Why we don't like change... and how to change that
It is true in art and it is true in life. We humans can be funny things. We get stuck in our ways and become comfortable with them.
Yes, we may not be reaching our potential or may find certain aspects of our situation less than satisfying, but if conditions are fundamentally okay (and sometimes even if they’re not) then we are loathe to change them.
We like that routine, that certainty, the familiar.
We fear what we don’t know, and because change is inherently an unknown quantity we are scared to give up what we have for something unpredictable.
We don’t want to step outside our comfort zone because, well, it’s comfortable.
And perhaps change means going against public opinion, striking out alone – and that risks group disapproval.
Maybe we don’t feel confident enough in ourselves to make changes and we fear failure.
So how do we change all that?
Thriving on the new
There are enough reasons for change to be daunting, and I’ve been grappling with these thoughts in relation to my approach to art – moving from more representational landscape painting to something abstract.
Art is an activity where change is not just desirable, it’s vital. It thrives on the new.
Put simply, we can’t go on producing the same paintings, drawings or sculptures again and again because to do so would drain the work of its vigour, the lifeblood that made it interesting in the first place.
Not only is it important for artists to explore different paths, society in general needs that input.
What was once the “shock of the new” is now accepted and conventional. When this happens it loses its impact.
And yet, it is still difficult to change artistic direction.
We may become known for a certain style of work that is popular. That sells. To give that up may risk losing the audience for that work.
I’ve found shifting artistic gears surprisingly hard. It means learning new skills and a different visual language, rethinking all the moves that have become embedded in my work.
There’s also the general perception to contend with that the measure of an artist’s ability is how well they can create a picture that looks like its subject in real life.
And even if I know that is not the case, there is still that invisible critic standing on the sidelines complaining about daubs of splashed-on paint that a five-year-old could have done.
That said, I’m finding it harder to express myself without the freedom of a less representational style. And that, ultimately, is the point.
Resistance is futile
Star Trek fans will be familiar with the phrase “resistance is futile”, well our need to control events leads us to resist change. And that is futile.
We don’t possess that superpower so we must learn to overcome our fears and form some degree of acceptance. It’s a question of mindset, change is by its nature reinvigorating and, if the alternative is to grow stale, it’s worth gambling on the unknown.
As American psychologist Susan Jeffers advises Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway.
There have been many times that I’ve stood in front of a perfectly “acceptable” painting on my easel and just not loved it. At this point I’ve always taken the risk of reworking it in the hope of finding something new and exciting.
It's not always worked out, but I've never wished I could go back to how it was.
I’m sure he wasn’t talking about art specifically, but Bill Clinton famously put the dilemma this way: “The price of doing the same old thing is far higher than the price of change.”
The art of losing control
From an art point of view, I want to encourage a lack of predictability in my style or, put another way, add more spontaneity.
It’s the unexpected in art that makes it exciting. Never knowing what is around the next corner is part of the thrill.
How boring would it be if the road was straight and everything already mapped out?
I’m not saying the new directions will necessary lead me to where I want to be or that I’ll be happy with the destination. I may need to change again or return to an earlier style. But I do know that without developing new ideas my art will become stale.
So I’m ringing the changes and seeing where it takes me. And that is a bit like a metaphor for life in general.