle because it is one of the things that make us better (if we deal with it appropriately). It's one of those many paradoxes of life and art :) !

  2. Thank you for sharing your thoughts Brad. Creating art for the last 50 years has gotten me to the point where I simply keep moving forward. The process of creating puts me into a state that can best be described as contentment. Having the ability to develop concepts and create a work that resembles the idea is what drives me. Uncertainty, self doubt, depression, etc. are sometimes deminshed by just going into the studio and doing something, anything. Moving or exploring between various styles and disciplines helps my creative process. Certain works remain unfinished for periods until a decision is made to get it done wether or not the result is to my satisfaction. 

    1. Great thought Davy Ray! I think a whole post could be written on the virtues of simple moving forward. That is one of the things I like about working in a variety of different genres and media–it allows the mind to swim through the easiest seas if necessary.

      Thanks for dropping by and for your thought provoking comment comment.

  3. Thanks for sharing your thoughts Brad. For me, I feel that the fears and anxieties arise out of my imagination and expectations and not out of reality. I am beginning to learn to be rooted in reality and that is helping me to let go and enjoy the present.

  4. Good ideas Padmaja! Thanks for sharing them. Your perspective is always so welcome and refreshing to me.

    The event that triggered my current state was the death of my mother and although she faced death with dignity, while embracing it with humility, her passing caused a deep sadness for me. Even though she lived a full life I still miss her and am having trouble getting back into the "flow".

    My mom and I both believe in a life after this one and she was a great example of faith for me. I'm sure time will ease my distraction and I will get back to my creative endeavors just as my mother expects :). Incidentally she was a painter too.

  5. Brad, very interesting post. Your blog is as much inspirational as much as informational. Thanks for sharing a very intricate feeling and situation, that many of us get into but unable to articulate or figure out what is happening. Just stepping back and looking at it helps, and you have done that here. And some great comments here to add to the perspective.

    1. Thank you Ganapthy for your comment and sorry for the late reply. I've been enjoying your comments on Facebook as well.


Thanks for your comments!


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