I reflect on this fact every single day. It keeps me grounded and it helps me to put myself in the shoes of every artist that comes to me with a lack of self-confidence, worry and confusion. We all started from the same place. Every artist was first an amateur.
When I was starting out as a struggling figurative painter things were so inconvenient. You had to get slides made for any submissions. If that wasn't inconvenient I would print out entire pages of sticky paper with titles of paintings, my name with a copyright symbol and any other silly request a competition, a gallery or a slide registry would ask for you to do. We had the mail and the phone as our means of communication and sending your work only worked for one of them. Today, you point, click and send to have your art reach the entire world. Now I keep my portfolio with me in my pocket at all times. What is this amazing tool? You guessed it, the iPhone.
Rejection sucks. There's no two ways about it. It really makes you wonder why it happens when you work so hard, many times putting so much on the line. The reason rejection happens is that you had the courage to TRY. The most successful people in the world fail way more times than those of us who never try. Those that never DO anything never have to deal with the angst and the depression that rejection makes you feel. Why do you think people that aim low look so damned happy? They never have to lose if they never try!
Courage has been skewed to mean a lot of things but I think it's an appropriate term for an artist's life. It takes balls to do something you love - to set it out on the easel of life and to pin your heart to it with the hopes that someone isn't going to annihilate what you've created and stab your heart in the process. I've had horrible things said about me, my work, and my lifestyle from people who have no idea who I am or what I'm capable of. The hardest and most courageous thing you can possibly do is get back up when life knocks you down. Maybe I'm a product of the 70s and early 80s but Rocky Balboa is a metaphor for life. It isn't the person that hits the hardest, it's the one that refuses to stay down. REFUSE to stay down. You are greater than you can possibly imagine. I watched a film a few weeks back on how they select soldiers for the S.A.S. For weeks they make these men do unbearable work with their bodies, they don't let them sleep, they don't let them eat. The class started with over 140 and within weeks they went down to 26 men left. One young gentleman said that at the point you are about to give up that is your brain telling you that you are only using 30% of what you have. Ponder that. It's true. In my experience I've seen what getting back up does and it does this every time. First, it makes you stronger. The same rejection next time gets easier to digest and takes less time to get over. Second, it makes you work harder, more efficient and better. I am creating work today that I had no ideas was possible. Why? Because someone told me I wasn't good enough. Prove them wrong - get up and work harder. You have more in you.
Third, you learn patience and appreciate the wins you get more than you would have before. I am not the person I was just 5 years ago. I've taken some pretty hard hits and it has made me a better person. I love things in my life deeper, I care about the important things and I have a better outlook on life because I refused to give up. The alternate course could have taken me to depression, alcohol abuse, drug abuse, suicide etc. I am far too strong to give my life up for anything or anyone and so are you. Fight and never stop fighting. Your dreams are worth the struggle. At the end of the day you'll have respect and that is something no one can take away from you.
The key principle to keep in mind is that it is your responsibility to succeed. In the grand scheme of history it is YOU who will be remembered, not the people that rejected you. In any art historical period, can you name all the people that rejected Michelangelo or Caravaggio or Bernini? No, of course not. People that reject artists are rarely remembered for anything other than the pseudo-important job they have today. Persevere. Keep going. Be remembered for the great things you do. It is entirely your choice to succeed.
What is it I love about painting figurative art?
I am often asked for a little bit of insight into my process. The way in which I create quality and refined representational art has changed over the years as I’ve honed my process but my goals have not. When I sit down to paint my desire to create something dramatic goes beyond just modeling what I see in front of me. If I only cared to paint academic realism painting would be an easy process. I would just set up a model and paint. The realism art style, to me, is more than just representing what I see. It's more than an unemotional response to a subject. Realism is more than just skin deep. There is a soul, a personality, something deeper I wish to discover as an artist. From the time I was an art student I had to laugh how detached some artists were to “the model.” To them they may have well been painting a vase or a chair. A person was "a figure" much like any wooden mannequin you'd see at your local art store. This narrow-minded attitude is spread around so much of the figurative art world. The question is, when did we become so disconnected with our subject? Is this an artist problem or a problem with society as a whole?What ever happened to empathy towards our fellow man? When I work I want my model to tap into the spirit of the character. I want that person to tell me how they feel with an expression or a longing that I have to find in them. It's a paint-staking process to me, painting figurative art, but one with a lifetime of rewards. Maybe I love my characters too much to call their painting "Untitled," like many artists do. Maybe I'm an old fool that still thinks that beauty, especially inner beauty is worth painting.
The purpose of my rant is, do what you love and have a damned good reason for what you do, no matter how stubborn it may seem. There are endless approaches to subject matter. The figure, or more importantly the soul inside it, is mine.
Below are some of the stages of one of my recent paintings, "Circe," that I did in 2015.
See more of my paintings here at ericarmusik.com
Sometimes you need to wait for the perfect time to act, other times you need to seize the moment and take action, with the hope that you can fine-tune your focus along the way. This has been the case with what I am now calling "The Underrated Artist."
In many ways this blog is a lot like my artistic development. Without the knowledge of the art business, galleries, how to sell, or even the internet to promote myself when I was just starting out, my art career was a shot in the dark. I knew what I wanted but I had no idea how to do it successfully. All I had was the passion in my soul and the desire to be something great. When I left college in the mid 90s I thought success was inevitable! All I had to do was send my paintings to an art competition or an art gallery and I was going to hit it big. What followed were years of rejection. I could fill a room with all the portfolios I sent art galleries that rejected my paintings. There were so many times I started to believe that I was a failure and that all the naysayers in my life were right - I should just be normal and give up on my dreams (like they did). There were days I was so pissed I could have lit my studio on fire. If I didn't marry the most amazing woman in the entire world my story would've had a terribly bad ending. Rebekah has been my rock and the only one who stood there with me from the beginning and told me to paint from my heart. I'm the artist I am today because of her and she will never let me be anything less.
So why The Underrated Artist, you ask? For years I've lived in the shadow of those words. I used to want to scream, "When the hell is someone going to give me a chance!!" Just this week someone shared my work to a large audience on social media saying, "check out the incredible work from this underrated painter." One would think after all the accomplishments I've had I'd somehow shake the term. For some reason there's never been a seat at the table for me amongst the elite of representational art. I'm ok with that now because I've had just as much success and more importantly - sales. After 22 years of hard work and building my brand as an artist I can proudly say that over 95% of the paintings I've sold over the years have been without an art gallery or an art dealer. Add that up and add on the 50% I didn't share with a gallery owner. The value I built for my work and what I am paid for it is because of MY hard work. Today, I'm known for what I paint (especially the things I was told not to paint by people I respected in this profession). Underrated that.
More importantly, this blog is for YOU - the underrated artist - the one that wakes up everyday and works their ass off to get to that place they want to be in the art world. This blog is for every artist that just got their tenth rejection this year from an art competition, the artist that doesn't even have enough money to buy art materials because it's either paint or eat. This blog is for every artist that had to haggle with someone that does not want to pay them fairly for what they do. This blog is for the struggling artist that has no idea where to start when every artist they've asked for help doesn't return their correspondence. I've been there and I've felt your pain.
This blog is for you to realize that as an underrated artist you have so much more to give than you possibly know. Your job is to weather the storm and focus on your goals. You will have failure if you decide to do anything great - it is inevitable. Your job is to ignore the failure. Focus on the goal. Greatness comes from picking yourself up when you think the world is on top of you. Wear the title of underrated artist as a badge of honor just the way I do and stay hungry as an artist. The more hungry we are the harder we work and greater are the things we create.
Now you may disagree with some of the things I have to say. You may laugh or cry or want to chop my head off for saying what needs to be said. I respect you and your opinions. What I can promise you is that I will never lie to you, ever. I care deeply for all of you and your struggles because no one cared for me when I went through my own. I invite you to continue to follow these posts, to get inspired, and to drown out anything in your life that is keeping you from what you love to do. I'll be here with you for the ride.
Welcome fellow underrated artists to the Underrated Artist blog.
I don't care who you are or where you are in life, you're either growing or you're dying. You see it all the time with people around you. Some people embrace life with all its challenges while others peak at some early point in their lives and begin their decline. Why is it some of the people who live to age 100 act so young while people in their late 30s are talking about "getting old?" It all comes down to one state of mind - being comfortable.
Now I could bitch here all day about all the people I've come across that haven't lived up to their potential but this is an art blog and my discussion is about classical realism, representational artists and art techniques. But aside from all the formal academia, the core of every great artist is their unattainable goal of earthly perfection. The sad truth is that the world is filled with a majority of people that shoot for "good enough." The art profession is no different. Our profession is littered with so many artists that had so much more in them but settled for mediocrity. You can love what you do, and you should, but don't ever become a mindless machine churning out artwork without a second thought because you think you're some kind of genius. At the point you start believing that, you are no longer progressing, and therefore, dying.
Keep yourself uneasy with what you're doing. Question your process, try a new color or a pose. Research artwork from a famous representational painter you found online. Do anything you can to grow. Becoming a one of the great representational artists isn't about the destination, it is about the journey. Some of your greatest art will come from great struggle (not saying you have to stay up all crazy hours of the night for months like I have in the past). I have a BFA degree and I had the honor of studying in Italy for a semester in college. Those experiences changed my life but they are nothing compared to what I learned on my own for the past 22 years. Each new painting is a lesson for my previous work on what I could do better. That feeling is something that drives me to work harder, to build more confidence and to do greater things. Let that same feeling push you.
The great Winston Churchill once said, "If you're doing through hell, keep going."
He was absolutely right. His speech may have had much greater consequences when it was written but it should inspire us nonetheless. Your art is a gift. Let your talent push you through those barriers in your artistic life, your personal struggles, your doubt, your pain, you're own personal hell. What lies on the other side is greatness.
So whether you've just picked up a brush or you've been painting for five years and you are looking for answers, do not despair. Representational artists spend entire lifetimes working towards some level of "earthly perfection." Every failure that you rise up from puts you one step closer to that greatness you desire. My question to you is - do you feel comfortable or are you unhappy? Only one way will get you everything you ever dreamed of.