[ART / PSYCHOLOGY] My Life As a Self-Critical Artist

in #art3 years ago (edited)

Being a quite self-critical artist, I have long hesitated to present my own art on Steemit. Ever since I was a kid I was painting and drawing, as all kids I suppose, the only difference being that I was interested in fine art from a very early age, much thanks to my parents. My grandfather was a locally and nationally quite famous artist, who really kindled and kept this interest alive in me. It was always fun and exciting to see his new paintings, and in school and among friends I used to brag about having a grandfather who was an artist. He and my parents took me to exhibitions and I was starting to grow a relationship to images. I was basically surrounded by art during my whole upbringing. Quite early, perhaps at the age of six, I began to love the smell of fresh oil paint - what you could do with colors and forms - amazed - and I understood that I wanted to become an artist too. At seven I won an art competition in school - I remember the feeling of 'appreciation' and 'admiration'. Mom and dad encouraged it and I began to feel 'special'.

At this time, my four year older brother started to paint seriously, taking lessons for a local artist, and my brother got to exhibit his paintings on some occasions. Without going into too much details, there was a lot of jealousy and comparison brewing in me and I was at numerous times sabotaging some of his painting. I started to compare my still lifes with his, and eventually, at the age of ten or eleven threw in the towel and forgot all about art for a couple of years. The interest was however rekindled at the age of 16, by my then teacher in art history. I studied the masters of old and new with a feverish intensity and covered my walls with printed paintings from the internet. After high school I gave up all ideas of picking some profitable career path to instead basically plant myself in my parents garage, where I painted day and night. I became more and more isolated from the outside world. 

My grandfather came each third week or so to look at my progress and give critical input. But the more I progressed, the more I understood how much I was lacking. I was never satisfied and always chased the 'perfect painting'. No real unconditional self  expression, only chasing an aesthetic high point which I would never reach because I always upgraded that high point. The self-judgment became a heavy burden to bare and I compared myself with the very finest painters in history. I could never understand color the way Matisse did. I could never understand light and shade the way Rembrandt did. And so on. Frustration. Disappointment. Depression. Alcohol abuse. I had months where I couldn't touch a paintbrush and I was terrorizing myself quite a bit with self-deprecating inner chatter. Looking at old paintings made me want to throw them in a fire and burn it all. Sure, I had some breakthroughs where I actually felt proud of myself, especially when I started painting on large format canvases (up to 2 x 1.40 meters). 

Around that time, in 2008, I had the chance to exhibit my art at a central gourmet restaurant in Malmo, where I became artist in residence for 4 years until they shut down. Here I actually thrived as an artist, both artistically and financially, for the first time. At 25 I sold my first painting and saw the money as 'validation' and proof of my 'worth' as an artist and myself.

After that high of feeling accomplished, I went downhill again. Shifted between highs and lows rapidly, either hating my art / myself or loving it / myself. When I wasn't able to 'progress', I sunk into a state of depression. Compared myself with famous artists in how 'achieved' they were at my age and always found myself way behind. Believed that artists should always strive for 'perfection' and that they were some sort fo esoterical priests/priestess on a mission to enlighten the world, which led to even more pressure, unfulfilled expectations and depression, because I could never meet the standards I set up for myself. I could never 'reach' the point of satisfaction or fulfill my definition of an 'artist' because I always had to 'improve'. I believed that my self-worth only could be upheld by being a 'good' artist. Thus, art was both a source of self-loathing and self-worth (polarity).

I became more and more spiteful in my expression. My anger and frustration was overwhelming. I wanted to say "fuck you" with my art. Started to embrace the nonsensical and nihilistic. My art transformed from something quite 'esoterical' and 'spiritual' to nonsensical and ironic - yet another polarity - from 'higher purpose' to 'pointlessness'. I painted over countless of my old paintings, some of which I really enjoy looking back at today (thankfully I photographed them). Some canvases have layers of 10-15 paintings underneath. Equally countless of paintings remained unfinished.

Now, around 4 years since I touched a paintbrush, I feel like approaching art again. But with a more innocent, nurturing, exploratory, curious and humble approach. I see how much time have been wasted and how much actual art that I potentially could have produced, just for the sake of entertaining these mind games and 'characters'. Stay practical. Stay here, folks.

The little mixed media piece I attached above is one of the last images I produced, painted on a ripped off, spare piece of canvas.

For higher resolution:



I know most of the Copenhagen art scene and the problems you describe are not uncommon at all. There are those who have had no artist in the family, no art, no books, but there are at least as many who did, and too much encouragement is just as hard to overcome as working class minority complexes it seems.

I had an artist in the family, but it was the alcohol abuse and suicide kind of story, so when I began my career it was on the ashes of something horrible.

I've been in the fine art department since I was twenty, but now now I am actually enjoying myself doing this pulp comic project under a pseudonym. Anonymity can be a very liberating thing...

Indeed, the pressure from having successful artists in the family and a lot of expectations has been quite overbearing, and has skewed the starting point from being a natural self-expression to something outside of myself. I will have to 'redefine' and 'purify' the starting point basically. Ah, man, alcohol abuse and suicide. Have plenty of such cases in my extended family as well. Glad to hear you've found your niche and that you're enjoying it.

I always was bad at keeping to one thing, so trying to do all the despicable things like pin-up or comics was not a large jump. I remember reading a posts about a conservative approach to aesthetics and art in general. It was very interesting. Considering that these days the predominant movement in culture and politics is conservative the current art scene seems so terribly out of touch. That was one of the reasons I left actually - the art scnene is as reactionary as the Parisian Salon in the late nineteenth century.

I really like your honesty. And I have really loved your art reviews and insights. My daughter has artistic talent and I try to help her get ahead in the field even if she is just 11 years old. She is not quite in the familiar situations as you was, but I try to see the big picture in this. And what I try to teach her is that you cannot control the result only the present action. Just like playing golf, it is one hit at a time, not “I am going for the win” . Winning is an emotional state, not something you can act out in the now. At least thats my teaching. Would love your comments on it. Keep it up Steemswede my friend :-)
Oh and btw, your art is pretty good. It seems like a troubled birth or something like being not what was expected or somewhere between trying to fit in and wanting to get away at the same time, since forever

Yes, art should definitely not be about winning. I think my problem is rooted in that creating art got associated with the sibling war for my parents attention. And that in itself obviously stems from an unhealthy family culture. "you cannot control the result only the present action" oh yes, I think this is valid for everything in life. You seem to be a wonderful father, and with a sound foundation she will also have a sound approach/relationship to art/creation.

Oh those “brotherly” competitions. I had a younger brother myself and to some extend I can identify with it, albeit both of us was not that conpetitive or at each others throats. We were just very different.
I have since deFOOed and have put all that grinding boredom of family behind me. I would advice anyone with family “problems” consider that. Adulthood is on the other side of family of origin (FOO) :-)
Thanks for your kind words on my fatherhood. It is why I have turned to philosophy for 10 years :-)

Nice to hear you're getting over some of those impossible self-imposed standards. If you share more art in the future, don't forget to use #creativecoin for earning some extra tokens!

Ps. Greetings from the neighbor (Finland) – I assume you live in Sweden :D

Hi diddly ho neighbor! Sweden, so far :) Will remember the creativecoin tag!

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