Art School Lessons – How To Navigate The Dip

The art college foundation course I attended was run by a crazy & wonderful sculptor called Keith.

Keith had the looks and scariness factor of an old tattooed biker. He didn’t give two hoots for authority or “the rules” and did things his way.

On our first day (all wet behind the ears, nervous 17 and 18 year olds) he announced that for the first month of our course we would do absolutely nothing but life drawing. Cold fear struck our hearts. None of us could draw very well, having only just barely negotiated A level art.

For the next month we continuously drew models clothed, unclothed, walking, running, dancing to The Firebird and on one memorable occasion, suspended naked from the ceiling by clingfilm whilst some discombobulated and blushing men with clipboards from the local council attempted to measure the wall.

There were frustrations, dramas and tears but by the end of the month everyone had got a great grasp of drawing.

What Keith had done, with his rough hewn wisdom, was forced us all kicking and screaming through “The Dip”

Navigating The Dip

Learning a new form of art or a new technique starts out as exciting  fun. Then it gets harder and more serious until it hits a low point where it is no fun at all and you wonder if you will ever master it or manage to make it work. It’s frustrating and depressing. You cant see yourself ever getting better at it.

This is what Seth Godin calls The Dip.

Recognising you are in The Dip is half the battle.

Godin says that there are only three ways to deal with The Dip.

  • Get stuck in it
  • Quit it
  • Cross it

Harsh but true…

Masters of their craft struggled across to the other side

How do the people who are masters of their art get to be there? Did they wake up one morning with the knowledge of how to sculpt a perfect body in marble or paint a stunning portait in oils?

No, they struggled through the mental and spiritual wilderness that is The Dip, always keeping the goal in the forefront of their focus. The Dip is there to weed out the uncommitted. When you cross to the other side you are joining the masters of their craft who REALLY wanted to master it.

The Dip is powerful. The bigger the barrier the greater the reward for crossing it.

And maybe sometimes, quitting is the right option. If you realise something really isn’t for you then maybe it is time to stop struggling and find something you do REALLY want to commit to. The Dip can make you realise where you truly want to focus your energy.

Your Navigational Map

There are some tools that will be useful as you struggle across your own personal Dip

  • Understand your strengths and weaknesses. If one way over just doesn’t work for you, take a step back and see if there is another way you can achieve it more suited to your ways of working.
  • Cross with friends. It may be easier to cross in a team if you can find alllies who are attempting to learn the same thing and who can help you when you fall. Joining a group or class to learn may really help.
  • Study failure. Look at the people who didnt make it. Why did they fail? Study what stopped them and then you can attempt to avoid making the same mistakes.
  • Just RECOGNISE that The Dip is there and focus on getting through it. It’s not forever and you will emerge on the far side with your newly fought for skills.

So, next time you are expanding your creative repertoire, recognise The Dip and use these strategies to help yourself across it.

I’m truly grateful that Keith & my old art school helped me to recognise that The Dip was there to struggle across and the bold would make it to the far side….

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