Reach until it hurts.

A really good teacher knows if their student is ready to be pushed harder, or perhaps gently guided and encouraged.  Teachers who have that insight are worth their weight in … a nice Cadmium pigment!  (you thought I was going to say gold didn’t you?)

There are few things more wasteful to me than spending time in a class, and not feeling challenged to “reach until it hurts”.

On the other hand… sometimes “reaching”, in regard to our art, hurts more than we’re willing to risk.

It hurts because who we are, our very self-worth, is so tightly bound to what we do as artists.  Reaching beyond our comfort zone with our work is to risk losing ground at a very deep and personal level that can shake us right down to the core, and set loose the “imposter”… you know her… the voice inside who tells you you’ve been faking this “talent” thing, and the gig is up.  Everyone’s going to find out your secret now: that you’re a one-trick pony and will never move beyond your current level of work.  In the book Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Art Making, by David Bayles and Ted Orland, the authors write, “What separates artists from ex-artists is that those who challenge their fears continue; those who don’t, quit.”

susan daly voss oil painting

detail: Carriage House

So in order to move forward with our work, we have to challenge ourselves.  Sometimes we can set our own course for that, but in my experience, finding the right mentor is the key.  A teacher who can see past my fear and self-doubt, waving them away like a pesky bug, and see… perhaps intuit, my potential far better than I’m able to.

Such teachers are a gift.

They know when to, and exactly how hard to push, and when the student has no faith, the teacher lends them some of their own.  I recently had such an experience, and will write about it in an upcoming post.