Know When to Hold ‘em, Know When to Fold ‘em, Know When to Walk Away, Know When to Just Paint Something Else for Crying Out Loud / by Vanessa Longacre-Wilcox

Work in no-progress.

Work in no-progress.

Doing what I say I’ll do is important to me.  So closing in on 2 months since detailing my block about my painting, and nearing 3 months since I recommitted to doing it, and rounding out a year since I planned it, and the fact that I am still at a standstill is very disheartening.  I have tried to get it done, I have gone through the motions, I’ve gotten my supplies, I’ve stretched and prepped my own canvas (for the first time in 15 years) and yet it sits untouched and looming over my art space.  A reminder of what I said I would do and a reminder of my failure to do so.  I’ve stopped going to my desk entirely because I don’t want to be faced with it.  As a result, I haven’t created a single piece of art in more than a month.

Nearly every day I intend for today to be the day!  Or maybe more accurately, tomorrow to be the day!  Definitely tomorrow.  Tomorrow has so much promise.  Time is ticking on and I’ve blown my plan for October, I’m cruising through November fruitlessly, and now I’m running up against projects I need to have finished in December.

A wise woman I know taught me a lesson about changing an undesirable behavior. If you have tried “Well, I just will/or won’t do that anymore” as a strategy more than one time and failed, you need a new strategy.  Whatever is going on is not about willpower, and you need to find a way to support the change you want to make.  You need to do it with more than just words and good intentions.

This seems desperately true in the case of this painting.   I’ve explored why I might not be doing it, and there are reasons, all mental and emotional barriers.  They are real reasons, but are they good ones?  Eh.  Does it even matter? Probably not.

More disturbing to me than the fact that I haven’t done the painting is that I haven’t done any other artwork either.  What was a daily routine is suddenly absent.  I haven’t written about creating art in nearly two months, I have barely even mustered up the 140 characters to tweet about it.  This doesn’t feel like a slump.  It feels like a coup d’état.  An overthrowing of the diligence and commitment I had created in my life over the past year. In its place stands resistance and ego.

The question is what to do about it?

As Kenny Rogers says, you’ve got to know when to hold ‘em and know when to fold ‘em. But how do you know which? Here is what I’m asking myself to figure that out:

What’s the point?

Why do I think I need to do this painting? Because I said I would? A matter of integrity? Because it is a technical challenge? Because it is a tribute to my mother? I think the answer to all these questions is yes.  But is the importance of this particular painting unique?  Not really.  For example, if I wanted to honor my mother through art, I can think of many projects to do that.  I can look objectively at all of these questions, except for one.  I can’t seem to let go of “but I said I would” and what I think it means about me when I don’t do what I say I’ll do.  But is that enough of a reason to hold on? I think the answer depends on the next question.

Is it worth it?  

Is this project so artistically or personally important that it is worth doing at the expense of all other art and goals I have set up for myself?  Thinking about this question the answer is obvious.  No, and my inflated sense of importance about this project is really a smokescreen. Using this noble idea of “integrity” is a cover for my ego trying to avoid failure.  And the irony is that the harder I hold on to avoiding failure the more failure I create.  More projects I said I would do (if only to myself) are not getting done the longer I hold on to this one.

What do I do now?

One of the reasons I thought it was important to do this painting was so that I could learn whatever lesson it had to offer.  I think there would probably be things to learn from making it but what have I learned from failing to make it? 

In talking with friends about it, I discussed failing. People responded with kindness and reassurance that I could always paint it later and that since it was a self-made project it wasn’t really a failure.  But I think it is valuable for me to look at this as a failure.  If for no other reason than as practice for dealing with it. 

So what lessons can I take moving forward from it?  Things like:

  • Remember the advice: If I’m not getting something done, change my strategy.
  • Accept failure sooner: Don’t let ego hide the fact that I have failed.  Own it.
  • Failure doesn’t define us: If I hadn’t been worried that quitting meant I had lost integrity, I would have switched projects weeks ago.

Emotionally and creatively, I’m sure the right thing for me to do is to move on.  But I have to be willing to let myself fail and admit it.

This might only be important to me but here it goes; I failed.  I did not get this done and I am going to quit.  I am not even going to promise to get to it someday.  I am just going to let it be a failure, and be okay with that.

(Look up to see if sky has crashed.  Nope.  On to the next thing.)