Monday, December 6, 2010

The Artist's Curse

     Did you know that most artists have a curse?  It’s rarely talked about, but I’ve seen this affliction among craftspeople and artists, alike.  It lives among those who create.  I know it’s true for myself and many of my art friends.  And here’s the burden we bear:  Most artists don’t like their own work! 
     At first glance, it seems implausible.  Why would anyone produce something they don’t like?  I’ve been kicking this one around for a few days, trying to nail down why we artists feel this way.  I’m not sure I have the answer, but I think it has something to do with the bar that we are (hopefully and constantly) raising.
     We’ve heard the stories of artists like Remington, who burned his rejects.  Personally, I just rip my paintings in half, and press on.  We all understand that we produce paintings that just don’t “have the stuff”.   Honest self-critique results in a necessary purging that every artist must employ if they wish to create good works.  For me, it is a matter of leaving a legacy that meets my standards.   One hundred years from now, I don’t want one of my “dogs” to survive, and represent my body of work.
     But what of the works we accept, and still have no love for?  I think back on my body of work and feel I have done maybe 10 spectacular watercolors.  Not a great track record for nearly 17 years of painting.  This feeling of inadequacy is what drives us. 
     The act of painting must therefore be stronger and more pleasing than the results.  I myself hope to do one masterwork before I exit this planet, but I fear it may not be possible.  And this is the reason:  No artist ever sees his own work as a masterpiece.  If you do, I think you are done.  The eyes of history must judge your work.  Hence, it’s the carrot you will never grasp.
     So back to my original question – Why should we continue to produce work if we may never be satisfied?  Maybe it’s something like “let’s revel in the process of attempting to produce great artwork, while acknowledging that we will always want our work to be better.”   I think it comes down to this….the longer you stay on the train, the better you get.  My advice:  Stay on the longest, and be the best.  

Content © Mark Kohler Studio.     


  1. What a great post. Even as a simple hobby artist, I deal with this. I always thought it was because I am so new to painting. Thanks for putting things in perspective. This truly does motivate me.

  2. To fight the curse you just need to keep working, always with the goal of producing better work. If you keep persevering, it'll show in your work, and you'll find yourself making major breakthroughs. Good luck!

  3. Fantastic post, Mark. Love your way of thinking. But you knew that already.

  4. Hola! I love your post. It is fresh, frank, and I believe, healthy. All of my artist friends are their own worst critics. So, I felt like every artist always got better because of what you just wrote on this blog.

    I remember being the guest of the late R.C. Gorman and he had all of his artwork on the walls of his home in Taos. The only other artwork he had that was different was in his bathroom! He was unique and had a great sense of humor and never took himself seriously.

    I love your work and I still have that beautiful watercolor 'Gentle Kind' that I purchased from you. I loved it then and I love it now.

    Olga Pina
    El Taller Gallery