I grew up in a family of prolific and talented artists—the best known of whom is my father, Oleg Stavrowsky. He’s world famous for his western artwork (look him up on Google Images—he’s an insanely brilliant painter). This landscape of talent had its obvious benefits, but it had its disadvantages too.
My father is part of the Greatest Generation. These people didn’t half-ass anything. They worked hard for everything they had and they did whatever it took to accomplish whatever needed to get done. They had no time for or interest in anything less than excellence. This was an amazing example with which to be raised. And, it sometimes left me feeling inadequate by comparison. (Please, don’t fret for me… no boo-hoos here. I’m not complaining—I’m merely stating my experience).
This drive for excellence in my parents was applied intensely to art. Mercilessly, in fact. Because all art that my family saw was torn apart and critically evaluated, it felt to me as though art had to be VERY GOOD in order to have the right to exist… and that artists had to be amazing and preternaturally talented in order to have the right to make art. And believe me—in the eyes of my hypercritical tribe, most art fell short.
I tried to paint a couple of paintings in my early 20s. My dad was less than impressed. (*smile). I didn’t have the experience or the confidence or the strength of character back then to decide that I could paint in spite of his disapproval of my skills. I didn’t know that, even though my first efforts weren’t good, I had the right to paint anyway. I didn’t know that, even if in fact I might never, ever be good, I had the right to make art. Just to make art. Just because I wanted to. Just because it gave me joy.
So I quit. I stopped after two paintings. No fine art in my future, thanks.
Fast-forward 30 years later. I’m 50 now. This, too, has its benefits.
I’m not so worried anymore about looking bad. I’m not so afraid to be judged as inadequate, or to frankly suck at things I try. I don’t have nearly the same level of concern about whether other people find me (or my interests) acceptable. Rip into me if you must. I’m going to fade it pretty well. And, I’m going to make art. I don’t need my family to approve of my artwork anymore. I don’t need anyone to approve of it in order to feel as though I have a right to make it. I make it because I want to—because it seems to want to be made.
I’m not some enlightened sage who lives in an emotional vacuum and doesn’t need the affection of approval of any other human being. I still enjoy it immensely when something I’ve painted moves some other person. It’s pure joy for me. But, I no longer subscribe to the idea that anyone who wants to create should edit themselves in any way just because other people might not like their expression. Who cares? Do it! Make the art! Create! Have fun! The absolute worst thing that could happen is that what you create might not live up to some set of academic standards. Again, who cares? If you’re trying to improve your skill set, then criticism is highly useful. But please, don’t stop just because you’re not a master. Make the mistakes. Make the bad art. Make a mess. It’s fun, and painful, and frustrating, and exhilarating—and worth it, I promise.
As a final note, an interesting thing happened when I finally started to paint fine art at 50. My father saw my very first few attempts and he said, “You’re really talented. Why did wait so long to start painting? You could’ve been doing this all these years.”
Good question indeed.