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Do Real Artists Quit?

This is a photo I took at Georgia O'Keeffe's house. It's interesting to think about how many times she reimagined her painting motifs.

It’s difficult to know when it is time to quit doing something. Whether it’s a job, a bad habit, or something as meaningful as art, quitting means more than simply stopping. Precise stop-and-start times are rare for many things in life. This is especially true for the things that we think are our passions. Knowing when to stop is a skill.

Recently, I started wondering if painting flowers is not satisfying me artistically. This realization started as a series of self-doubt-style questions. Are my paintings becoming boring? Do I still enjoy the process? Can a person enjoy a certain thing and not necessarily participate in doing that thing? I’m five years into an intense run of botanical painting. While I still enjoy looking at flowers, it’s becoming clear that other things are visually grabbing my interest.

Quitting anything that you begin on your own takes bravery. When we begin a hobby, sport, or even a paid job, that thing becomes part of our identity. When I was in college, I took a linguistics course about language and identity. I learned how important the way we speak and communicate forms our identities. Likewise, we are what we do. After five years of making botanical art, I am a certain type of artist. I worked diligently over the years to carve out my niche. Is it too late to quit?

Maybe the word quit is too strong a word in this instance. People who wish to stop bad habits usually do so gradually. They might take small steps such as cutting down on junk food by replacing one food at a time with a healthier option. In such a case, they are making a change, not just quitting. I see a change on the horizon. It’s not clear at this moment where the change is going and whether it will last.

Is this normal for an artist? Absolutely! A look back at art history shows us that many of the most successful and prolific artists made big changes. Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, and more relevant to my flower paintings, Georgia O’Keeffe, all changed their styles or subjects. O’Keeffe changed her subjects multiple times in her career. She went from abstracts to cityscapes, flowers, and deserts. These are brave and inspiring artists.

I know that I want to keep creating art. I also realize that I still love watercolor. But something new is emerging behind the scenes. It feels like a longing for strong, crisp lines and saturated colors. When I walk through my city, the clean shadows of gutters, sidewalks, fire hydrants, staircases, and parking garages all seem to be saying something interesting. Is this the influence of my place, the world around me? Is it something about the strength and longevity of the manmade landscape? Who knows! But it excites creativity in me.

For artists, the need to create is instinctive. So quitting isn’t really an option. Change is inevitable. It happens as we grow and evolve in art-making and life. Even in the case of language, new words are constantly added to one’s vocabulary as one matures or moves to new places. I plan to spend some time exploring new images. Maybe I will return to the flowers soon, maybe not. Stay tuned for how it goes. I’ll post progress on my website when it is appropriate!

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