I Quit My Art and Maybe You Should Too

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I had just met this person for the first time and we were standing in the middle of a soft play area while our children bounced off nearby walls. Shouting over the noise, he asked, “Is painting your passion?”

I froze.

The only thing this stranger knew about my life were the paintings I had been posting on my Facebook page. Given the sheer number of paintings I had shared, he had assumed that painting was my life long passion. A logical conclusion.

My answer would have to be the absolute truth though. If my Facebook page was giving the wrong impression, then this would the time to admit it. You don’t want to start a new friendship based on a lie.

Was painting my passion?

No.

In that moment, I realised that painting was not my passion. It had become my obsession.

The Obsession Begins

Rewind back about 2 years. My friend and I had been joking around about some random lunchtime incident and I mentioned that it would make a funny cartoon. So that weekend I decided to try and draw a cartoon for the first time in my life. The drawing was terrible of course, but the cartoon itself was funny. That’s when I made a decision; if I wanted to do this properly then I would need to learn how to draw.

I spent the next 2 years learning how to draw and paint. The original idea of creating a simple cartoon went out the window and a new mission spiralled into existence. I began to use all of my free time to practice and learn.

I would spend my lunchtimes in the art store and spend my weekends watching tutorial videos and reading every art book in existence. The obsession was in full swing.

The Resistance Appears

I was certain that being a visual artist was my calling. My one true passion. I dedicated myself to learning it all all costs. Meanwhile, I ignored the small voice in the back of my mind that told me this might not be the way. I told myself that voice was the Resistance.

Steven Pressfield, in the War of Art, defines Resistance as “an energy field radiating from a work-in-potential. It’s a repelling force. It’s negative. Its aim is to shove us away, distract us, prevent us from doing our work.”

In his blog post, Steven goes onto to say, “Resistance is what keeps an entrepreneur from making the cold calls he knows he has to, to get his business rolling. It’s the force that keeps an aspiring painter away from her studio, or makes a writer back off from the blank page. Resistance stops us from going to the gym, from meditating, from donating our time to a cause we believe in.”

Once I learned that the Resistance was out there trying to sabotage me, I attributed every negative feeling and ounce of doubt to this mysterious force and pushed through it all. I was at war with my art and the battle raged.

Life Becomes a Support-system for Art

I think people who are perfectionists can force themselves to learn most anything. I think we accept any learning process as a challenge and then refuse to give up the fight, even if it means losing everything else in the process.

I was focused on winning my personal war against the Resistance and there were casualties. I spent a great deal of time alone in battle and spent less and less time with my family.

In his book On Writing, Stephen King told a story about his desk. For years, he dreamed of owning a massive writing desk and once his career took off he was able to afford one and he placed it right in the center of his room.

“For six years I sat behind that desk either drunk or wrecked out of my mind, like a ship’s captain in charge of a voyage to nowhere. A year or two after I sobered up, I got rid of that monstrosity and put in a living-room suite where it had been…”

Then he got another one “half the size of the T. Rex desk” and he put it “at the far west end of the office, in a corner under the eave.”

Stephen’s conclusion is one of the most important lessons we can learn as artists. “Put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room. Life isn’t a support-system for art. It’s the other way around.”

Quit the Right Stuff at the Right Time

If you struggle to pick up that pencil every single morning, then should you really be an artist? Is it the Resistance that is holding you back or is it the simple fact that you just don’t like drawing in the first place?

There’s a great quote in Becoming a Writer where Dorothea Brande is explaining how to complete her writing exercise for beginners. She then stops to give a warning, “If you fail repeatedly at this exercise, give up writing. Your resistance is actually greater than your desire to write, and you may as well find some other outlet for your energy as early as late.”

That is solid advice! Dorothea is not afraid to turn people off in the middle of her book. Originally published in 1934, that type of honesty is rare these days.

In The Dip, Seth Godin quotes Vince Lombardi: “Quitters never win and winners never quit.” Then he points out that this is indeed bad advice! “Winners quit all the time. They just quit the right stuff at the right time.”

Once you reach a certain breaking point with a new project, you can either push ahead or pursue something else that is more worthy of your time. You are allowed to make a sensible decision. You are allowed to quit.

As Seth goes on to say in The Icarus Deception, “Art requires the artist to care, and to care enough to do something when he knows that it might not work.”

In other words, it wouldn’t be art if there was no chance involved. The fact is that this really might not work! You might reach a point, like I did, where you have improved, but it still doesn’t feel like you have found your lifelong passion.

Listen to Your Heart

Art will always require hard work and sacrifice, but you have to be comfortable with that sacrifice. For me, getting up early to work before the rest of my family wakes up is a worthwhile sacrifice. Locking myself in my office at night instead of playing with the kids before bedtime is not a worthwhile sacrifice. I will not give up my time with my family to pursue my art.

Art should be created out of joy. How can you create something beautiful if you are always miserable when you are creating it?

When I starting drawing 2 years ago, it all started with the simple idea to create a comic. A comic that would tell a story. It turns out that drawing does not fill me with joy, but that essential idea of wanting to communicate with other people is still within me.

I am now pursuing writing as my new art. Maybe this is my true passion. Maybe this is my lifelong calling. Who knows! I can’t say for sure until I give it some time.

At some point I’ll take a break and ask myself some honest questions. In the meantime, this is my best guess. Throughout it all, I will listen to my heart.

4 Comments

  1. This is an excellent post…I found lots of nuggets of truth to chew on awhile. I look forward to more of your writing!

    • Thanks very much Liz! Appreciate the feedback!

  2. Hey Dennis, great article. Your comparison between acceptable and unacceptable sacrifices for your art was pretty eye opening. You could get up early while your family sleeps, or sequester yourself while they’re awake. Some sacrifices are necessary for the good of your whole family, some are clearly not. We just need to decide which are which and quit what isn’t necessary. Thanks for that!

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