Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Getting Out Of Your Comfort Zone

At a show I recently participated in, an artist friend of mine discussed with me how she was venturing into uncharted waters and beginning to work with oils. The medium was a mystery to her as she'd spent the last couple of decades working with acrylics. In her case, her reasons for abandoning her comfort zone were very familiar to me; wanting to grow as an artist, needing to feel inspired by her medium...again, needing to be reinvigorated by the excitement that comes from the process of learning. I'm sure there were also other reasons, but we didn't get too much into those. She was passionate in the way she spoke about her new direction and her passion inspired me to think about what it means to muster the courage to try new things.

It's very easy to say (and somewhat of a cliché) that we as artists — well actually, we as human beings — should whenever possible, make an effort to leave our comfort zones. But the reality is that it can be very difficult, both emotionally and practically, to deviate from what we know and experience what we don't know. We often find excuses as to why we can't or shouldn't attempt to do, or experience, something new. These excuses are often nothing more than our fear talking. Fear of failure, fear of unintended consequences, fear of judgment — you name it and fear will make an excuse for it. But if we could step back and look at those who have overcome fear, we'd find how often success favors the bold.

Unfortunately, there are also other forces at work we artists must face that can hinder our desire to break new ground — namely art buyers. Just as we may be afraid of trying something new, so are art buyers. Those that are comfortable with you as an artist, may not be so if you decide to move in a different direction. They will only let you get away with so much "artistic exploration" before writing you off as an artist who hasn't yet decided who they are artistically. This financial pressure can be as debilitating as fear and it's understandable why there are many artists that seem to stagnate in their work.

But there really should be no excuse. Evolving as an artist (and a person) through new experiences is not about short-term rewards, but rather, long-term growth and betterment.

Looking at those that had the courage to accept financial risk and overcome a myriad of fears in their pursuit of artistic fulfillment, you will immediately discover a long list of artists that not only produced better work, but saw more financial success as well. A very long list.

If you feel bored with your medium, or if your work no longer excites you every time you start your day, then maybe it's time to delve into the unknown. Maybe it's time to try something new. No fear. No expectations other than to learn and grow. Remember, success favors the bold so stop making excuses and try something new...anything new.


  1. Your observations are always so dead on! I read your words and think to myself ... 'yeah, right, he's got it'!

    Even when staying within the bounds of my chosen medium of graphite, I find shifting the direction of major subject matter can give me the same 'shake up' as you talk about, the same means of growing as an artist, the same way of challenging myself.

    Like the first time I attempted to do water ... yikes!

    Like the first time I attmepted to do the human figure ... yikes!

    And so on ...

    It sure does a body good, to put a challenge up every once in a bit ... keeps things, as you say, fresh and new and inspirational.

    Great post, Dustin!

  2. Am blessed by your artist insights and am comforted to know that my feelings are shared by other artists...not only you, but the artists who leave comments. Keep painting and posting!