Sunday, May 23, 2010

Are artists ever satisfied?

Geranium Garden (detail)
Original oil painting 12x16"
by Susan Roux

I visited Rahina Q.H.'s site this morning and she admitted destroying a lot of her paintings during the past few weeks. It reminded me of a conversation I just had yesterday with artist/friend, Sandy Dunn.

Is an artist ever satisfied?

Sandy thought yes. Masters who know exactly how to capture what they want to convey and are in total control, must be satisfied. As we talked further on the subject, we were both left really wondering.

I recently did a painting and got to the point where the canvas was covered and appeared complete. It struck me because, years ago I would have been very satisfied with my achievement. Now however, I was not. There was a feeling I'd set out to capture that wasn't present. I contemplated for a few days trying to decide how to continue. I did return to the canvas, improving the feeling, but wishing I had nailed it better.

We discussed this. As an artist improves, does his or her expectations increase? And if so, will we ever be satisfied? Or... do the artist's expectations continue to increase at an equal rate to their seasoned ability, never allowing satisfaction?

I think we'll never be satisfied.

That's not to say there won't be a few paintings along the way that we are happy with. It just seems to me the further I get in this art world, the more I try to push myself and the less I feel satisfied with my work. Perhaps this on-going tug is what propels us. What drives us. Dare I say, sometimes insanely, to create and capture that which we have never achieved. I seem to want to be in control. I feel I should be in control. But too often, I feel like I don't even know what I'm doing!

Painting is hard.

I think it will always be hard. No matter how seasoned an artist we become. Yes, we'll figure out some things and be in control of those. But we'll always want to be in control of more. Like a crazy carnival ride that has us feeling like were flying by the seat of our pants, each painting gives us that same exhilarating rush. We're forever addicted to this seemingly idle activity, that really has our insides jumping and twisted completely out of control!

Sandy and I painted outdoors for the first time this year. Relaxed in the haven of my garden, we both found ourselves anxious. Forgetting how to paint in plein air fell upon our shoulders... Each year it seems occur. How to incorporate what we've learned in the studio during the past year, to the outdoors. It was less scary doing it together. Sandy and I are good for each other. Encouragement eased the anxiety.

Posted is a close-up of the painting I did. Here is the full painting.

The detail version was my favorite part of the painting. I decided to try another capturing that dreamy feeling. This is the outcome.

I want to attempt a third, using the top version as my guide. It will be interesting to see if I can achieve this feeling again... (note: the harsh visible darks are only present in the photos.)

Are we ever satisfied?

Perhaps the real question should be, "Do we ever stop learning?" And the answer is, "I don't think we do."


  1. Susan, It's a BEAUTIFUL little painting and I like it.

  2. Interesting thoughts..I have heard time and again that if you are happy with your painting then you might as well quit painting..that seems kind of harsh..shouldn't we strive to be happy with what we do? Yes I am rarely satified with my paintings yet when something works..(and sometimes it does!) I want to do more because it is hard and I got through it with something that is good and made me happy. I think we can be satified..but I think we are rarely satisfied and what is good without the bad? It is why I do not trust when my well meaning hubby and mother say they like everything I do! Thanks but it doesn't help me feel good..I know when I have a "stinker". My Hubby also tells me to go paint and relax..when is painting relaxing? cathartic! Thanks for the thoughts., lovely paintings..still too cold for plein air off to the studio and the work.

  3. I agree with you, I don't think that good artists are ever satisfied. A sketch Goya made in his (I think) 70's has "still learning" written on it... proof! If you become satisfied, you've stopped trying. No picture is perfect so if you think it is then you're a bad artist, so celebrate being dissatisfied, because it's a good thing.

  4. Mark, you make me laugh. I love your take on this. Celebrate being dissatisfied... I'll drink to that!


  5. interesting thousghts Susan. Thoughts that all artists have and in ;any conversation these thoughts come out in conversation. I too read Rahina's blog thois morning and thought it is no different than what I do or think at various times. The hardest part is getting beyond that ugly stage. It helps to know when we are there and what we can do if we just press on. And. There are times it never leaves the "Ugly" Stage. Becomes fore starters and experience we can learn by. Hopefull.

  6. Great comments, great thoughts. I think we can be happy and satisfied, but still want to be better. Then maybe for awhile, we have some pieces that aren't our best, so we try more. Painting is like going up stairs, it's ok to stop on the landing and rest for awhile, but we always wonder what's up the next flight. It is ok to be satisfied and happy; it is ok to be temporarily unsatisfied. It is not ok to stop seeking, learning, continuing. It is not ok to stop painting. Just keep going, keep learning, keep striving.

  7. first let me say how beautifully you have captured the peaceful space in your garden: vibrant yet quiet.
    your timely post might just keep me in the paint Susan, knowing that we are all struggling with the same dilemmas. the problem is that the goal posts keep changing, the bar gets higher just when i thought i could do something, i fall:) another painting bites the dust. i recently read a fellow blogger going back to a painting a year or so after he originally did it with stunning results.
    you have opened an important area of discussion and just reading everyone else's comments is enlightening: may we always be the learner seems to be key to achievement. thank you r.

  8. Hi! I am a new poster here. I loved what you had to say. I am returning to painting after a 30 year absence (now retired, my other career took me away from painting). I KNOW painting is HARD HARD HARD and even though I think I am much better now than 30 years ago, I, too, have destroyed a few paintings these past few months. One of my problems is when I like a painting, but something is still a little off, I tend to overwork it, then ruin it. I really need some good classes but I can't seem to find any around where I live so I order DVDs and books and just practice.
    Oh...I love this painting of yours! You are some talented lady!

  9. Great post, Susan. Degas said "Painting is easy when you don't know how but very difficult when you do."

    The only time in the painting process when I am satisfied is when the brush is moving across the canvas. As soon as I lift the brush, that little hypercritical, analytical voice in my head begins chipping away at all the joy I felt during the act of painting.

    The idea of control is mostly an illusion, at least for me. Virtually every painting I've ever done started veering away from what I intended with almost the first brushstroke. I've learned it's much less stressful to try to let go of my intent right at the beginning, and become something like an intensely interested bystander watching the painting develop.

  10. Hi Susan,

    I made a new rule!(for myself!) It's "the 24hr no wiping rule". and it has really made me see that I am never satisfied on finishing a painting but that if I leave it for a bit I can move to a place where I am no longer looking to see what else needs to be done or in judging it. A place of acepting the painting as it is, ss if I met it for the first time. That doesn't mean it's necessarily good enough to show or blog or whatever but until I reach that place I can't objectivly judge.

  11. i have done one particular painting of italy a few was a fun process..and yes, the third time's the charm! lol

    we find satisfaction in striving for a tangible realization of our own individual artistic visions!

    thanks for sharing! your work is gorgeous! i love it!

    ciao bella!
    creative carmelina

  12. I love your musings... Good discussion with your friend and really right on for most of us.

    Let's just say that we can only HOPE that as people and not just as artists that we NEVER stop learning...
    Satisfaction is a whole different issue... ;o)

    Wonderful color and feeling in the paintings, too!

  13. Nous sommes de éternels insatisfaits. Autrement où serait le plaisir sans cesse renouvelé de créer, de peindre. Nous voulons aller inconsciemment vers la perfection. Mais qu'est la perfection après tout? Ce sentiment de perfection en regardant une oeuvre achevée est très éphémère. Il peut durer un court instant. La perfection se déclenche dans le regard d'une personne et peut-être pas dans celui d'une autre... La perfection est quelque chose de très complexe. De toute façon nous ne sommes pas parfaits, comment alors prétendre à la perfection ?... Tout oeuvre devient parfaite grâce ou à cause de notre sensibilité de perception. C'est comme déguster un nouveau plat... tu aimes ou tu n'aimes pas. Mais ce n'est pas pour autant que le plat est mauvais.
    Bisous ma Susan, il faut que je joue encore au furet... Il me tarde de voir ces peintures ... et d'en parler ensemble.

  14. Very good post and beautiful painting Susan. I think it is a good thing to never be satisfied with our paintings. That being said, for me too at least, painting is hard, very hard. I wish I had learned the basics when I was young. I begged my dad to allow me to go to an art college. He didn't. Those were the years when I could still learn without being distracted by standing on bad knees and cramped feet, and trying to see my subject with poor eyesight. Such is life. The painters who are satisfied with their work are probably few and far between. I know I'll never be one of them, and yes, I have started throwing out paintings recently too. Thanks for the food for thought.

  15. These are paintings of such joy Susan. But hey look all those comments three times the comments I get ever. We all nee dto know when we have made outr contribution. I am not spent in terms or words but I feel sure people are now drifting away.

  16. three very nice paintings here--and some deep thoughts about the PAIN in PAINTING.
    I did not paint for years--I only painted in my mind (MUCH easier!)
    I'm not so sure this problem is only with artists. When I was a golfer I was happy to break 100 --then I wanted to break 90. Then I wanted to break 80. Golfers are "greedy" that way lol--but maybe it is simply human nature to want to feel mastery and confidence in front of the easel.

  17. Your garden paintings are wonderful, and you've absolutely captured that dreamy feel that I love so much.

    Painting, for me, is still elusive enough in its nature that I am not often completely satisfied, knowing that I still have much to learn. I still don't understand why one painting can flow from the brush and the next can be such a disaster, and because of that I can never be truly comfortable. Complete satisfaction may or may not be possible, but I hope to at least attain a sense of peace with each work in the end.

  18. Pergaps "satisfied" is not the right word. Perhaps the word is "perfect". I can be satisfied with a painting, but I always strive to do more, because although I may be satisfied (and I don't agree that if you're satisfied, you're not an artist), I'm always learning and growing as an artist. In that sense, I will never be "perfect."

  19. As a painter who is temporarily blocked right now, I find your colorful paintings breath-taking. So, yes, there is a yearning for improvement at every level of expertise.
    Just keep painting; enjoy the passion. (One definition for passion is "suffering" :-)
    And pray that I will move forward this summer.

  20. Olá!!! Seus trabalhos são lindos e mui sencilio.

  21. Susan, thank you so much for inviting me to your blog. I can tell from your insight, talent and the great comments here that I am going to adore following your blog!

    Your paintings are so lovely. I can honestly say that I admire your art because I can tell you put your time and heart into it. You don't skimp on detail but you don't get hung up on it either, knowing how to create just the right amount of loose atmosphere and light coupled with fine points that define and give expression!

    On the topic of dissatisfaction, I encourage artists to rework paintings they are dissatisfied with. I have been doing that for years and am still doing it, even to this very day. I am reworking a very large painting I've painted over two other times. I think its important to strive for change and growth and reworking paintings from the past can be a strong lesson about what you are capable of and what you could stand to improve still. Though I suppose there is such a thing as too many layers of paint. ;)

  22. It is a good read Susan..I think an artist should never feel satisfied because then it means stagnancy, the more you are dissatisfied the more you make efforts to grow and the result is obvious in our works from time to time..
    Your work is beautiful, I enjoyed them!

  23. Fiquei encantada com seus vasos de flores as cores. Lindo!
    Tudo de bom mil beijos

  24. Such beautiful paintings. They make me want to grab a brush. Thanks for sharing.


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