Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Changing directions in your work

River of Longing 6 ©Janice Mason Steeves2009 18x18" oil on canvas on panel

After writing my last blog post, I was interested to read the blog post of Susan Buret, an Australian artist who commented on my last post, The Road Not Taken. Susan said that she has had three no sale shows but that her work later won awards or was acquired for well respected collections. She mentioned that she has recently begun a new body of work which is in its formative stages and questions whether she should change directions.

Her article has me thinking again about the situation. It's a paradox. On one hand is the flood of excitement of creating new work but then there is a huge effort required to get that new work out into the world. On the other hand when you stay with a body of work or a subject, there is an opportunity to go inward and deeper into the work, while continuing to work in a way that is recognized.

There is something so vulnerable about a new body of work. I remember many years ago when my first pottery instructor squealed with excitement at my very first thrown pot. It went up in layers, all wobbly and bendy. But it was such an important achievement for me who had been working on throwing a pot for weeks at my night school class. The teacher came running over and let out a yell of excitement. He thought it was so fantastic! I thought it was terrific that I finally did this, but I also thought it was a mess. It was all wrong! He loved it. He said that he would never be able to make pots like this one any more. He'd passed that rough vulnerable place of early learning and he could never visit there again. I haven't ever forgotten that teaching.

Should an artist continue to work in the same way and keep exploring it?
For me, who likes to paint images, I often wonder if I should find new images to paint, as I tend to paint one image again and again in a repetitive, meditative manner. I do paint some other images, like waterlilies and flowers. But the main image I keep going back to is the image of the 'vessel'. I keep finding new ways of painting it that hold my interest and excitement and sustain me. My friend, and artist, Robert Marchessault, paints trees and has done so for years. I can tell by the beautiful energy in his paintings that he continues to find more and more to say about them. Bob told me the other day when I was talking to him about this very topic, to just notice if you are still excited about the work, does it still interest you to do it.

If it doesn't hold the interest for you as an artist any longer, it's time to make the change.  That's what makes your work true.


  1. Hi Janice!
    I am resonating with a few things you have written here.

    One is that internal conversation we have about our work. One of my favorite mentors calls whatever we repeat "polar bears" (because SHE repeats that image.) Anyhow, that "Oh no, not another polar bear!" is just our brain thinking....

    Also, it is so easy to be mislead by our thoughts about the value of our work: whether it is a beginning thrown cylinder WE think is pretty sucky because our process was such a struggle (but our wise instructor really sees), or thinking we need to SELL something(especially in a vulnerable new body of work) before it has true value.

    You've obviously hit a nerve. How can we NOT think? How can we know what thoughts to act upon. How can we let the thoughts just flow and instead tune into our inner knowing for guidance?

    I would love to read more about this from you or anyone.

    P.S. I truly need to create vessels of some sort as well, so I am totally with you on that one!

  2. HI Liz,
    What thoughtful questions you ask. I have had some conversations with other artist friends about this lately, and as well, have had a few comments on facebook, where this post went through(after Alyson's suggesting we connect our blogs to FB).

    It does seem to strike a cord for many artists. Some galleries expect, almost demand that their artists keep a recognizable body of work and not stray too far off that. How can an artist stay true to their heart and have the courage to follow that?