Say that you have a studio mate and that you get along pretty well with her. Her paintings look nothing like yours, so you aren’t competing; she isn’t chatty; she has no habits that particularly annoy you. But then one day she comes over to your side of the studio, watches you work for a while, and then says with a critical air, “You know, your sky would work better if you varied the tones more.”
This is no huge insult; it may not be an insult at all. Even though she said it with critical air, she may really have just been trying to be helpful. Be that as it may—and while you understand that the event was no big deal—you discover that you are starting to arrive at the studio at times when you hope that she won’t be there.
The question of whether or not she will be there is beginning to prey on your mind a lot. You find yourself dreaming up things to say to “clear the air” or to “give her a piece of your mind.” Then one day you realize that you’re trying to avoid her at all costs. Shortly thereafter you stop coming to the studio at all.
Maybe you can’t quite say what’s affecting you so much. You know intellectually that not much happened and that you shouldn’t allow such a small event to keep you from your own studio. Yet that’s exactly what’s happened. You feel sheepish and childish and angry and … stuck.
You try to fathom what happened. Is it that now you feel watched? Is it the worry that she will speak that way again? Is it some sense of betrayal around the etiquette of studio sharing?—although betrayal seems like a very over-the-top word for such a small event. Is it the bad-feeling change from having experienced your studio as an “alone place,” as a private place despite your studio mate’s presence, and having that feeling destroyed?
Whatever the reasons, you find yourself stuck. Keeping that studio but not going to it can’t be the best answer. What can you do? Your plausible answers amount to the following two: paint there anyway or move. Maybe you could create a partition. Maybe there are some other practical answers. But probably it comes down to paint there or move.
In this situation, there is probably no “conversation” to have with your studio mate to “clear the air”—it is your reaction that is the problem, not her behavior, which was hardly egregious. So the work is either the heavy lifting of moving your studio or the heavy lifting of getting a grip on your own mind. The latter is probably the more valuable heavy lifting.
Try to notice the exact thoughts that you are thinking that make it so hard to come to the studio. Maybe one is, “I just can’t be there anymore.” Actually hearing that you are saying this to yourself is important. Once you hear that thought clearly, you’re likely to want to respond, “Really?” or “How ridiculous!” Then you can create a “thought substitute,” which in this case might sound like, “Of course I can still be there!” This careful cognitive work, where you hear a thought that isn’t serving you, dispute it, and substitute the thought you actually want to be thinking, is the essence of getting a grip on your own mind.
Having a studio mate or studio mates is a special variation of working in public. Life is not quite the same with someone else in the room. Just as you must learn how to deal with gawkers if you paint en plein air, you must learn how to be “private in public” in a shared studio situation. If the issues with your studio mates are large and intractable, that’s one thing. But if they are relatively minor, then it’s your job to talk yourself down from turning small irritations and modest skirmishes into dramas that cost you your ability to paint in your own studio.
Maybe you’ll still get a knot in your stomach as you enter the studio. Maybe catching sight of your studio mate when you’d hoped she’d be elsewhere will bring you down a bit. These feelings are the cost of doing business and the cost of being human. Decide that you will weather them, not over-dramatize the situation, and paint in your own studio.
It is too much unnecessary work to run from studio to studio if something relatively minor is making you flee. Stay put instead. You don’t want to lose the next six months “having to change studios” when you could be painting instead.