How do I set the right expectations?

Question: I have heard you say “lower your expectations” and “expect to fail.” Is this an attitude for workshops, plein air painting and the studio?  At what point should an artist approach a painting with the attitude of creating a jewel—if not a diamond, maybe a treasure?

taos_demo2.jpgI am glad for the opportunity to clarify. I often generalize and this is a good example. When you heard me say “lower your expectations” and “expect to fail,” it was in the context of a plein air workshop and I was speaking with beginners in mind, not advanced painters.

What I have noticed over the years is that we all come to our painting with enthusiasm, eager to paint that masterpiece. But, until we master the necessary skills required to accomplish that end—and even then it is often a struggle—we will come up short and be disappointed. This often leads to an internalized sense of failure and can lead to giving up. Or, in the case of working on location, going back to working from photographs in the studio.

Painting on location is difficult for even the well-seasoned artist, and instead of expecting your best work, I encourage painters who are new to the experience to expect to fail a few times, and to not expect a painting as good as what they are capable of in their studios. With time, patience and a bit of tenacity, they will get more confident and then it’s appropriate to expect great things.

We are a society that’s used to everything in an instant, and after watching a demonstration or seeing the results from another artist, it’s easy to expect the same level of competence from ourselves. Just as an infant falls when he first attempts to walk, so will most of us when we first attempt to paint on location—or try something new. With time, though, we’ll be walking with confidence and not expecting to fall.

Let me be clear: I want everyone to stand before his or her blank surface and paint with confidence and passion. I have high hopes for my paintings and firmly believe we have to paint with the erect posture of a confident person not cowering and unsure, but it’s also wise to take stock of where we are on this journey and celebrate those little steps. A rough stone needs the skilled hands of a jeweler before it becomes a gem, and a lot of diamond dust is produced along the way in creating that treasure!

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2 thoughts on “How do I set the right expectations?

  1. Sally

    Excellent advice! As a novice I find that I enjoy the painting process so much more if I just begin with the intentions of learning from the experience, as opposed to creating a masterpiece. Even if the final painting is not wonderful – which is often the case – I can still learn from it, whereas if I try to make something wonderful I usually become discouraged and am hesitant to try again.

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