Last weekend I happened upon a summer festival where there had been a juried plein-air art show. I only caught the end part as the awards were being announced.
The adjudicator was explaining that the pieces they awarded prizes to were those that had captured the energy and spirit of the festival. They were not necessarily the most technically developed among those who had entered the competition. He went on to say that if someone sticks with painting long enough their technique would improve but eventually they would hit a wall and that wall is Themselves.
In other words, in going deeply into any art (and probably all and everything in life) our biggest block is not skills and knowledge, but what we find inside ourselves with all our human mixture of fear, pride and ego.
This got me thinking about the four stages of skill development, which are: 1 – unconscious incompetence, 2 – conscious incompetence, 3 – conscious competence and 4 – unconscious competence. Unconscious incompetence is when you don’t know what you don’t know.
It is in this ‘beginner’s mind’ that we are often the most joyful and happy, not yet being aware of the rules and the ‘right’ way to do things. In an art class I was taking, I interpreted several famous paintings. Shown is my rendition of Van Gogh’s Starry Night. I had fun painting it and I enjoy the mystical quality about it.
There is no real reason to move from unconscious incompetence in the creative arts, either in your own creative endeavors or in purchasing art work for your home. Many famous folk artists fall into this category. Nova Scotian painter Maud Lewis sold her paintings for under $10 when she was living and I recently saw one original being auctioned with the estimated selling price of $3,500 – $4,500. I do not know why certain pieces of art or artists becomes so valuable, but I do enjoy Maud Lewis’ art. They have a good energy about them.
It may be that we feel pressure, both from ourselves and from others around us, to move too quickly out of beginner’s mind. It is almost as if as soon as we show some interest and promise in an area we feel compelled to become as good as we can and sometimes in this pursuit, the pleasure is diminished because, taking it seriously, we become critical. On ‘hitting the wall’, in beginner’s mind you may be perfectly happy, but then critical feedback from others can lead to fears arising; leading to self doubt and loss of confidence.
It may also be that it is the other people’s own fears and self doubts that lead them to be critical in the first place. The wall can stop you in your tracks (you give up — pronounce yourself a failure and never try again), or it can represent an opportunity to move to the next stage where you begin to learn and develop. Another possibility is that you can break the wall down and continue doing what you were doing, enjoying the blissful beginner’s mind. How great it would be if we could take up painting, drawing, dance or singing and be joyful in doing an activity just for the pleasure of doing it without expectations!