Embracing The Struggle In Art

Embracing Struggle In Art | If you want to create expressive, wondrously alive paintings yet find yourself struggling with trying to replicate your best work, then this post is for you. Read about the paradox of painting and how integrating the left and right brain, the art and science, into your art is compelling. Learn the one big tip on how to do this. Click through to check it out.
Painting is riddled with paradox. Embracing the struggle in art is a form of letting go

Embracing The Struggle In Art

An artist was experimenting in her studio with mark making when a surprising image emerged unbidden.

It was unlike anything she’d created before and she loved it.

The painting had arisen effortlessly and she felt euphoric. She couldn’t wait to create more paintings like this one.

And that was when the struggle began.

It’s not uncommon to create raw, immediate and astonishing work when you finally let go of trying to make something happen.

When you “get out of the way”, when you’re not trying so hard to make something happen- this is when something magical emerges in your art.

The problem is that it’s hard for us to stay in this place of deep exploration and experimentation.

Our strategic mind comes roaring back and wants control. It wants to create paintings that are successful: pieces that sell, that others value, that end up on gallery or collector’s walls.

And so we try to replicate the paintings that astonish us.

But in our efforts we lose the magic. Activating “the thinker”, we end up rendering a painting that feels overwrought, indecisive and self conscious.

It’s a conundrum and can stop an artist in her tracks. Some artists get stalled out at this juncture.

The Struggle

Even as wondrous paintings can emerge without trying, I think some of our most compelling and astonishing work comes out of experiences of struggle.

In some paintings, we wrestle down the dark angels of self doubt.

Sometimes, too, we can’t see the value of our new creation.

Of course, not every creation is something we’ll love. Not every painting will “work” for us. Yet, every painting, every exploratory work is important.

One of the biggest lessons for all artists is the lesson of “allowing”. We’ve got to allow for the works that feel “ugly”, the ones we don’t like.

Even the works we abandon are works that inform us.

We’re not going to hang every painting on our wall, yet every exploratory painting we create contributes to our ability to deeply experiment and take risks.

Experimentation is where the magic is.

We simply must learn to not only tolerate these orphaned-off paintings, but ultimately to embrace them. These exploratory works come bearing gifts. They’re a necessary part of our journey of creating our deepest art.

The Paradox

Painting is riddled with paradox. It’s both an art and a science.

There’s a paradoxical nature to creating just as there is to living.

We want both playfulness and thoughtfulness.

We want intuition and reason.

We want to explore, experiment and let go into stream of consciousness intuitive expression and yet create art that has underlying structure, visual contrast and a compelling division of space.

The danger is that we may get stuck in the polarities of:

  • slap dash, chaotic paintings with no underlying structure


  • formulaic, predictable paintings that leave us yawning

What if you simultaneously embraced the struggle and also let go?

What would happen in your experience of creating art?

The challenge is to integrate the playful, intuitive, experimental side of ourselves with the part of ourselves that is aware of structure, value and composition.

And how do we do this?

This is where the concept of “miles of canvas” and “many starts” comes in.

It’s in the process of painting that we learn. Just as in writing, where writing 1000 words a day makes a big difference over time, going into your studio and painting as often as possible will get you to the place of integrating the left and right sides of your brain, the art and science of painting.

To simplify things as much as possible I’ll leave you with one tip:

Work in a series. Create many painting “starts” and develop them further.

Over the next few weeks we’ll go deeper into why working in a series is important. We’ll also explore “letting go” and many other topics.

If you enjoyed this, please comment below. I’d love to hear from you.

Much love,


P.S. I have a FREE Video course. Register HERE for it.

Originally published at Nancy Hillis.