EDITED BY JANE GUTHRIDGE
When reading about Ellsworth Kelly’s passing, I came across a number of quotes about the artist’s fierce determination to adhere to his own vision. Roberta Bernstein said, “[Kelly] had his own vision of things and he stuck with it, and it wasn’t about following trends.” Artist Terry Winters said he admired Kelly’s “sustained belief in his own project.”
This led me to ask Pro Wax members the following questions: How do you stay true to your vision? What advice from others do you consider and take to heart and when do you decide to let it go?
Kathy Cantwell: When what I’m working on is honest and tantamount to who I am as an artist, then there is usually little that will sway me. However I always keep a door open for criticism to come in. Sometimes in my zeal to pursue my vision I may lose sight of certain aspects of the work that are unresolved. Letting in credible criticism from other artists, gallerists, and curators may lead me further into my vision.
Dorothy Cochran: I have always been an independent thinker and creator with specific ideas of what I wanted to express and how I would accomplish it. In retrospect, from decades of art making, I have adhered to my own vision, with only a side glance to what others are doing. Holding true to a course of action gives you deep satisfaction when looking back and seeing the continuity of your thought process (not necessarily medium).
Cheryl D. McClure: I listen to the people whose opinion I respect. That said, I keep with my own vision of what I think is personally authentic. Sometimes remarks will come back to me later, at a time when I might be more open to suggestion. What I hope I do is keep my mind open to accept other viewpoints about my work and to know when to keep my own counsel.
Tracey Adams: I’ve had to pull up the drawbridge when it comes to giving credence to what others have to say about my work. I listen, but don’t necessarily act, and try hard to stay firm with my beliefs. Not only does it take a lot of courage to be an artist, it takes courage to stay on course with what you believe is right for you at a given time. I’ve always worked on the organic to geometric spectrum and know this might discredit my work with galleries, curators and others as it swings to one side, then back to the other. This is how I keep my inspiration, ideas and work fresh — it’s got to be compelling and challenging or boredom sets in. Knowing and trusting oneself takes a long time.
Beverly Rippel: I have seen the situation in which an instructor/professor, or even a gallery owner, urges an artist to follow a course down a particular path that either resonates with their own thought patterns or financially satisfies their gallery’s needs. Here is where one must decide which path is the right one for personal goals. It may be hard not to be swayed, or to admit that we might be succumbing to pressure, but it is important to keep the brush in one’s own hand and not surrender it to anyone if one’s unique voice is to be fully realized.
That said, through the years there have been several people (museum curators and directors, professors, contemporary gallerists, and artists whom I greatly respect) who have said things to me in both critique and compliment, that I can remember nearly verbatim. Their words play over in my head and I believe they have encouraged me to grow along my own chosen path. From the outset I decided that I wasn’t going to make art just to make money; I could always wait tables for that. There is nothing in this world quite so exhilarating than to be in the act of making a thought materialize.
Krista Svalbonas: I most often listen to advice/critique from those individuals I trust or solicit advice from. Even then it’s important to consider those ideas against your own convictions. Once in a while an unsolicited comment from someone I don’t know very well may spark an idea or new thought process, but that is very rare. From the teaching perspective, I pay very special attention to give students feedback that is neutral and not colored by my own aesthetic. I try very hard to understand where students are coming from, see their motivation, and then foster that in a constructive way. I will say that allowing others in to comment and provide perspective can be a very wonderful way to make a breakthrough or to consider a direction that you would never have thought of on your own. That’s part of the nice thing about collaborating; even though it’s not a critique environment per se, collaboration does push you out of your comfort zone and into an area that allows you to bring fresh ideas into the studio.
Debra Claffey: It’s taken me years to learn how to listen and hear advice/critique without getting waylaid, especially from those I consider more knowledgeable and experienced. Like Beverly, I can remember some comments verbatim. I just have to work through each and decide for myself whether they apply and are useful.
Mitchell Visoky: I have had much advice given to me over the years. I always welcomed it and thought about how valuable it was. I try to evaluate the comments depending on how much I value the expertise or experience of the commenter. Sometimes my own personal issues get in the way of acting on good advice.
Patricia Dusman: If I am on a good path I try not to be exposed to a lot of outside influence to help keep me on track. We all need to remember a comment or critique is just someone’s opinion on that day, in that moment. If you feel strongly about your work, you are free to totally discard it if you choose. In a time of indecision or at a fork in the road you can reconsider those comments and critiques.
Nancy Ferro: I am my own critic. If suggestions are very far from my own thoughts though, I ask myself if my concept should be more clearly stated. I do appreciate looking back myself to see how they are all related and how my work has evolved and why.
Elise Wagner: The Ellsworth Kelly obit had a quote in it that really rang true for me as my own work is transforming. The quote was, “I wondered, ‘Can I make a painting with just five panels of color in a row?’ I loved it, but I didn’t think the world would. They’d think, it’s not enough.”
I couldn’t believe how in that moment with my own work, I could relate to this. I listen to the advice of many but don’t follow it. More and more, I try to follow the inner voice and vision I have for the work. This has been hard. I am leaving things out that have come to be known as trademarks or signature aspects in my work, which is exactly why I am now leaving them out.
Letting it go, listening from within rather than from outside, has transformed my work, my palette and my vision.