Artonomy reader Paul Stratton shares his artistic journey and some of the hard life lessons he has learned along the way…
Or – How the wrong friends can be so bad for you!
I’d always liked art and enjoyed creating it. When I was at school I was confident enough to think that I would get a good grade and was told that I would. I figured I’d move on to Art College and hopefully a career. Even though we’d had four different teachers in four years, when the last one ran through the list of things we should have done (and hadn’t) I was still expecting good things. At that point I was young and surrounded by people giving me words of encouragement and support. I thought I could pretty much do what I wanted and that meant making a career from art. I was very positive and looking forward to the future.
The horrible surprise…
So it came as a great and horrible surprise that I didn’t pass. I went into a kind of shock and just stopped doing art. My confidence was gone. Someone, somewhere, who carried a great deal of weight, had decided they didn’t agree with everyone else. I never knew why or where I’d gone wrong. I may have had the support but I didn’t have the experience and because other areas of my life weren’t so good I felt that my one chance had gone. I stopped listening to the sage advice from people telling me it was just a hic-up, that I could get back on my feet and try again and all the other supportive stuff they were saying. It seemed very black and white to my inexperienced eyes.
Roll on twenty years or so and I happened upon an architects shop in France. It showed some of his stuff and it was amazing. And I realised the interest was still there and so was the desire. But my situation was different and those supportive people I’d been surrounded with had moved on or moved away. The people I was with at the time were not the same and there was one friend in particular who taught me just how bad it can be if you are surrounded by the wrong kind of people. In fact he taught me so many lessons at once I wonder sometimes if things really do happen for a reason.
The Toxic Friend…
It turned out that this chap had tried to sell his art before. When I first saw his work (he’d hung some of his originals on the walls of his flat) I thought he was good but after he told me just how good he really was I thought he was fantastic. I wasn’t sure about some things but, because he was so good, I figured it must be that I wasn’t as good as him. I hadn’t learned enough or got it right. He told me that he had made some prints (a massive amount – 500 I think, A1 or A2 size) and had sold around 3. He went on to say that there was no point even trying because if he hadn’t sold any of his there was no way I was going to sell any of mine. At various points he would tell me how things should be drawn or what everyone expected when they looked at other people’s work. I can’t remember how long I lived under this guy’s shadow thinking there was no hope for someone as inferior as me and I never realised until now how much damage was being done. Not just by him but by me for allowing him to do it. (Then again, I was suffering from Depression very badly by this point)
The Valuable Lesson…
I learned many things from this. Firstly, that if you have absolute confidence that what you do is good, you can convince other people of that too. You can almost sweep them along in your enthusiasm. Even if you have doubts like I did about some his work, you can end up thinking that if someone is so good, those doubts must be misplaced. If this chap’s confidence hadn’t gone further into arrogance who knows where he and his art would be today? I’m not saying that you should convince people that you are good (that’s up to them to decide) but what it shows me is that if you have confidence in yourself you can achieve so much. Art’s subjective. Some will like it and some won’t but if you have confidence in yourself you won’t care about those who don’t. And you won’t give up either.
It also shows me that you have to have patience. You can’t give up at the first obstacle like my friend did or I did and you can’t expect things to always go right for you first time. I don’t think that’s the same as not believing in yourself but more in trusting that things will work out. That you may need to pick yourself up off the floor as few times as you go. That it’s ok to fail and then succeed.
Thirdly, it’s not for other people to tell you if you are going to succeed or not. Not only do they not know the future but they are not you. They failed. It doesn’t mean you will. It does mean they didn’t have the patience or work ethic but not that you don’t.
Lastly, it showed me that when your heads not in a good place or if you are very trusting of people (as artists often are) then their words and thoughts can have a massive effect on you. I believed this guy because he was very confident in himself and his work, I was very unconfident in myself and mine and because he was a friend I trusted his opinion. But he (and the majority of people who I thought were ‘real’ friends at the time) never offered any real encouragement or support. Just told me it wouldn’t work or wasn’t good enough and that became my perception regarding art until about 2 years ago. The thing was I never even realised that until I was shown. So not only is having the wrong people around you going to keep you down and view your future negatively but these thoughts become a pattern that you can end up taking with you without even realising it.
The support and encouragement given to me when I failed to pass my O-level must have sunk in. Without it I would have totally given up as a kid and definitely when my friend tried to tell me I wasn’t good enough. If you are unlucky enough to have been surrounded by people who put you down because it didn’t work for them or who never offer you any kind of support then it can only be bad for you. If you can offer support and encouragement to someone else then it might make a world of difference to them. It is difficult accepting that people you may have known for a long time and regard as friends are actually bad for you. It may take a lot of soul searching and effort to admit that it’s true and if you are like me, there’s a lot of resistance before the penny drops. It is also very difficult to ‘un-believe’ something you’ve been believing in for a long time.
In the end, I let go of the people who were bad for me. While it was very tough at the time it’s actually one of the best things I’ve done. The effects of those templates are still there, such as the perfectionism, but they are so much smaller than they were and getting smaller all the time. I know one day soon they’ll be gone. It takes time to re-program your head and to believe that things that have been so negative can be so positive. And it’s hard to make some decisions even if you know they are the right ones but it’s worth it. Things also come easier to some people than others but if any of the above sounds like stuff you are going through then take heart that things can change and it doesn’t matter if it takes a while because it’s the result that counts. Best of luck!
Paul Stratton is an artist who specialises in Art, Illustration, Scenery and Model Design. You can view his online portfolio here:
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Image courtesy of Tack-O-Rama