I've read plenty of advice on how to say No, but also advice on saying Yes and each time that advice is presented it seems that this single word, either yes or no, is the most important thing, the thing that will change your life. The reality is that there are things we want to say no to but are afraid, and things we are afraid to say yes to but would probably be happier if we did, and figuring it all out is what life is. A process.
I think I have spent my whole adult life figuring out who I am. Each time I discover something, I rest there for awhile, perhaps a little inclined to think I've got it ALL figured out now. Peace will come. And then I discover that I haven't got it all figured out. I haven't because it's not possible to have it all figured out. Nobody does and if they say they do they are wrong and if you think they do you are mistaken. Life is the process of figuring, which is why it is now a cliche to call life a journey. It is one. We may stride forward with purpose or we may meander. We may do a little of both at different times. There are things to learn and there are almost as many things to unlearn.
Sometimes I feel as though I am the only weirdo on the planet and other times I think I must be dreadfully dull and ordinary. I don't know whether I prefer discovering others like me or the mistaken belief that I am unique. I suppose, in the end, since I tend to favour accuracy and truth over even the most delightful of delusions, I do not want to carry on believing I am significantly unique.
Yes, I know it goes against all of the popular self-esteem mantras of the day to say that I am not unique and to assert that nobody is. The thing is, we are and we aren't; it just depends on how you frame it. Perhaps nobody else in the world has the exact same brown hair as I have but there are plenty who have brown hair and plenty whose brown is indistinguishable from mine. My handwriting is unique to me and yet surely there are others whose handwriting looks remarkably similar. The entire package that I am may not exist anywhere else but other similar packages do. I think you take my point. There are times when it helps to think of myself as unique and there are times when I find I cannot sustain that belief.
At this point in my life I think the answer to all of that is to not care. After all, while there are things to gain from believing oneself to be unique and special, there are also things to gain from recognising the ways we are all alike. The feeling of belonging to a family, a community or humanity is important for surviving and thriving.
Balance is always the answer. It's always what people are seeking, whether they use that term or not, and balance is somewhat self-defined. The things I say NO to are meant to free me for saying YES to other things. That's why being able to recognise and articulate the need for both Nos and Yeses is important. I'm saying No to more things so that I can increasingly say Yes to my art. I'm struggling all the time with thinking my art is crap, that there are so many others who are better, that if I can't be perfect there is no point. Those are the demon voices I personally battle. I know there are others like me and it helps to know that I am not unique in this case.
Today I have been dabbling, quite literally as I have many paintings that are in the not quite finished category. I've shown some of them on this blog. They need finishing touches such as more shadow or light, maybe there is a splash of colour missing, maybe what I've done so far is lay the groundwork, create the outline and a base but what I need to do next is cover it with looser, less precise brush strokes. I find a certain irony in this because...
I simultaneously want to create art that is loose, expressive, and more abstract than representational and yet I am a perfectionist who tends to tighten up and start aiming for reality without even knowing it's what I am doing. It's my default and I think that buried somewhere in that is a metaphor for my whole life.
The negative way to look at that is to say, I over-think and I over-paint. On the other hand, I could say that I persevere. I keep going until I get there. And I rather like that way of looking at it.
It's crazy to keep doing something you don't want to do, but it happens all the time in life and in art. I keep painting as though I am aiming for realistic representation when that's not what I want at all and at best I get something that is half way. In life also, I have at times found myself continuing along a path that is not actually the one I want. We default to what is ingrained and even when we are emotionally ready to change it can be difficult to erase old habits. When I began painting I was using water colours and aiming for realistic landscapes. I only understood art in terms of technical proficiency. I wasn't happy with my painting until someone shoved me in a different direction, larger, looser, more colourful. But I still slip back into old habits.
For now, my best art strategy is two simple steps:
1. If I am getting too tightly focused, stop.
2. If I have a piece that I am frustrated with because it's still too representational, set it aside and then come back later and paint another looser layer on top.
If not taken quite so literally these steps can apply to life too.
Art is like life in that we all have to do it our own way in order to be happy. Sometimes we will encounter someone who doesn't like our way. Sometimes when I change a painting someone in my life objects, saying they liked it better the other way. I am no different from anyone else who creates; I love it when something I make speaks to someone else. I want others to like and enjoy what I create. But, I also do it for myself because it feeds something inside me. Life is like art in that I must eventually do it for myself and do it my way in order to be happy.