The Highs and Lows (of making art)

Tree shadows on canvas

Sometimes I just want to slap myself.

I have terrible mood swings regarding my art. One minute I think my work looks great and my career is going to be swell and everything is awesome. The next, I downward spiral into despair that nothing looks good, nothing is working, I’m a hack, it’s going to fail, people will laugh and mock and cry.

It’s all part of my process.

Generally at some point during every single painting I’ve ever made, I love it; I think it’s the best work I’ve ever done. At another point, with every single painting I’ve ever made, I hate it. It’s trash. It’s not worthy of continuing. And I do this back and forth throughout the entirety of creating each piece until I’m finally happy and satisfied with it.

There’s something about the emotional struggle that makes it Art to me. Maybe I have to summon extreme emotions to make the work as sincere and interesting as I want it to be.

It’s the struggle that makes it good.

My husband finds this amusing. He’s constantly reminding me that this happens with every new painting. He’ll find me frantic, practically seething with anger at some half-finished piece of art, smile, and tell me that this is when “it’s about to get really good.” To him, it doesn’t look much different than when he last saw it, but to me, one tiny splotch of blue paint has ruined everything. EVERYTHING.

And then the next day I’ll add a different blue splotch and somehow that turns the painting back into awesome. It’s not a process that makes much sense. But it works.

I’ve always been aware that part of my purpose in creating art is to explore the control of chaos. Sometimes I think it’s a microcosm of my life. I hate not having control, and I hate being surprised. I like to make changes in my life, not be subjected to the shock of them.

In my art, I like to risk ruining everything, only to eventually save it. I’ll often do something drastic, like throw blue paint where it wasn’t intended, and suffer the repercussions of doing so as though it were a surprise. I’m sure there’s a very obvious psychological reflection of what that means in my own personal life, but hey. That’s why I’m an artist.

I create these situations. When I first dream up a painting, I feel happy and blissful, and everything in my mind looks serene and pretty. Then I drum up anxiety so that I can get angry and fearful over what I’m making. Otherwise I don’t have anything to “save,” anything to make right again. The highs come in when I’ve finally worked through all the chaos and completed the art.

There’s something to that. The manner in which I make art allows me to both control elements as well as feel out of control. Gravity and water do weird things to paint, things I cannot foresee each time. It’s always surprising, and every painting always ends up looking different than I imagined it in my sketchbook. Usually for the better.

Maybe I’m testing myself. Maybe I’m trying to win out over something I feel controlled by. Perhaps this is therapy. I can’t really think of a healthier way to work through all of this, nor a better expression of who I am as a human being. Yay art.

I’m just glad I can make a career out of it.

Written by Shayla Maddox for Art & Musings

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3 thoughts on “The Highs and Lows (of making art)”

  1. I can remember going though this same process when creating a painting.  It seem to  occur mostly with painting as though this medium requires more of me.  Maybe its a past life thing. :)

  2. Brilliant! Exactly the process I go through (am going through) EVERY time too! Great read, thanks

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