Today’s post is a little different because I am expressing something that has been rattling around in my head for a long time. I am also wanting to know how it hits home with any of you.
When I started to learn how to paint, some 25+ years ago, I kept hearing instructors and artists saying, “Enjoy the process.” It irritated me because so many people said it AND they said it as if it was a mantra AND I was supposed to know what it meant. Let me tell you, I was not enjoying the process, yet I was not going to stop learning. Why did they keep saying this and without any explanation? I didn’t understand, which added to my frustration and feeling as if something was wrong with me.
Mind you, upon reflection, I don’t know why I never asked anyone what “enjoy the process” meant. Perhaps, because it was always said in such a knowing way and I kept wondering what I was missing. I guess I didn’t want to look stupid by asking for clarification. (Side note: being shy in asking a question is not my normal behavior, as some of you know. LOL!)
Do you ever tire of the phrase? When you first heard it, what was your reaction? Did you comprehend its meaning?
Let me give you some personal background.
I entered the painting world when I was 36 years old, fresh out of the corporate world where deadlines and the end result were paramount. We didn’t “enjoy the process,” so to speak. Sure I enjoyed much of what I did, but it was a means to an end. The word ‘process’ was never, as I recall, spoken. We were interested in product, not process.
What does “enjoy the process” mean to you? Perhaps you are a faster learner than me and it made sense to you from the get-go. It was a head scratcher for me and my life experiences up to that point probably contributed to my frustration.
It took several years of learning and painting before I began to understand. My first insight was to challenge the choice of words, because I came to believe that the accurate phrase should be “enjoy the struggle.”
To me, enjoying the struggle means to stop and acknowledge the successes and failures along the way. For example, when I went to mix a color I thought I would achieve and ended up with some awful muddy mixture, I would stop and appreciate what I learned, note what I had used and march onto the next attempt with no angst. I knew I was one step closer to learning how to mix the color I wanted.
Another example involves self-critiquing a recently completed painting and noting which areas I really like and consider successful, then giving myself kudos. Next acknowledging areas that aren’t successful, trying to figure out what to do differently next time and then starting on a new painting or exercise.
This description of “enjoy the process,” does sound idyllic, and I agree, particularly when someone is learning a new painting skill.
I think it’s a bit overstated to expect beginners to enjoy the process. In fact, I never use those words, I use the words mentioned above — enjoy the struggle –because it states a truth. Learning to paint is a struggle and fraught with frustration, often because it feels as if our progress is too slow. It’s also full of joy and hope.
It is a process of solving problems — artistic/mark making problems — to express oneself. Simultaneously, we are learning about ourselves as well as painting, which is asking a lot. It is also a process of knowing that every mistake or failure gets us closer to a greater sense of satisfaction. So go and makes lots of mistakes!! If possible, smile/grin/laugh when you make them.
For me, I didn’t begin to enjoy the process until I was more proficient and skilled as a painter. Now I understand when established artists say, “I enjoy the process more than the end product.” (I am not one of these artists, by the way. I like the process AND the end result.) They have the skill set and the personal faith that what they create will contribute to their overall artistic development. And they enjoy every step of the problem solving/creative process. If something isn’t successful, it is one stepping stone along the journey. If a creation is satisfactory and/or unsatisfactory, it is worth celebrating.
An Example of Enjoying the Process
Earlier this year I decided I wanted to learn how to pour paint with acrylics. Beautifully executed paintings were floating across the Internet and I wanted to see what I could create. I loved the organic feel and look of the paintings. I also wanted to see what role my color knowledge would play.
After watching only a couple of videos, I dove in. Ha! it wasn’t as easy as it looks. How often does that happen? LOL! Hence, I watched several more videos and waded through the contradictory information, came up with my own formula and approach, and created several poured paintings. As in any new creative venture, there is always lots to learn. I tried combining pouring paint with my abstract painting. It’s not working yet, (with the exception of one painting, which is posted below) and I have a lot more experimenting to do if I want to pursue it.
I learned that pouring paint is a very messy process that requires high concentration and a lot of paint, within a short period of time. It is unlike any painting process I have experienced to date. My knowledge of color has been helpful as well as the experience of knowing my paintings will most likely not, at this stage, stir up much interest. I can willingly say that I am “enjoying the process!” 🙂 What will I do with what I learned during this artistic detour? I have no idea. By the way, I have created over 40 of these paintings.
One more thing: Certainty. Many novice painters want to feel a sense of certainty. Let me let you in on a secret — it’s not going to happen. During workshops I have often heard, “I don’t know what I am doing,” as if the student expects to know what she is doing. If you try to prevent uncertainty, then you are impeding your learning process. Discomfort is required in order to learn.
In Summary, here are a few of my tips on enjoying the process:
- Consistency is key to solving new painting problems
- If we are certain, then we miss out on experiencing possibilities and our own discoveries; it prevents us from new ways of growing
- Uncertainty and unease are necessary to the learning process and they are enjoyable
- Smile. It is keeps the creative juices flowing
- Talk about your learning process with someone with whom you feel safe and perhaps compare notes; share your process and your progress
- Learning is endless. “…it is not the process of going from wrong to right. It is the process of going from less wrong to more right.” Mark Manson, author of “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*CK”
Where are you on this continuum of “enjoying the process?” Do my words ring true to you or is your perspective different? I would love the hear from you in the comment section below.
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Gratefully and colorfully yours,