This post originally appeared at Successful-Blog, December 25, 2012
Beginnings are typically joyous, euphoric occasions. Whether it’s a software project, a barn-raising, a romance, or a painting, the earliest stages are exciting, not yet informed by the difficulties that lie ahead.
The art of making paintings is remarkable. It doesn’t matter if the painter is portraying mountains and streams, or is creating an abstraction. Taking the three-dimensional world and portraying it on a flat surface is abstraction, and creating shapes and color is quite concrete and real. So it follows that a lot of the distinctions that are made about painting, whether it’s realism, abstraction, or some other genre are somewhat moot. But what all painting shares is that there is no guidebook. Each painter is on their own in trying to figure out what it is all about.
Over the years, I’ve noticed that I look forward to starting paintings. The canvas, newly tacked over the stretcher bars, presents a vast area of whiteness. A brush loaded with paint is picked up and that first mark is made. It’s exhilarating.
I also know what to expect about a third of the way into the painting: frustration. In those early years, it was unnerving: Iâd be wracked with feelings of doubt and inability. Like an arctic explorer without a compass, Iâd look around and realize that I didn’t have a clue as to where I was or why I was there. These aren’t the little niggling doubts that sometimes come to haunt us, but the big doubts. What does my existence mean?
For hundreds of years, practitioners of Zen Buddhism have been using doubt as a key to their practice. In the various approaches to Zen, the feeling of doubt is considered to be critical to finding awareness. In fact, koans, those baffling stories used in zen, seem designed to help bring about that total frustration. As one teacher exhorted, “let all of you become one mass of doubt and questioning.” Without this doubt, you can’t have breakthrough.
Self-doubt can be totally debilitating, too. If you understand, though, the importance of doubt in the creative process, you can more easily say to yourself, “heh, this is all part of the process; let’s just go with it.”