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Aim High - Dig Deep
by L. Diane Johnson

IN RECENT YEARS I have had a growing concern regarding artists and their art. As a painter and educator, I've observed more and more artists who have no problem aiming high with aspirations to become a great artist. But what is lacking -- most are not willing to "dig deep" to get there.

We all seek that quick fix, that short cut to success -- there is no such short cut. Yes, we can share ideas, thoughts and tips through the amazing phenomenon of the Internet, books, tapes and workshops. Much can be short-circuited through personal and public artistic exchange; how-to's, art supply recommendations, technique talk, and informational links.

However, there is no substitute for digging deep within yourself, researching for the information you need, through perseverance, patience and practice. To illustrate this I'll use the following analogy.

When the first Tandy 1000 came on the scene (way back in the '80's), my husband purchased one; then methodically and meticulously made a wall chart on how to use the system; what it could do, the key strokes to use to accomplish tasks, hierarchies, etc. I was intimidated and fearful of even the thought of using a computer if this is what it took to use one!

A year after he had his system, I announced that I'd like to give this computer technology a try. I sat down and tinkered with keystrokes, trying intuitively to learn how to use the unfamiliar hardware without first learning what or where anything was. I just wanted to use the computer, not really know anything about its use. My husband, who is known as a cool and patient person, was taken aback at my approach to learning. He immediately halted my aimless rambling away at the keyboard. (With a mere 256k RAM and early system software one keystroke could wreak havoc that few could fix at that time.)

I was frustrated because it all seemed to be so simple. We were told, "with the click of a mouse you can do anything--instantly!" But because I did not have an understanding of how the computer operated my attempts at productivity were futile. So, I bit the bullet, put on my left-brained hat and read the manual. It was a grueling exercise and totally against my grain. But I knew if I did not dig deep, I'd never be a successful computer user.

Since that time, I've had 8 computer systems, a multitude of peripherals, purchased many manuals, and enrolled in a technical hardware course (taking computers apart and putting them back together again along with software troubleshooting.) Armed with this knowledge, I can now find diagnose and fix computer problems when they arise, and had a long-time successful graphic design business. It was not an easy road to travel, but the confidence, comfort, pleasure and creativity (yes, creativity) I enjoy today is a direct result of digging deep.

So it is with creating art. I wanted to paint. I wanted to paint badly. I did not want to take all of that college life drawing. I did not want to take all those years of art history. I did not enjoy drills and instructors hammering away at me. I just wanted to paint. "Why can't I paint?" I aimed high, wanted it bad enough, but did not dig deeply enough.

I've since studied with some of the great painters of our day; have had wonderful exchanges with artists and my students. But as with the computer, I had to read, practice and really dig to be a painter. Emile Zola (1840-1902) once said, "The artist is nothing without the gift, but the gift is nothing without work." I will continue digging deep to my last painting day. I am not the best painter, but that's ok. I have come to a place where I am comfortable and confident, but never satisfied -- which keeps me digging. And I am not alone in this. Many of you have experienced the same!

Some encouraging advice...decide first whether you wish to create art as a hobby or as a serious endeavor. If you are a very beginner or advanced artist seeking the latter:

Do whatever you must to maximize the talent, creativity and desire God has given you for creating art.
"Spoon feed" for a time, but then pick up the glass and drink in all the information you can about the area of art you're interested in
Strive to excel to the best of your ability not that of others.
If you "quit" at times get back up and try again.
Invite "mistakes" they are your allies. Without them, you'll never improve or grow.
Listen to the advise of those around you, and those who know you. But make your own decisions and stick by them.
Don't give up or give in.
Have fun and enjoy what you are doing.
Strive for excellence at all times. You won't achieve excellence, but don't stop aiming for it.

And finally from Buck Rogers, "There are countless ways of achieving greatness, but any road to achieving one's maximum potential must be built on a bedrock of respect for the individual, a commitment to excellence, and a rejection of mediocrity."

So dear artist friend, aim high by digging deep!

All the Best,

L. Diane Johnson NAPA PSA NAPPAP, is an fine artist and instructor with over 30 years experience. Visit her online gallery for more information or reach her via email.

©2003-2004 L. Diane Johnson - Online Art Supplies