Crisis of confidence

February 9, 2010
by Robert Genn
Lately I've been studying the plight of several painters who claim to be 
having a "crisis of confidence." All of them began painting in their youth, 
sold work in their teens, had at least one hyper-critical parent, enjoyed 
moderate success with their art, and now find themselves, in mid life, "losing 

While there are variations in their styles, media and techniques, all three 
suffer from indecision, dissatisfaction and overworking. All are having 
trouble finishing, signing, and getting work off to shows or galleries.

I'm not going to dwell on all the possible reasons. Suffice to say they may 
include too many works under the belt, knowing too much, thinking too much, 
lack of joy in life, the misplacement or loss of the inner child, the feeling 
of never being satisfied, health issues, economic pointlessness, boredom and 
other depressing thoughts. 

A thorough vacuuming is nevertheless in order.

Here's a little program that can play out over a week or so: Line up a hundred 
or so small inexpensive panels, papers or canvases and have them ready to go. 
Give yourself a more limited palette--perhaps half your normal range. Put all 
reference material and prior works out of sight. If this is not possible, work 
in a new environment such as a hotel room or friend's cottage. In preparation 
for starting the program, bring yourself to a mentally uncluttered, dream-like 
state. Now, over a relatively short period of time, fill the first support 
with a limited number of strokes. Get your subject matter from the deep well 
of your memory. Don't finish, move on to the next. Even though you may 
consider yourself a real pro, try not to lean on what you know, but rather 
take yourself back and try to paint as if you were four years old. For some 
folks, this can be mighty difficult. Persist. Keep in mind that the exercise 
has nothing to do with creating great art, but is rather a ruse to free 
yourself from an all too common crisis. 

You'll be temporarily re-routing tried-and-true habits and exchanging them 
with temporary new ones. The program is based on, "If what you're doing right 
now isn't pleasing you, try something else." Anything goes. For the sake of 
the program, the wilder the better--the more childlike you are, the more 
confident and fresh your regular work will become.

Best regards,


PS: "It takes a long time to become young." (Pablo Picasso)

Esoterica: Here are a few predictions: The first few attempts will be filled 
with timidity and resistance. But because there are so darned many of them, 
you'll find the middle ones getting more and more cursory and loose. Then, 
toward the end, you'll feel yourself tightening up and incorporating some of 
your treasured knowledge. At the very end you'll become thoroughly wild and 
unruly, partly in the knowledge that the program will soon be over, and partly 
because you have learned something and know that you could go on like this 
forever. Some pieces you'll want to frame. If you do, that won't be bad either.

Current clickback: "Fighting the after-show blues" looks at the letdown that 
some artists get after an exhibition. A remarkable range of advice was given 
our subject Megan Moore. Your further input is welcome.

Read this letter online and tell us about other mid-life creative breakdowns 
and how they've been successfully beaten.