Art Inspiration > From guilt, exhaustion, and anxiety, to peace and balance, Ann Kraft Walker shares her personal journey: “Just as it takes discipline to show up at the easel and put in hours of focused work, it also takes discipline to …”
Art Inspiration: Seeking Balance
BY ANN KRAFT WALKER
I was surprised by art. Not expecting it. But it happened. And, oh my goodness, I am so grateful.
I don’t have a clue what I would have done with myself when the empty nest season of life began if art hadn’t surprised me. This late-in-life start put me behind in many ways. Besides being older, I was not trained or schooled, and had absolutely no knowledge of how an art career worked. No idea what it looked like to live the artist’s life. But I was passionate about learning to paint, so I threw myself in.
For several years I spent countless hours at the easel, attended workshops, conferences, and open studio sessions. I pored over art books and magazines and spent too much time on Facebook and the internet soaking up what I could from the wealth of art images available with a click. Museums had a large impact on where we chose to vacation. I had an insatiable appetite to learn about art.
And the surprises began to unfold. I was surprised by how much I loved the creative process. Along with many failures, rejections and disappointments I was surprised by a few acceptances and awards. Gallery representation was a shock. So, before I had much of a clue about how the professional artist world worked, I was knee-deep in it. And all the while, a voice inside kept telling me that I didn’t even know how to paint yet, and for crying out loud how did this happen?!
Looking back, I’m incredibly surprised at how this pursuit of art manifested itself in so many ways. The excitement, joy and challenges were incredible, but as I continued to plunge into that pursuit my world got really busy, really fast. It seemed that life itself began to take a backseat to art commitments. I was racing through the days unbalanced, striving to accomplish the to-do list quickly enough. What began as simply desiring to learn to paint had become overwhelming.
I’m not a fast, prolific painter. If I were, maybe life would not have gotten unbalanced. I just couldn’t get the work done fast enough. Gallery commitments, a few invitational shows and commissions, all with deadlines falling too close for comfort were taking a toll. I realized my peaceful, joyous passion had been replaced by stress, exhaustion, and anxiety. I was living with a constant cloud of guilt over my head for not producing more and better work.
The icing on that rotten cake was the frustration that I knew I wasn’t painting up to my potential. It’s a big slice of humble pie to have mediocre paintings “out there” that I can’t grab back and hide. But, worse than that, is to miss being awestruck by life. It’s a crying shame to have the treasuring of moments and wonderment of living dulled by a heavy heart burdened with stress.
Balancing passionate creativity with the stress of deadlines and the demands that come with being a professional artist is truly an art in itself. I’m thankful for lessons learned through mistakes. Letting stress overshadow the joy in the process is the first step toward being out of balance, not to mention how living in a stressful state crushes our creative potential.
“Failures, repeated failures, are finger posts on the road to achievement. One fails forward toward success.” – C. S. Lewis
I learned an ironic lesson: In letting something I love consume me, I was getting lost in the pursuit of it. I felt slammed by the realization that I wasn’t handling either life or art well. I was missing the important in dealing with the urgent. That realization caused a major paradigm shift in my perspective as well as my goals. Change takes real intentionality. I’m determined to reclaim the profound, immeasurable and precious gift of pursuing art, but now to balance that pursuit with living life well. Life is incomprehensibly rich. We only get one go-round with it.
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” – Mary Oliver, “The Summer Day”
So now, I’m on a journey of balance. More than ever, I desire to pursue excellence in art and life. In my renewed passion for learning to paint I want to savor the joy, to be unhurried like a child full of wonder employing all his senses. I’m choosing to reject the time-frenzied rush and instead to enter fully into the moment. I want to breathe deep, being attentive and insightful with my heart fixed on the intense and astonishing thrill of creating.
“Be entirely engaged in the process of your work, and be entirely disengaged in the outcome of your work. You can’t determine outcome—but you can determine to come and put in everything you have. Let your joy always be in doing the work—not in the outcome of the work. The journey not only matters more than the destination—the journey actually becomes the destination.” – Ann Voscamp
To maintain balance requires a tremendous amount of discipline. Just as it takes discipline to show up at the easel and put in hours of focused work, it also takes discipline to know when to quit and engage fully in life around you. I am an artist, but not only an artist.
The beautiful things I long to put on canvas aren’t more beautiful than living life. I believe the experiences that come from intentionally living give the artist a deeper well from which to draw out richer work. And, peace! To mindfully turn a deaf ear to this loud, chaotic world from time to time is liberating. Slowing down with the intent of enjoying the process more fully, and refusing to let stress compromise the quality of my work and life is my current goal.
What a privilege to endeavor in this never-ending pursuit of learning to paint. As artists, the opportunity to somehow portray the existence of beauty is a precious and challenging gift, as well as a balancing act.
This article was originally published in our sister publication, Artists on Art, 2015
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