Never satisfied

October 22, 2010
Robert Genn

Yesterday, Sridhar Ramasami, currently living in Nanchang, China, wrote, "I've 
been painting for many years but now I never seem to be satisfied with what I 
produce. I always think the quality is not good, or the colors, composition or 
some such. Will I ever get to be satisfied with a painting?"

FYI, we've put a selection of Sridhar's paintings at the top of the current 

Thanks, Sridhar. At the risk of pigeonholing your pain, there are four main types 
of painterly dissatisfaction: 

"Amateur epiphany" is where it dawns on the artist that the work is now and will 
probably remain substandard. The artist may still enjoy doing the work, even 
occasionally getting paid for it, but the possibility of stellar quality looms 
unlikely. The popular antidote is to fool oneself that the work is okay. Lots of 
unsatisfactory work is delivered with the benefit of this delusion. Take heart, 
Sridhar; being really satisfied with work is mainly the province of amateurs.

"Journeyman jading" is where the subject matter or manner of painting loses its 
initial luster and is seen as shallow, unworthy or problematical. When motifs or 
ideas start to become boring or tedious, the artist becomes chronically 
dissatisfied and it's time to think again and move on. 

"Workman remorse" is where the artist has high standards that are very often 
achieved, and yet there is a genuine concern for particular surface quality, 
compositional problems, colour weaknesses, and so on--just the sort of thing you 
mention. Re-dedication, re-thinking and "back to basics" may be in order. 

"Professional humility" is where an artist self-compares with the truly greats and 
falls short. Mature professionals, particularly, tend to get fussier and fussier 
and become conscious of the loss of their prior quality. Inevitably, they have come 
to know too much and have developed a sophisticated eye for what needs to be done. 
Let's face it, high standards cannot always be met and perfection is an impossible 
dream. Be philosophic. Decay, like death, is most likely unavoidable.

Add to all these states the thought that being displeased with our work comes with 
the territory. Without displeasure there is no improvement and no progress. 
Further, how boring it would be if everything we did were totally satisfactory. 

Best regards,


PS: "No artist is pleased. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed 
unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others." (Martha 

Esoterica: Another type of dissatisfaction is what I call "professional posturing." 
This is where an artist openly degrades his own work and points out its 
shortcomings. Some demo-doers are particularly fond of this ploy. In many cases 
it's a self-fooling system in an effort to understate and over-prove, and superior 
work can be the result. It may also be an unabashed fishing trip for compliments. 
This ego-challenged con artist begs to hear, "No, no, Michelangelo, it is really 
quite wonderful, and so are you."