Monday, January 30, 2012

Lessons on Art and Life from Dog Obedience Class

This is Hue.  He's 4 months old now.  He looks like such an angel here.  We've been to two obedience classes. On Day One, the trainer gave us a few doggie obedience tips. Seems to me these could also be applied to art and to life.

Don't take it personally:  I ask him to sit and he does for a second.  Then I gently pull his leash up and push his bum down to sit again.  And I do this again.  And I do it again and again.
He puts his front two feet onto the table by the back door.  I push him off.  He does it again and again and again as he waits for me to put on my coat to go outside.  And again.  As I put on my coat, he tries to bite the bottom edge of the jacket.  I take my outdoor shoes out of the closet, put them on the floor and he quickly grabs one and runs away with it.  I call him back.  He comes.  I take the shoes away and put them on one at a time. I bend over to put his leash on.  He bites my scarf and gets his teeth caught in the fabric.  Oh I sound like such a patient saint, when the truth is much different and by the time we get out the door, I'm yelling and hollering and completely fried.  Meanwhile he's so happy to be outdoors.

How many times have I submitted work to juried shows, to galleries, or for grants, where I've been turned down.  At the beginning, I was hurt, frustrated and greatly discouraged by the rejections.  Not that I have a thick skin now, but the discouragement doesn't last.  I'm committed to making art, no matter if anyone likes it.  One of the biggest lessons is: don't take it personally.

Be Patient: Make him sit again and again.  When he does finally sit for longer than 1 second,  I say "Good Dog", through gritted teeth by the 50th go round.

Most often, I'm more patient with my work.   I've certainly put in my 10,000 hours.

Don't get frustrated or angry, the dog won't respect you: Well, I have to laugh at this one.  I have a long way to go here.

I have had to learn this in my work too. This has been a difficult lesson for me.  A number of years ago I created a body of work that was very experimental for a show I was having in Toronto.  The work was very poorly received, poorly attended, and nothing sold.  I had had quite a lot of success with my work until then. And that response completely overwhelmed and discouraged me.   In anger, I decided to quit painting for a year.  Very mature response.  My galleries thought it was a good idea that I was going to take a year off.  What?  I thought they would miss me or advise me not to do this.  Nope.

I did end up taking 7 months off.  It turned out to be a good break, but a financial disaster.  It took me years to recover financially from that time off.   At this point, that even though I still get frustrated and angry occasionally, I know I won't quit again.  Whatever happens.

The dog lives in the moment:  I tend to daydream on  walks.  Not Hue.  He is forever alert. He must be a Buddhist. He is interested in every single thing around him, running from one side of the path to another. And I have to be just as alert when I'm training him, partly so I won't trip on the leash when he whips around me or spins me!  He's keeping me in the moment too.

Synge's Chair  24x24" oil/cold wax medium on panel
©Janice Mason Steeves

I also know that when he finally falls asleep in my studio, when I'm working, that I had better make good use of those few hours.  I'd better focus. No leaving the studio to put in another load of laundry or to quickly check emails. Focus.  Normally I wouldn't bother to get my paints set up if I only have an hour or two to work.  Now I jump in there and use every moment, hoping that I won't step back in a moment of reverie, into a puddle of pee.

Today is dog obedience class #3.


  1. Great article and Hue is adorable. Puppy's first year or so is the worse and the best. My girl had me in stitch with some of her antics. Dogs tend to calm down with training and with time as they learn the household rules.

    Good luck with Hue!


  2. Hi Jan!

    Terrific parallels between obedience training of an animal and... well, what happens to us as artists and how we respond. Will have to compare notes on, uh, "maturity reponses" some day. Also, I have a diva cat named Amelia who likes to bitch slap me once in while and doesn't give a kibble my artistic endeavours.

    Best, Jean

  3. HI Jean, You are hilarious! And yes, let's compare notes sometime.

  4. So true on all levels, thanks!
    Wayne and Monty

  5. This is the best blog advice! Thanks Janice - I have definitely felt what you have felt and it's nice to realize that we all have those days and getting on with it is the best way to deal! Thanks!
    Polly McClinton