The Impatient Artist

GreyCarolFullView, originally uploaded by carolsLittleWorld.

Are you impatient? Do you know anyone who’s impatient? Know somebody who just hates to wait in line at the bank or post office, or maybe can’t stand shopping around the holiday season just because of the long lines?

There are impatient artists too. These are people that, one day pick up a camera, a paint brush, a sculptor’s chisel, and expect greatness to happen. They have no tolerance for mistakes. They want to do shows, shows, and more shows, without focus on their craft. They expect to be able to churn out beautiful work immediately.

Being impatient must be kind of hard, but there’s something extra nagging about an impatient artist. For example, I’ve been a photographer for the better part of two decades, I’ve spent years learning how to focus my camera, properly expose my shots, get the pictures I want. Yet, sometimes, when I work with beginners, they seem to demand they get “better” shots right away. They expect perfection. They want a masterpiece to come out each and every time they pick up that camera. Like music, visual artists need to learn to pay their dues. You wouldn’t expect to learn the play the violin overnight, so why do you expect the camera to work that way.

Many of the great photographers whose work you can now enjoy on the web have spent years devoted to their craft. They’ve spent hours in the studio setting things up, learning as much as they can about lighting, about focus, about color, lines, gesture, perspective, and the like. With today’s digital cameras, everybody expects some kind of perfection right off the memory card. The trouble is, those things are still there-even in the digital realm. You still need to have proper lighting (or work with the light that you have) you still need to know all about color, lines, gesture, perspective, scale, and you need to study these things. Taking a few snaps and expecting it to just come out in the wash is simply not enough if you really want to get to the next level as a photographer. The same is true for any medium. I’m not an expert sculptor, never have been and probably never will be. But I don’t expect to be able to just pick up a chisel and carve a slab of marble into the next great statue overnight either. There’s a lot of hard labor, work, and devotion that needs to go into the craft, before you can reap the rewards.

So, if you’re an impatient artist, you might want to take a step back, and rethink some of what you’re doing. Take your time. Spend more time learning, really devote yourself to your craft, don’t just gloss over something and expect results.

Just because it’s digital, doesn’t make it fast. Slow down, learn, do, grow a bit before you start expecting results.

Until next time…


  1. mythopolis
    September 28, 2009 / 7:19 pm

    Well, if Van Gogh had taken a more patient, contemplative, methodical approach to his work, he may not have painted at all. And he probably wouldn't have sliced his ear off either. I take your comments with a grain of salt. There is a long history of madness and impulsivity in the arts. Regarding the issue of working and evolving one's skills, I recall a quote by one of Timothy Leary's colleagues (and one of the early chemists involved in LSD research), "Creativity is 10 percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration."

    Love the photo, by the way. : )

  2. Carol
    September 28, 2009 / 11:10 pm

    Thanks, Mythos!

    I get what you mean about there being a history there and there's nothing wrong with being impulsive, but I see a lot of younger folks today wanted instant results. The only thing instant is mashed potatoes and even they take 90 seconds in the microwave.

    I'm sure that Van Gogh spent countless hours learning how to draw and paint, even if he did not like to admit it. Sure there are artists who are scatterbrained, many who get the sudden urge to create and "just do it" but this comes after a long period of evolving one's skills. Those who practice can learn to be impulsive, just as those who practice music a lot can learn to improvise. In some ways, the more you practice, over the course of time, the better you can improvise when put on the spot, like with a jazz musician and a live performance. But, it can take years of practice (behind the scenes) to be able to improvise like that.

    I don't know the right answer but it's an interesting topic and one I will have to explore some more at some point.

    Thanks for you comment.

  3. Janice / Dancing with Sunflowers
    September 29, 2009 / 9:12 am

    I agree with you completely, Carol, and the comparison with jazz musicians is absolutely spot on. I don't enjoy that 'intellectual' jazz but my husband does so I've been to a few concerts and listened to what's going on – not enjoyed it, but listened. What I hear is that these improvisational musicians, just doing stuff on the spur of the moment, have an enormous amount of theory and musical knowledge and understanding behind them – they understand chord progressions and harmonies and they know, instinctively by now, what will work and what won't. I wonder if this impatience you talk about is a product of our times – people with no talent go on TV talent shows. They don't want to practise their craft and become great, they just want the instant adoration. (Thankfully they are balanced by the ones who have practised and are truly on their way to greatness!) I also wonder if attention spans are becoming shorter as so many things are available to us in 'soundbites'.

  4. Todge
    July 12, 2012 / 7:42 pm

    Madness and impulsivity have nothing to do with impatience as you've outlined it.

    You don't become good at anything without practice. Chronic impulsivity won't lead anywhere. Once you have the chops, you can be impulsive, because you have the skill.

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