Growing pains / inappropriate comparisons

These days sometimes I feel like a real nothing, the rankest of amateurs, a child among grown-ups (or maybe a teenager in the most repellent stages of teenageness — since people tend to like children). I look at my writing and I think it’s miserable, meaningless, and anyway I’m not generating enough of it. I look at the marks I make on paper — I don’t even feel like I can call them paintings or sketches — and they seem so crude and babyish I just want to throw my head back and howl… or bury my face and not come out again until I’ve thought of something else to do with myself.

I’m not depressed, I’m not really being self-critical. Yes you are, I hear you say, but no: I’ve done that, and this doesn’t feel like that; it comes from a different place, a more dispassionate place. It’s simply that I’m struck all afresh with that giant gap between what I want to do and what I’m actually capable of achieving in this moment. I know why: it’s because I’ve been absorbing so much new art lately, from Man with a Blue Scarf to Pina to Carla’s vibrant paintings and art books; my eyes are making huge leaps beyond the small skill my hands can muster. (Remember that Ira Glass quote?)

Awhile back I was reading an intelligent book — I can’t remember which one right now but I think it may have been Women Don’t Ask — and it had this brilliant piece of advice: don’t make inappropriate comparisons. I am 30 and an untrained artist; I’ve only been painting for a little more than a year. Anyway since we are all unique, with unique experiences, in some sense all comparisons are inappropriate. But I always forget this when I discover some new artist whose work awes me into hating my own.

Always, always, always, there is only one solution, and that is DO THE WORK. Must remember. Do the work. “Action is the antidote to despair.” (Joan Baez)

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