Wednesday, May 18, 2022

The Meltdown

 I got this comment in my May Survey, and I feel compelled to address it:

For me, it's about playing and have fun; hanging out with my intuition. In the only workshop I've taken with you you, I clearly remember you saying fun and play are NOT what making art is about and went so far as to say we should EXPECT to have a meltdown during the course of the workshop. Unfortunately, I listened to you, had my meltdown, worked seriously, with great industry and felt the joy leak right out of me. I've wondered how you sustain your art life doing it this way; it seems painful.

In my in-person workshops I do address the issue of The Meltdown. The Meltdown is when you are frustrated with your work; you look around, and eveybody else in the workshop seems to 'get it', they are just chugging along and their work all looks great. Yours looks terrible. You start to feel that you've wasted your time and your money being here, you are out of place, who do you think you are trying to be an artist? You are ready to throw your brushes, or whatever down and  exit.

When the Meltdown shows up, eat a chocolate chip cookie.

My advice, such as it is, is to notice the meltdown, notice that your feel frustrated, and let it be. Give it a time limit. OK, I agree to feel like sh!t for an hour. After an hour, I get to pack up and leave if I want to. Fine. I don't have any advice on avoiding the meltdown. In my experience, just noticing it, giving the meltdown its space, has a way of making it dissipate.

I have also noticed that students in my workshops have fewer meltdowns when they know about it ahead of time. They might have mini meltdowns, but expecting some moments of frustration has a way of making them less important. And they have fun.

It admit that I cringe a bit when someone arrives at my workshop saying "I just want to have fun".  I hear that as "I'm not here to push myself" or "I expect this to be all fun and easy". Learning new things, being challenged IS fun with the right attitude. But most of us have moments of frustration and uncertainty in a workshop environment, and I just want people to set their expectations appropriately.

Making art IS about play and it IS fun, but that is not all it is, usually. If you are always playing and having fun, with no angst or frustration, and you are also generating images that really speak to you, that you find compelling, then that is just GREAT! Congratulations. Most of us also have moments of frustration and occasional meltdowns or at least self-doubt. Learning how to navigate these skillfully is part of the process.

One more thought: art is a LOT more fun when you have facility with your materials and techniques, and you have a fluency in composition. I don't mean you "know the rules", but that you are able to SEE the visual content of your own work. So in teaching and learning skills, I hope that affords us all more fun in making art! 

Thanks to the anonymous contributor to my May Survey. I am sure there are others who have the same questions.




  1. Jane recently I was teaching a class online....the class had a very active facebook and we were intensely into the whole thing. About two weeks into it a student contacted me and said she was confused on a technique...I asked if she watched such and such video in the classroom. She said..."what classroom"? She thought the whole class was the facebook group. I have no idea how she kept up and kept her frustration to a minimum...I would have walked after two days lol. In any case her willingness to go with the flow and learn in the midst of confusion was so inspiring and I determined to be like her in the future...although to ask questions sooner. Lol. Fonda

    1. I would be inspired to check my communications. I do that ALL the time when people in my classes miss something crucial. Did I communicate that bit of information? Where and how? If I did, why didn't they read it? Etc. But I see what you mean.

  2. For me as an artist, it's more work than play. Sometimes I stay out of my art room to do something else. When I return, I have a fresh eye and I am anxious to return to the piece I was working on. While some may think I am having fun and "playing", I am really satisfying my desire to create something that others will like or enjoy. Without art, I couldn't exist and be happy. I love my "work".

  3. I completely get that...happens every single time for me! Wish it didn't, but I'm learning to expect it and work through it. I call it the "Middle School Phase" where nothing fits. The eyes and ears don't fit the face, the teeth are all wonky and it doesn't yet know how to act. It's common to most every artist I know...don't let it hold you back! Keep on keepin' on!

  4. 'Fun' does not always produce good art.

  5. “Fun” means different things to different people. For me fun is connected to learning, the satisfaction of trying and achieving. It it were merely a steady diet of happy-smiley days in my studio I’d be bored rigid because I don’t find it satisfying. When I try to achieve a result, understand a concept, that’s when I celebrate. You have to practise your scales when you’re learning a musical instrument, learn the basics of reading, writing, grammar etc to write a book or poem. Not fun from memory but when you can play a piece with fluency, get your work published . . . that’s fun and worth a celebration!
    Right now, I’m finishing the writing and packing up for an exhibition and it’s definitely NOT fun, but when it’s installed . . . my smile will tell you I’m having fun!

  6. Play doesn't produce consistent results. Practice does. Lots of meltdown, failure experience. Get up, dust off and do something again. What I learned from meltdowns in your classes is listen to directions and follow them. I got that. AND learned a bunch. Thank you. Still learning from you.

  7. Play doesn't always produce results that I want. Play and failure, critical review, paint again. Look with a critical eye. Paint more or pause and walk away or move to another piece. What I learned from you Jane is meltdowns are normal. Work through with them by your side, helping. Still learning from you. Thank you


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