The big question: is “good” art “hard” to make?

I’ve begun to realize I’ve always had this underlying assumption about art, that the best art is extremely difficult to create. I think about people like van Gogh who struggled his whole life to create, only selling one artwork in his lifetime, or of someone like Frida Kahlo who spent her life painting while laying down because of her dozens of surgeries from being hit by a trolley (bus). Societally we celebrate people who surpass hardship and persevere despite dire circumstances; the arts are no stranger to this story.

Yet, the more I’ve thought about this assumption, the more I’ve realized it has actively hindered my artistic growth and development. What message does it send? That I must have blood, sweat and tears to make something someone wants to buy or is worth while?! How many pieces have I stopped working on or reworked “to death (I can thank a college prof for that phrase!)” because  it seemed to me to be “too easy?”

The irony of it all is the work that has garnered me the most recognition took 4 hours to create. I won money, recognition, and an opportunity to show the artwork at the Smithsonian Institute.

I’ve also heard statements like, “but that painting only took you 3 hours, how can you charge so much?” A student of mine shared an awesome story, I wish I could find the source (let me know if you do!), it was a conversation between an artist and a client arguing something similar about the cost of the artwork. And the artist’s reply? “Yes, this painting may have taken me only 3 hours to finish, but it took my ENTIRE LIFE to reach this point of technical prowess and creativity.” Place a value on THAT!

When I think of “hard work,” this is my kind of association. Blood, sweat, and tears… does the entire creative process have to be difficult for the work to be a success?

That artwork that only took me four hours? Yeah, well, I failed to share its context. Years of practice, not to mention painting it the day before a surgery that was so risky it may have been the last painting I would ever make!

Perhaps the reason we so value works by people like van Gogh and Kahlo is in part because of their circumstance. Time has allowed us the insight to recognize how special these people and their ideas were/are! I’m not sure how hard it was for either of these two artists to develop artistic ideas, but their circumstances made it difficult. When we hear “easy” people think it should be cheap. But should it be? What about the above circumstances that led me to that very moment? How do you calculate that worth?!

I’m actively battling this assumption I’ve grown to believe in, of which I’m still unsure of its origins. I’ve had several ideas for artworks that will be time consuming and a commitment but that don’t necessarily push me to my very technical limits (which I still feel is what I’m “supposed” to do). I’m starting small, literally, to build my confidence in taking this new risk. And I’m allowing myself the opportunity to play. This is a new growth moment and I’m looking forward to changing my thinking. There is nothing to lose and everything to gain!

I’m beginning to think we should remove the word “easy” from our artistic vocabularies. Those “easy” moments? That is when inspiration has decided to bless you with her presence and you run with it. Those are the moments to grasp and celebrate, not devalue.

BE COURAGEOUSLY CREATIVE: What assumptions do you have about your creative process? Do you feel it helps or hinders your artistic production?