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On Art and Self Doubt: The Goodness of Complication

Abstract painting of pink poppies with orange, yellow, white background.

Chapter Two is about making meaning, but also about arriving at and choosing among ideas.

Maisel offers several ways of coming at ideas, all of them thought provoking, interesting—and generative. While reading through these, I was so overcome with generative thoughts I had to stop reading with idea creation in mind, just try to turn it off, read for comprehension instead. Eventually I just had to put the book down.

It reminded me of my last days in the writing program at SF State, eleven years ago. How, when working on the larger assignments that come at the end of a writing program, ideas came at me thick and fast. I’d madly lacquer them into my stories and try to explain them to my teachers, who always tried to pull me away from the brink and simplify.

Eventually, I came to fully accept my over-complication as a weakness. But I’m thinking about it now, and it’s a funny thing, but I think over-complication is more complicated than that, than a simple weakness that should be weeded out.

Art is complicated. Therefore, the tendency to complicate works, to be inspired by something you see within the work itself, and then to purposely layer in more of that meaning, is an artistic tendency. It doesn’t need to be stripped out, controlled, denied, or negated. It only needs to be navigated, to be used in an appropriate way.

This book encourages readers to ask difficult questions and explore complicated answers. Questions like: Why do so many of us feel so alone when we live in a profusion of humanity? Why is it that we let our pain get in the way of our showing love?

Answers to these types of questions are fifteen-year conversations with our therapists. It cannot get any more complicated than that. And oddly enough, that’s what I’ve done. I had a fifteen-year conversation with my therapist. It was a conversation that saved my sanity and my life, and also gave me the patience and the skills to navigate—to enjoy—complexity.

I’ve been forthright on my blog about why I don’t consider myself an artist, and also how I would like to—oh, again, that same word—navigate my way to a level of skill and accomplishment where I can feel comfortable calling myself that. I’ve been reading this book slowly and closely; I had initial doubts about it, but the more I read, the more I believe this book can guide me closer to where I want to go.

For a full list of all articles on art and self doubt, look here.

Image Credits:
Painting, Patchwork Poppies, by my college roommate, Brenda Higginson. Brenda, your work has always stunned and moved me. I’m privileged to own two of your paintings. They make me very happy.
Photograph: Of Patchwork Poppies and granny squares, by curvylou.