The Power of Sincerity
A little sincerity is a dangerous thing, and a great deal of it is absolutely fatal. Oscar Wilde
I suspect that Mr Wildes context was different, but the point is clear, sincerity is powerful.
That’s a good way to ruin a painting.
When Robert Henri was asked by a student if their painting would pass a jury, he ignored the question and went straight to intent. Such thoughts, he showed, would not only ruin the painting (potentially), but cheapen the process. The more extrinsic factors influence your painting, the more insincere it becomes.
Creative process with out sincerity is like a BMW with out an engine. Looks all shiny on the outside but there’s nothing really there to move you
There is such a huge difference in the creative process between “I have to’ and “I want to”. ‘That juror likes that style so I have to paint to mimic what I think they’ll like. I want to sell more paintings so I have to paint like that Kincade guy. He sells a lot.’
If we’re painting what we think the juror might like, or in a style they have awarded to in the past, what exactly are we investing in? If the next artist over is passionate about what they are doing, pouring their heart and soul into the piece, what are they investing in? Themselves. The former is laboring towards an imaginary ideal of a juror they’ve likely never even met.
Competition jurors, just like art collectors, are sensitive to insincerity. It really does show through in the work itself. One artist is artificially designing a piece in accord with his perceived likes and dislikes of the juror or collector, and the other is chasing their own internal vision. Which would you choose if you were a juror?
Consider the rest of Robert Henri’s advice:
‘The object of painting a picture is not to make a picture – however unreasonable this may sound. The picture, if a picture results, is a by-product and may be useful, valuable, interesting as a sign of what has past. The object, which is back of every true work of art, is the attainment of a state of being, a state of high functioning, a more than ordinary moment of existence. In such moments activity is inevitable, and whether this activity is with brush, pen, chisel, or tongue, its result is but a by-product of the state, a trace, the foot-print of the state. ‘
Here’s the ironic truth, those who are interesting to themselves are interesting to others.
Anything that externalizes your engagement with your process, will ultimately dilute your footprint. Dilute whatever interesting things about you, that make you unique, that linger in your work of art. The more sincere your engagement with your process, the more your unique footprint will resonate with your viewers.
For example consider NC Wyeth vs Andrew Wyeth both famous artists, one spent time living the life of an adventurer and painting the adventerous the other living and ordinary life, painting ordinary(seemingly) things. One explored the outside corners of life, the other explored the inside corners of life. Sincerity is power.
Motivation vs. Inspiration
Our process over product discussion can be summarized so far in prioritizing internal (or proactive) motivations over external (reactive) motivations. But we need to be careful to not confuse motivation with inspiration.
Rich environment, deep embodiment, these are important environmental flow triggers. Whether painting from a live model, en plein air, or even from a photograph of your family trip to Yosemite, your inspiration to paint is external. But your motivation, your connection, mental engagement with your subject is internal.
Connecting the dots, we also see the stronger our external inspirations, the stronger our internal motivations, and the deeper flow experience we’ll likely have.
We discussed the drawbacks of externalizing our relationship to our process. But a perhaps more subtle danger is externalizing our relationship to our product, our paintings or creative output.
I met one artist on a studio tour and got to taking about one of her beautiful gestural pen & inks that was being used in her advertising. The piece was sold. The artist mentioned how lucky the buyers were to get the piece and for an attractive price. It was clear the artist felt it was the best thing she had ever done. Sadly, in talking to her some more, it became evident it was the best work she felt she would ever paint. Though this occurred a few years ago, it still makes me sad how this aritst is creatively stuck because she externalized her relationship to this painting.
In contrast, consider some of your favorite masters from the past. Your favorite work of theirs, Da Vinci’s ‘Mona Lisa’, Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel frescoes, Bouguereau’s ‘Nymphes et Satyre’, Cezzane’s ‘Annecy Lake’, Sargent’s ‘El Jaleo’… Some universally considered the artists best, some just favorites, but all these artists continued painting long after their best works were created. They loved the process and couldn’t be bothered with ‘Have I painted my best work already’ thoughts.
If you fall in love with the process of self-expression, your sincerity will shine through. Annoying thoughts of ‘I wonder what if I’ve already done my best’ will fade away.
Process over Product
Externalizing your engement with your process will pull you out of flow and likely impede your results and your progress toward mastery. You are also, sadly, giving control of your creative work to forces outside your control. If we are not internally motivated, and then don’t receive loads of praise and accolades, we will dry up and blow away in the wind as an artist. We’ll become the victim of our own creative malnourishment.
Sacrificing process for product is like trading the milk cow for a pale of milk. It just doesn’t make sense. Invest in yourself emotionally and completely in the process and the product will shine of it’s own accord.
Enjoy the Process – Make Art Inevitable