Painter's remorse

August 24, 2007

Dear Rodney,

You've no doubt heard of "buyer's remorse." That's where you go
out and buy a new Volvo and immediately start thinking you
picked the wrong colour, should have bought the Turbo version,
and paid more than you needed to. Painter's remorse is a
similar situation. Both fall under the frequently studied
condition known as "cognitive dissonance." Having committed
yourself to something, you soon find your second thoughts
getting the better of you. All seems well when you're building
toward those final strokes, but in its frame and under another
light it begins to fall apart.

Funny things happen in the human mind when cognitive dissonance
takes over. Psychologist Leon Festinger disclosed early
theories in his 1957 book, "When Prophecy Fails." In one case
he observed the beliefs of members of a UFO doomsday cult after
aliens had sent the cult leader a message that the earth was
about to self-destruct. When it didn't, most cult members,
rather than certifying their leader as a fraud, readily
accepted her new message that the aliens had spared the earth
for their special benefit.

This brings us to the flip side of painter's remorse--painter's
delusion. Just as the Volvo buyer, to justify his recent
action, will reread advertisements, positive reviews and road
tests, as well as solicit the approval of others, the
delusional painter goes to work to magnify the work to a higher
status than it may deserve. Painter's delusion, and the
irrational evaluation that goes with it, is at the core of a
lot of unresolved art. We are all familiar with artists who
tell you why their work is so wonderful. Overcoming this
unfortunate habit is, for many, necessary for further growth.

Many psychologists have speculated the evolved spirit does not
become married to any particular viewpoint. Freedom from rigid
belief permits one to practice due diligence on any
project--buying a car or painting a picture. Better informed
and realistic in the first place, he marches into the showroom
or workroom with a more balanced understanding of his choices.
In the case of painters, failings and potentials become
philosophic issues, not problems or unrealistic expectations.
Genuine humility before the great goddess of art reduces
painter's remorse and largely nullifies painter's delusion.

Best regards,


PS: "One may either discount new evidence, truly regret and try
to renounce it, or blindly triumph it." (Leon Festinger)

Esoterica: Keep in mind the salability of something is probably
the weakest argument of all. After all, lemons are bought every
day. The idea that someone wants your work can be a deceptive
delusion. While it's better than someone not wanting your work,
it really doesn't prove very much and is no reason to rest on
your laurels. The evolved artist, forever a student, gets her
main feedback from the personal process of art-making. Green
feedback comes naturally and unheralded because other healthy
and livable processes are in place.