Compromise

Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself. Kahil Gibran

Käthe Kollwitz, “Zertretene”, graphite on paper

Käthe Kollwitz, “Zertretene”, graphite on paper

When we are in the planning stage of any creative venture, whether it's a painting, or a novel, a business enterprise, or even becoming a parent--all is potential.

Paul Cezanne, “Still Life with Blue Pot”, watercolor (first stage)

Paul Cezanne, “Still Life with Blue Pot”, watercolor (first stage)

Our imagination soars as we picture the possibilities. This painting I'm beginning will rival a Vermeer!  My start up will be as successful as Apple! My daughter, now just a twinkle in my husband's eye, will be the smartest child that ever was!

Paul Cezanne, “Still Life with Blue Pot” (detail), watercolor

Paul Cezanne, “Still Life with Blue Pot” (detail), watercolor

These daydreams are where many leave their creative longings. Those who do take the leap, who pick up brush or pen, who write the business plan, or who go ahead and have that baby, quickly discover the truth: The reality of creative work is always a compromise with imagination.

Klaus Fussman, “Figures and Mirrors”, oil on canvas

Klaus Fussman, “Figures and Mirrors”, oil on canvas

It's easy to believe that in some parallel Platonic universe, a perfect version of this work that I have in mind, that I'm just beginning, exists.

Piero Della Francesca, “Legend of the True Cross” (detail), fresco

Piero Della Francesca, “Legend of the True Cross” (detail), fresco

But that's not true.

The only painting that's going to come into the world is the one I'm doing right here, right now, in all its pigment and canvas reality, with all its warts and flaws,

As soon as I make a mark on that canvas, I'm leaving behind the ideal painting I saw in my mind's eye and confronting my limitations. Whatever picture I had conjured up in my imagination evaporates as I do the work of drawing and putting down colors. This actual painting I'm struggling with looks very different, and nowhere near as good, as that effortless, excellent, virtual one I envisioned.

Hilma af Klint,  Group IV, The Ten Largest, No. 2, Childhood  , oil on canvas

Hilma af Klint, Group IV, The Ten Largest, No. 2, Childhood , oil on canvas

When I come to this point of reckoning in my studio, I have two choices: I can either compromise with my fantasy, and accept this actual painting on my easel--or I can see this painting I’m staring at as a failure, because it's not what I thought it was going to be.  

If I go the "failure" route, I'll come to a dead end before I even begin.

Susan Abbott, “Peonies by a Window” (in process), oil on linen

Susan Abbott, “Peonies by a Window” (in process), oil on linen

But If I can compromise and let my fantasy go, trusting the reality of my abilities and my vision, I can keep going. And now my painting has the breathing space to grow, and find its own way.

Susan Abbott, “Nate Sleeping”, oil on paper

Susan Abbott, “Nate Sleeping”, oil on paper

When Kahil Gibran talks about the need to allow our children to be themselves, he could also be talking about our art. Parenthood can teach us the sometimes difficult lesson that, no matter our dreams for them, our children have the right to follow their own path, to be themselves, separate and apart from us.

In the same way, our art forces us to compromise with dreams of perfection, and to accept and celebrate that these imperfect works we create have, in this world, a life of their own.

Karin Jurick, “Morning Joe”, oil on panel

Karin Jurick, “Morning Joe”, oil on panel