You’ll never be a great artist.

A friend says I’m too happy to paint anything of substance or importance. She says all great artists suffer—and I don’t. I have a great life. I love my wife, adore my son, my two dogs, and love where I live. She says that if she left me alone in my studio to start a new painting, a month later there would be a big smiley face. It made me laugh. She doesn’t know my secret. I have anxiety when I paint. I get in zones when I enjoy the process, but that is rare. I actually find the entire experience frustrating and painful and often wake up in the middle of the night thinking about a painting and sketch out a new idea. I worry a lot. About things that don’t matter. But I do not suffer like the greats. Van Gogh, De Stael, Park, Gorky. On the other hand, Diebenkorn, Schnabel, and Gauguin, seem to have been content. With my paintings, it is an insulated experience. I work in a vacuum and don’t know whether or not to trust my instincts and second guess myself all the time.

The secret that my friend does not know is this: I torture myself constantly with doubt and insecurity. Right now I am working on 3 paintings which I loved a month ago. Now I want to throw them out and start over. Why? I have no idea. Self-doubt, self-loathing, and insecurity wreak havoc on my day-to-day well-being. It is unnerving to be a painter facing a blank canvas. I have plenty of angst. I am just not cutting off any part of my ear. Yet.


Bill Cahan, March 13, 2021