Doubt

If you get involved in a creative endeavor, doubt is almost certainly going to be part of your experience. When you’re bringing something new into the world, by definition you’re going to find yourself out past the last buoy at some point, without an easy way to fathom where you are, and with all the uncertainty that accompanies that.

Christopher Quirk, untitled, oil and pencil on canvas, 36 in. x 36 in., 2020.

There have been periods when I have been frozen by doubt in my work. Attempts to combat it on it’s own terms weren’t successful — doubt is a wily and tenacious form of skepticism that isn’t easily allayed. But doubt can also be an energy worth harvesting.

In Zen there’s a concept called the tripod — three legs that together form a solid base of one’s practice — great faith, great doubt, and great persistence. Persistence supports faith, doubt inspires persistence, faith assuages doubt. I think this idea is applicable to creative pursuits maintained over time.

When I look back on doubt regarding my art, I realize that it has helped me sidestep facile solutions in my painting, and prodded me to ask sometimes uncomfortable questions about what I am doing and why. This can be an arduous dynamic but it’s a healthy one, and at its best doubt is integrated into my artistic process in ways that inject complexity and enigma into my paintings. I say what I say in paintings the way I say it because that’s the only way it can be said accurately. Precision, in some cases, demands embracing ambiguity. Doubt can facilitate that.

Christopher Quirk, untitled, diptych, oil on canvas over panel, appx. 36 in. x 25 in. overall, 2020.

Faith may be the antidote for toxic doubt, but of course it can’t simply be invoked. I’ve struggled with maintaining faith in the making of art, in part because my prior understandings of faith were primitive and without nuance. Over the years I’ve come to see faith as way of being and living with an idea, if sometimes imperfectly. In that sense, faith can be a lodestar as much as a support, something to be followed rather than leaned on.

Christopher Quirk, untitled, oil on canvas, 36 in. x 36 in., 2020.

In the case of art, here is what I believe on my best days: That there is an unimpeachable, intrinsic value to our creative efforts and work, no matter the outcome. That our struggle with creation, while painful at times, animates and invigorates our work. And that the reservations and internal obstacles we face in the creation of our work are not signs of weakness, but of the nobility of our ambitions. Because in the end, what is doubt but veiled desire?

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