Artist Masterclass: Crises

Sara Bloem Sketchbook Pages

Artist Masterclass is a series of conversations between myself and visual artist Sara Bloem

CL:  A lot has been going on.  For starters, I’m thinking about scrapping my figure drawings altogether and doing something new. I would use the same reference photos with the same figures, but I’m thinking about completely reconfiguring everything.  I’m a little freaked about it, it’s not the best timing since I have a solo exhibition coming up in one year.  Now is really not the time to be making dramatic decisions about my work!  How has your work progressed this week?

SB:  I feel bummed about it, honestly.

CL: That makes the two of us being bummed about our work.

SB:  I don’t think I put enough time in, and I’m not totally crazy about what I did. Well, I guess it’s a phase that comes to us all in time.

CL: You are just getting started, you probably just need to build up some momentum.

SB: I need to, but I just barely got the ball rolling this week. I would sit down, do one plan or one tiny sketch, and then feel like I didn’t like it.  It was just so pathetic.

CL:  I know what you mean, I was in the studio the other night, and I looked around and realized that I hated all of the work I’ve been doing for the past 4 months.

SB:  I know the feeling! I mean, I don’t presume this is exactly what you felt by any means, but sometimes I just have this existential crisis. And I ask myself, “Do I even like any of the work I’m doing right now?”

CL: I think I’m having an existential crisis right now too.

SB: For the record, there’s so much I like about the figure drawings as they are now. But you feel how you feel.

CL: Yes, and the sign to me that something needs to change is I can’t imagine working on these figure drawings over a long period of time.  Maybe I’m getting overwhelmed by the scale of the drawings.  That sounds really lame.

SB: Not at all. Well, I’m thinking about it now, and I think in a way, these figure drawings are busier than your previous two series.  Wading was very pared-down and minimalist in a lot of senses, and then Falling was all about the face and neck.  The portraits in Falling had more opportunity for detail in some ways, but it was focused around one thing. Bodies have so many elements, like ten times the elements of the previous two.

Sara Bloem Sketchbook Pages

CL: Maybe I need to take it to an extreme, make it even more complex, go the Hieronymous Bosch route? I’m thinking Rodin’s Gates of Hell.

SB:  That would be very interesting coming from you. Do you enjoy making these “busier” pieces? More than making something more pared-down like before?

CL:  I think I do because they’re a greater compositional challenge.  I didn’t think much about composition when it came to the portraits,  and I absolutely love a great composition.  You’ve got me thinking!  What would a Bosch-like composition look like coming from me?

SB:  I think that would be amazing.  I feel if that were your inspiration, you could go amazing places with it.

CL:  So let’s get to the heart of your crisis. Are you just not enjoying the process of making the work, or are you dissatisfied with the results?

SB:  There have been times this week when I started getting really into it and enjoying it, but then I felt too tired and stopped. So it’s not that I don’t feel the satisfaction – I do. I’m not crazy about the results either but I know I just need to work through it. There are aspects I like.I think I feel trapped inside my own persona in a way. I feel like, “Oh, black and white charcoal drawings of figures being mysterious. Typical Sara.”  I criticize myself for being so cliche, and I question if my choices are right because they just feel so predictable.

CL:  I catch myself doing classic “Clara” things with my work too.  You know…. angsty screaming naked people. Do you have to do charcoal drawings though?

SB: No, but I do sincerely love charcoal.   It doesn’t leave a lot of options for color, though, which I’ve considered.  I guess I haven’t thoroughly considered it, because I just assumed I’d be using charcoal.   I don’t feel this is a major setback at all.  It just doesn’t feel great.

CL: So the question is, do we just ride out these crises?

SB: I think yes. For me, I think I need to encourage myself to play around with this project more frequently during the day and also earlier, when I’m not so tired. I was thinking about this today, about how imbalanced it is when I’m guaranteed to think about my job 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, but the amount of time I spend with my work isn’t so regular and predictable. I think we both have high expectations for ourselves. Extremely high.

CL: That does make it hard to live with ourselves most of the time.

SB: Yeah, you have this running dialogue in your head.

CL: I think it’s fine as long as it’s not debilitating.  I did have a former student a ways back who gave herself such a difficult time that she was just paralyzed and couldn’t make any work after school. She was so worried that she wouldn’t be able to make something that would be “good enough” for her.  She was her own worst enemy in that respect.

SB: You definitely can’t let your anxieties stop you from doing something. I often think about what you said way back in freshman year, about how 90-95% of work is never shown, because it’s awful, but the good work is winnowed out from that huge mixed heap of mostly crap. So every time I make something awful I’m happy, because I know I’m 1% closer to making something good.

Related Articles:
Conversation #5: Results
Conversation #4: Taking Direction

Conversation #3: Preparations
Conversation #2: Logistics
Conversation #1: Solidity
Introductory Interview

2 thoughts on “Artist Masterclass: Crises

  1. Have either of you read “The War of Art” ?…… Very important, his blog is mostly about writing but deals with many of our working issues, being overwhelmed, deflated, overly critical, stagnated. He describes many of these feelings as part of the process of developing ideas….big ideas. The solution is more and more work it seems.

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