Tuesday, April 24, 2012

How old are you?

Original oil painting  12x30" gallery wrap
by Susan Roux

I remember having tea with John Morris while touring his studio in Ireland. John had lots to say about art and the business of art. He was so interesting to listen to. One of the things he described was how the artists community was like tiers of a cake. I didn't get what he was saying so I asked him to elaborate. This is what he told me.

The bottom tier is the largest. It's where an artist begins. There are lots and lots of people on this tier. Lots and lots of people proclaiming to be artists or creative. As an artist develops and improves they rise to a higher tier. The tiers, he said, quickly become quite small compared to the bottom one. He suggested that it was very easy to communicate with an artist on your own tier, but trying to have a great artistic relationship with someone on a different tier, was much harder. Especially, he noted, with someone on a tier or two beneath you. The very top tier is the smallest where only a few artists reside and he suspected they must all know each other.

It's an interesting concept and I thought about what he said many times. I have to agree that it's easier to relate and communicate artistically with someone on your own tier. I'm sure many of you can relate to loosing art friends as your ability developed. For one, as you do develop, your understanding of certain things deepen and it's difficult to have the same conversations with an artist who has not experienced or has not gained knowledge of these things. 

I remember telling my mother that my mind was opening to knowledge about color that I never even knew existed. She wanted to know what. But it was difficult to put into words. All I could do was give a glimpse, a suggestion of what I was talking about. I remember feeling so alone. I had acquired this amazing new knowledge and had no one to converse with about it.

Perhaps John is right about the tiers, but I see it a little differently. For me, the artists journey resembles that of a person growing. We first begin all excited, wow I can do this. Like the young child who wants to have all their work up on the refrigerator, you eagerly show others what you've achieved. You glow with their compliments. Then adolescence hits. You become shy about what you're doing because you feel it's inferior to others works that you admire. You push on however and soon like a late teen or early twenty, you feel it's so simple and rejoice that you know it all! Unfortunately your bubble is burst as you move into your mid twenties. Suddenly you realize you have a lot more to learn. As you continue through your adulthood, gaining information and honing your skills, you eventually come to a place where you realize you'll never know all there is to know or understand about art. The more you learn, the harder it becomes. With continued work and learning, I think we'll keep growing all the way to old age. 

I chuckle when I look back to a time when I thought all this was so easy...

I think perhaps I'm somewhere in my late thirties possibly early forties, as far as development. It's a little hard to judge. I do know I still have a long way to go. Unlike actual aging, I think it's possible to leap through several years, possibly decades at times. A great teacher can propel you forward. 

So how old do you think you are in your artist journey?

(And in case you didn't know, Don Hatfield is a great teacher and will be teaching 3 workshops here in Maine in August. Contact me for more information.)


  1. That question's easy: I'm like a kid who runs after the older kids saying, "Hey! Wait Up! Let me play!"

  2. This is interesting, Susan! I think I have recently hit adolescence, since I am not happy anymore with what I have done so far. And I was feeling quite uneasy about this. It is reassuring to read that it's part of developing.

  3. Both are wonderful analogies Susan! I've never looked at the artistic journey quite that way. And secretly I think John is right, all the artists in the top tier must know each other, I've suspected as much myself for a while now. I picture secret painting sessions and special handshakes... ha ha.

    I think I'm in the 30's realizing how much there is that I still don't know. Luckily, that realization is exciting to me because I will never get bored with this crazy journey.

    Great post!

  4. YES!!! Well said Susan. I still look at paintings I admire and think "I can do that." Then I try and I go thru that awful debate of should I give it all up cause I suck at painting. The best part though is when you know you've made some progress.

  5. Ta publication d'aujourd'hui est un véritable sujet philosophique... je pense que ton ami a raison en ce qui concerne les couches du gâteau... (A-t-il seulement parlé de la cerise sur le gâteau ?!!!... je plaisante!)
    Tout comme dans notre vie, nous mûrissons en peignant encore et encore. Nous trébuchons, nous nous relevons, mais encore plus fort. Je ne sais pas si nous parviendrons au sommet des tranches du gâteau... Je pense que chacun de nous avançons à notre rythme et l'essentiel aussi est que chacune de ces tranches soit faite d'un bon mélange de saveurs artistiques...
    Je te fais de gros bisous

  6. Susan I guess I'm a 30/40 something. I'm old enough to capture the ideas I have floating around in my head and bring them to life. Unfortunately I now know how long certain concepts will take to create and don't have the inclination at this age to put in that much time!

  7. Six and bottom tier. Yeah; I'm that good. LOL Fortunately for me, I think I love talking with artists who are all above me on the tiers or shelves in the fridge. Sometimes I learn, mostly I idolize and adore and watch and listen. It is fun!

  8. Another very thought provoking blog and it made me both think and smile. I am of course still at the crawling stage and can hardly even speak to other artists.

  9. Interesting post - we are like tiered cakes, all on the same or different tiers; or is our art journey like a circle (as Maggie Latham posted about) and we circle around - or a spiral going around and up? Either way, it's interesting to think about where we are and where we might go and cherish where we've been (those first days of excitement and ignorance that we are sooo good at it because so many people were so positive and supportive are gone but you can look back and smile at those days, too). Great post - thanks for sharing!

  10. I love the thoughtfulness of this post. I agree that we change the way we see our own work as we move along on our journey...

    Hopefully we never become content to just stop at one point along the road.

  11. The wonderful thing about painting is the knowledge you can always improve no matter how long you have painted or how good an artist you are. It is a lifelong pursuit and I found the analogy very interesting about the tiers and ages. Small communities are easier for everyone to mix equally but as an artist who paints every day, I do not have much time for socializing. That is why I love the blogging world. It is my art social time when I am free. 11Pm and here I am.


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