Listening to a podcast this morning, I heard US artist Flora Bowley refer to that middle, often difficult time in a painting’s development as its adolescent phase. In this moment it is not sure what it is going to become. It is still searching for itself. It can be the time when we, as artists, are tempted to abandon the effort, when nothing seems to gel and the elements of the work are disparate and disconnected. Sometimes it can appear that all is lost. Perseverance and the ever-present problem-solving, though, are often successful at getting through the mire and, with luck, a resolved work emerges.
The progression of a painting, and particularly the idea of an adolescent phase, seems to be applicable to so many things, not least the career of an aspiring artist. I think the adolescent phase is possibly where I am – beyond the foetal and childhood stages but not yet fully settled and completely formed. It could certainly be argued that the work of artists is never settled, nor their career ever completely formed, but there is certainly a strength that comes from experience, command of technique and style and a degree of confidence in one’s capability – tentative adulthood, if you like.
I don’t intend to imply that an adolescent phase in life or any other endeavour is a bad thing. Rather, it is the time for experimenting, seeking, wandering and wondering, testing and learning. Without it, our adulthood in any arena would be a hollow thing. So let’s embrace our adolescences. I will embrace mine. Rather than longing for whatever is next I’ll enjoy the freedom and, no doubt, next will just turn up when it, and I, am ready.