Cowboy Wisdom

“Blue Bossa”
©2018, Molly Larson Cook
24″ x 30″ acrylic on canvas

From the ever-helpful and inspiring little book of wisdom I carry around with me, Art and Fear: On the perils (and rewards) of artmaking by Ted Orland and David Bayles, come these words of not just any old wisdom, but cowboy wisdom:

“When your horse dies, get off.”

In all its simplicity, the phrase seems kind of goofy, a joke, something to say in an offhand manner, but in its complexity, the phrase speaks art volumes. What, for instance, is it time for you to shed?  What dead horse are you still trying to ride? No amount of poking, prodding or wishful thinking is going to bring that horse back to life.

In our art lives it works more or less like this…you work on a few paintings or a series and things are rolling along (or galloping, as the case may be) until one day you hit a bump in the road, your horse takes a tumble and there you are in the same artistic rut with a dead horse on your hands.

For the sake of your art and your sanity, get off the damned dead horse!

Find another way to get back to the ranch, save the rancher’s daughter and bring in the herd.  Go ahead.  You can do it, cowboy.  Just don’t climb back on the dead horse.

Dead horses, by the way, will be different for every single artist or other creative person.  There’s no book of Dead Horse Wisdom.  You’ll be on your own figuring this out.   I’ve been thinking about clearing out my studio and apartment, getting rid of the dead horses that I keep tripping over as I try to build a new artistic and personal life for myself.  I don’t know about you, but it feels great to me!

Take an hour or a day to ponder your own life.  If you find you’re working without the joy and enthusiasm you once felt, if the work seems repetitious and boring, if you’ve stopped taking artistic risks and opt instead for certainty, you’re on a dead horse.

If your personal life or people in it are holding you back from creating your best work, you’re on a dead horse.

If you’ve let your confidence in what you can accomplish slip away, you’re on a dead horse.  And you know what the cowboys say about dead horses.  Yep, yep, yep, that’s exactly right.

When you find yourself on a personal or professional dead horse…

…get off.

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