#ArtistTherapy: The Comfort of Non-Forward Movement

Artist Therapy (#ArtistTherapy) is a new regular post I'm doing on my site once a month. I realized after going to residencies, conferences, and hanging/venting with my critique partners that there are aspects of the creative life only other artists understand. And it can be a real source of comfort to relate this along with others who get it. No matter what stage in your career you're in we can all relate to wanting to pursue our art and the travails that can prevent you from doing so both real and imagined, both psychological and tangible. So, this serves as a springboard for artists to know that they're not alone and is hopefully also a source of solace. Feel free to share thoughts, ideas, questions, stories, etc. It's all Sharing is Caring in this neck of the woods.

"I haven't written, drawn, composed, photographed, danced, etc. in (insert timeframe here)."

I equate this with being in the shower. You hesitate to leave it. You step in with prickled skin from the chill of your home and then you're swathed in (hopefully) hot water that increases your temperature and becomes a place of comfort. It's warm and safe. No one is asking anything of you in the shower (I hope). You're alone, and maybe you don't get those moments enough. You're only thought is of getting clean and staying warm and the mere concept of stepping out means you have to deal with life. You are not ready, yet! People out there will want you to do stuff! You remember the cold and how quickly that'll settle over your skin negating all the work of the nice, comfy, warm shower. No, no, no.

Creating can be like this also. It can be a source of consolation and/or detriment. Sitting at your desk or in your studio means you have to face the work and what it represents. It means you have to make something and then ultimately show this to people. Offer your work up to others for critique, comment, analysis, or even validation. And if you're not used to it, hell even when you are used to it, it can be daunting and simply easier to not move forward and put it off.

There's also the aspect of being blocked and having to face what may be giving you difficulty. And having to face that, some bad prose or that rogue slash or that misstep or bad key, can be devastating and debilitating to the point you will quote Kimberly Wilkins and say "Ain't nobody got time for that" then scuttle away to where it's nice and safe, perhaps your couch for TV watching or your computer desk for Netflix/Hulu Plus or even outside where you can say doing fitness is helpful--right, right?--rather than be creative.

I'm not going to scold you and say "Sit your ass down and create already." I could. For some tough love may prove quite effective while others may be as shifty as a squirrel and run away to less pressure-filled pastures. I'm not going to say "Take your time" either because that, for some, can be an excuse to take ALL the time in the world and the next thing you know it's New Year's Eve and you're wondering what the hell goals you accomplished beyond opening a gym membership and perhaps giving up drinking 5 times a week. (I dunno, insert whatever resolutions/goals you may have had/have.)

What I will say is that some of the best advice I've received is from Tayari Jones, who said, "Nothing will happen if you don't write the book." This is the truest advice one can give anyone. You won't get any pleasure from being creative if you don't try. You won't get any benefits if you don't do it. You damn sure won't get published or see your piece in a gallery if haven't made anything. But some may look at it simply as: You can't get rejected and you can't perceptibly fail if you don't enter the race in the first place. However, I conceive of failure not in not winning a contest you submitted for or getting that grant/fellowship/residency. I consider it a kind of stasis where you never gave yourself the chance to win. So perhaps looking at the benefits of forward movement and not the detractors can help you to take action. For some failure is not an option and if you're continuing to grow as an artist, to learn what does and doesn't work, what avenues are right for your work, who understands you, what you represent than how is that failing? How is it not being successful to strengthen aspects of your craft in which you become more solidified in your style and voice? If the fear of failure is preventing you from moving forward, scratch that crap from your mind. Failure is not an option and if you're doing what you want and trying you're not failing. Trust me.

The other avenue is that of being inhibited by many things such as being a parent (perhaps a single-parent), being unemployed so that the act of finding employment consumes your time, being in an overall bad place that is more tangible and seeps into your mindset preventing you from continuing. In cases such as these there's not always an easy answer. But I would suggest that you dig deep and do what you can. Even some scribbling of a paragraph is making headway. Finding the community you need can help by leaps and bounds if you're overworked, underpaid, and not stimulated at all outside of your professional life. As someone who works 7-days a week both in a full-time job with freelance work to pay off debts that have been placed on me by a soon-to-be ex I can understand the parallels of trying to balance the creative and the professional and remain afloat and sane. It's not easy, at all. It's hard, and it's draining, and there are times when you're ready to breakdown. Something as small as spilling soup in my company microwave almost set me off under the strain of so much responsibility that seemed never-ending and just when you think you've come up for air your head gets dunked back in the water. But, like I said, you dig deep. You find confidence. You get assurance. And you approach the chair, studio, instrument and you take it step by step, word by word, stroke by stroke, line by line. Do not push yourself to be great. Just allow yourself to go with what is happening and see what develops.