Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Quick sketch of author Tillie Olsen
charcoal on bond paper
(Check out the movie on Tillie Olsen.
You can also look it up on You Tube.
My sketch does not do her justice -- her
face, like her writing was magnificent.)
Barbara Muir © 2009

One of the benefits, and there are so many of this
blogging community. (I know. Where am I at?
One minute I'm decrying the technological world,
and the next happily in it up to my neck. Ah well).
As I was saying, a great plus of this world is that
it keeps us going. The simple fact of knowing that
some people are out there waiting to see what you've
done today makes you want to do something today.

I thought of the word folding on the way to school
today. There have been a number of times in my
life when I wanted to, or even did shut down for
a while. I was grievously ill in 2001, and the most
I could do for the several months I ran a high
fever and couldn't eat, was slink downstairs to
watch TV and cooking shows. Oh and I did do
writing, even professional writing. But I dictated
to my husband from my sick bed, while he sat
at the computer.

But that's not the kind of shut down, or folding
I'm talking about, I'm talking about packing in
a dream, and just quitting. I don't know why most
of the people I know who stop following a dream,
and just maintain themselves and their families are
women, but it seems to be true. Families,
especially those with young children, are so demanding,
that some of the best women artists I know
gave in to the pull of that huge responsibility,
and didn't resume. Ever.

I was thinking about folding today, because
I wanted to tell my students that if they feel
like folding (it's the end of the semester),
curling up in a ball and giving up because
one mark, or more isn't good enough, to
resist the urge.

With painters, and artists, it's the odd
misunderstanding, an overheard remark,
a show that doesn't work. I can see my
friend Jennifer and me at our first
show, held on a weekend at her house,
and our massive surprise and disappointment
that everything in that show didn't sell. Now
it seems funny, but what if the compulsion to
paint had been just a tiny bit weaker, and we
had stopped. Thank goodness we didn't.
Today many, many shows down the line, the
image of the two of us sitting flabbergasted
in her living room, unsure what was wrong
seems almost comical, but at that point we
were quite depressed.

When I had just finished university I went to
hear the writer Tillie Olsen talk about how
people give up. Her book Silences talks
about all the creative talented people (mostly women)
who never had the money, support or time
to produce their work. Successful artists
almost always had a mate in the background,
or "muse". The muse made cups of tea, made
lunch, put the children to bed, so that the
great one could work in peace. Through the
ages those muses were usually women. Today
I think many creative men also shut down because
they either decide to be the at-home parent, or
need a larger income than art may provide to
keep the family going.

The blog world, with its kind observation and
support acts as a bulwark against the
hundreds of small and large incidents in any
artists life, that could pull them away from their

I for one am continually grateful for that.

Have an unfolding-and-getting-on-with-it day.


Laurel Daniel said...

Great drawing and great thoughts. It really is interesting that women are often the ones to give up or alter their dreams, and so sad when they never return to them. We are lucky to be living the dream my friend. :) XOXOXO

Edgar said...

You and Ms Moments sure do know how to spin out the inspiration. Thank you for encouraging those of us who are buried in the mundane banalities, to keep our little flames shielded from the wind.

...I was going to talk about artists that give up their dreams and repress the desire to paint or whatever because of family needs or illness (like the sad, wrong, and terrible examples of sexism you discussed, which made me think of sexism generally in the arts, and that just makes my head ache); but you brought up a different issue too: disappointment, a loss of faith in oneself. Folding because of failure. And that's a different kind of self-story, isn't it?

I mean, it's one thing to say, "My children need me, so I don't have time to be an artist." It's another to say, "I didn't succeed, I've been rejected too many times, I'm going to give up my dream."

Wow! There's some suppressed rage, eh? I heard that the mass killers like happened at Ft Hood are often men who have been rejected by women (throughout their lives), and act out their frustrated masculinity by seeking power through destroying other people. Are there analogs in the art world? Are they graffiti artists? Film critics? Something worse? (Thomas Kinkade, maybe? He's given me nightmares.)

Melinda said...

Thank you for not folding. The world needs your art, your spirit expressed in paint, and I wouldn't know what to do if you weren't there painting and helping others to remain UN-folded.

Your students need you to tell them that many years from now, they'll be glad they listened to your wise words. You are a shining example and the best role model!!

Janie B said...

I love that post. Giving up on dreams is always a bad idea because there is always resentment involved. I have given up on many dreams in my life for one reason or another, and now I have no dreams. I'm too afraid of failing myself and too unsure about which road to take.
Good advice--thanks for sharing. I'm glad you teach.

Barbara Muir said...

Hi Laurel,

Thanks for your thoughts. It is more than sad, even in art clubs where people join and then never show their work. They keep saying maybe next time,and I think when is next time? Some of these people are in their 70's. Next time may never come. We are blessed beyond compare to be living the dream.


Barbara Muir said...

Hi Edgar,

Whew! It's the end of a very long day at school. I left my house at 6:30 a.m., and returned at 7 p.m., so I am not quite up to scratch. But I'm sure giving up on a dream because of rejection feels terrible. On the other hand I believe you can flip that and make a dream happen -- by forging the community you need to do so. That of course requires constant work, but I think the blog world has made that a little bit easier. In fact for people who have computers the ease of dissemenating work to a wide audience has moved forward at a lightning pace in the past few years. Women are used to sexism in every area of their lives. This is
what Tillie Olsen fought against. She fought to revive the writing of women who had been relegated to obscurity by a male dominated publishing industry. "My children need me, I don't have time to be an artist," and "I've been rejected too many times, I'm going to give up my dream," sound like almost identical stories to me.

As for Ft. Hood, I can't begin to understand anything about it. Was the man rejected by women, or by other men? Was he a man who couldn't stand the rigours of a military life, or was he just plain off his rocker? And how much chance do you and I have of ever knowing the real story?

In both male and female young people, the dominant reason I see for folding is not enough love. I think the movie Precious which I haven't seen yet, but can't wait to see, shows how pivotal one person can be in turning that around. I try to be one of those people. I think every teacher I work with is also one of those people. It doesn't matter who cares for us, it matters that someone does.

I didn't know who Thomas Kinkade was until I looked him up. There are a lot of artists like that, and I think they have their place. Who's to say that if something he creates makes people happy, it's wrong?

The whole matter of taste is entirely subjective, as you know. Now I'm going to limp off into the evening and do some art, or fix some.

I hope you can get back to your work soon. You are a great painter.

Take care,


Barbara Muir said...

Hi Melinda,

I don't look too shiny today. Steven and I bought sea salt balm, or shea butter or something to try to revive our exhausted faces. But I could no more fold, than quit laughing.

Many years from now I'll be glad I listened to one student today who told me to get some sleep because I needed to listen to my own advice.
Good advice. She made me laugh. Thanks for your kind support. You are a beacon of light for artists like me. Shine on silver girl.

Barbara Muir said...

Hi Janie,

Don't they say that all roads lead to Rome. Pick one thing and do it until you tire of it. I believe there has to be a kernel of a dream left. Start small. I teach a class called Art Bypass for people who have quit creating. The idea is just to give yourself permission, and then start small. If you have the money take a course with Robert Burridge. I guarantee you'll be creating after that. He's like a super charger.

Thanks for your kind encouragement.

Take care,


LeSan said...

I can't believe I missed this post and now I am very sorry that I did not get to it sooner. I could have really used this today. I took a little time out the past couple of years and while I did keep painting and sculpting it sure wasn't to the degree I had been. I have only just now really decided to get my behind back in gear. Sometimes it really does take a lot of encouragement and support to take the risk of creating art. At least in our modern era that support is much more readily found. Such as your blog here. You are always and inspiration to me!

Gwen Bell said...

Another really terrific post and just the encouragement so many of us need! This blog community has kept me from folding so many times. As you said, knowing others are anticipating your next work and are so generous with their praise can turn a very bad day into an inspired day. I know I'm not alone in saying that I am so very thankful that you continue to bless us with your beautiful paintings and encouraging words! xoxoxoxoxo

Liza Hirst said...

Oh lala, Barbara, you are amazing! Thank you for this wonderful post - you are not only a great painter but just as much a great writer, coach, teacher,.... all in all someone who really inspires us with her thoughts, her positivness and a big portion of "joie de vivre"!

Barbara Muir said...

Hi LeSan,

I was really helped by Edward B. Gordon saying he doesn't try to make great art, he just tries to improve his craft. As long as we're imprisoned in this idea of "greatness" we get frightened into staying away from the canvas, or paper or whatever. The moment we move into just improving our craft, painting becomes like cooking, or baking bread -- something we do often, maybe every day, that improves because we do, and has meaning because we aren't always imposing heavy meaning on ourselves.

Take care,


Barbara Muir said...

Hi Gwen,

You certainly keep me inspired with your beautiful work. Keep on painting and inspiring me.


Barbara Muir said...

Hi Liza,

Ooh la la to you for your beautiful work, and lovely descriptions of your life. You keep me going, and stop me from folding over and over. Actually so much of what I do now was inspired by you and your wonderful work.


Portrait Artist

My photo
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
I paint and draw on commission and for shows. To commission a portrait, or purchase one of my paintings please contact me at: barbara.muir@sympatico.ca
A major highlight in my career? Drawing Oprah Winfrey live via Skype for her show "Where in the Skype are you? Galleries: Studio Vogue Gallery, Toronto, Canada. The Amsterdam Whitney Gallery, New York City. Gallery at the Porch Door, Kingston, Canada. Your positive comments on this blog mean the world to me. I'd love to hear from you!