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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Developing the Skill of "Confusion Endurance"

"Eggplant and Lemons"- workshop demo - 6x8" (sold)

Robert Genn just wrote a great post on perfectionism, and how we are unique in our ability to either use it to our advantage (adaptive) or let it wreak havoc in our painting lives (maladaptive).  Check out his post - he offers up some great tips for addressing the issue.

Confusion Endurance - What It Is

His post has prompted me to write about a topic I have been contemplating for a while now. I recently read a book called "How to Think Like Leonardo DaVinci". In it the author states that all successful creative people have one thing in common, something that DaVinci had in spades: it's the quality of confusion endurance. LOVE this term, it is absolutely brilliant and it is something every artist can benefit from developing further.

Confusion endurance is the ability to get curious and roll up your sleeves when presented with a problem to which the solution is not readily apparent, as opposed to avoiding, procrastinating, getting anxious or just plain shutting down in the face of confusion.

How Confusion Gets in Our Way

From both personal experience, and what I have observed cropping up in the painting world of most of my clients, I feel I can safely declare this to be the number one reason for a lack of flow and momentum in our studio work.

I believe the need to check email, surf the web, put on a load of laundry, take the dog for a third walk in the middle of our painting day (or perhaps as a means of delaying getting started in the first place) - can be directly attributed to avoiding that uncomfortable feeling of being confused, stuck, or unsure of how to proceed - and lacking faith that we have the answer within us.

It's not so much that we don't have the answer immediately available, it's the idea that we should have that has us swinging into the world of panic, discomfort and unworthiness - or as  Robert likes to call it, the "Imposter Syndrome".

A Better Approach
What if we met the discomfort head on, with a sense of adventure and exploration, and a focus on this moment - rather than what might or might not happen as an end result?

Painting asks us to cultivate our capacity to be with confusion, to not label it as a problem or something to move away from, but rather a spacious place where all kinds of wonderful, currently unknown things are possible.

If we bring that, and a judgment-free faith in our own creative process, trusting that all we need is a desire to try things out and see where they lead - then open-hearted curiosity can take precedence over the idea that the goal is to be clever, skillful or accomplished enough to have it all figured out now.

A note from my other world:

I am co-facilitating a Women's Retreat in Canmore on November 17th and 18th. The focus will be on gaining tools to address conflict from a place of clarity and authenticity, strengthening your ability to respond from a place of wisdom rather than react from fear when triggered, and shifting limiting perspectives to ones that are empowering and filled with possibility. If you're interested in more details please follow this link.


  1. Great post! Thanks Liz. Reading this flings wide the doors and windows we have bolted shut over many years. Suddenly the sun comes pouring in. And the fresh morning air brings to us a new way of thinking and new possibilities doesn't it?(Very nice painting too).

    1. Wow Hermann, that is hands down one of the best comments I have ever received. And what a fabulous perspective you presented on confusion endurance!

      I agree - just writing the post made me approach the painting I am currently working on in a bolder, calmer, more confident way.

  2. Thanks for sharing this article and your thoughts. Good stuff!

  3. Wow - what a wonderful approach to your paintings! Such bold and lively colours and brush strokes. Wonderful!

  4. I've always struggled with my art. Thank you for unleashing my gripping fear of failure. I've already finished nine small paintings. Half the time I don't know what I'm doing but I'm not stressing over that , I'm just learning by doing!

  5. "It's not so much that we don't have the answer immediately available, it's the idea that we should have that has us swinging into the world of panic, discomfort and unworthiness .... "

    Powerful words! I hope you write a book one day. I'll be the first in line at Chapters. :)