I had an insight today. Regardless of what you think makes a successful artist – whether it be sales, gallery representation, or critical attention – you can’t even be an artist without tremendous inner resilience and spiritual balance to. Just. Keep. Working. This is what separates the ones who try and give up and the ones who keep going, year after year, whether anyone cares about their work or not.
As for myself, I have reached a critical point, where I think the momentum and thrill of leaving my job behind to become a full-time artist has dropped off and I am left with the personal battle I fight everyday to get myself into the studio to work. Suddenly, just cracking the whip isn’t enough anymore. The work is dragging, my mind is wandering, I count down the minutes to the end of the day when I can put down my paintbrush and walk away. A far cry from the liberating, joyous feeling I used to have when I was alone with my work.
So this is it. This is the hardest thing that an artist has to overcome and I’m right in the thick of it.
I have no boss to keep me on track. I have no set agenda or schedule unless I impose it on myself. When I quit my job to do this, I did put in place a set schedule and expectations. I reasoned that I should maintain the same roughly 9-5 schedule I had at my old job in the government. Mornings I would do administrative tasks, social networking, managing my online shop and by afternoon I would be in the studio to work for a few hours.
Most days, this has worked for me.
Since the New Year, however, I’ve had a terrible time getting back on track. Suddenly, I feel like I’m at war with myself. Not to get all Jungian on you, but I can break it down like this: There’s the inner taskmaster, trying to keep on top of me, attempting to impose structure, routine, schedules, etc. Then there is the inner rebellious teen, trying to undermine the taskmaster at every turn. On another level, I have my chattering, analytical “monkey mind” pulling me in all sorts of directions while I try to steer from a deeper, more artistic, “higher” self. Lately, I’ve become unmoored from that deeper center.
No person is a completely unified and coherent individual. We are made up of a crowd of different people, each representing an aspect of ourselves, taking on a different role. Sometimes, these “selves” are earlier versions of us. If you’ve ever watched the show The United States of Tara, you are familiar with this (albeit in an extreme form). I think dissociative identity disorder (multiple personalities), whether it truly exists or not, is fascinating as a fictional device because everyone can somewhat relate to the chaos of having multiple selves, pulling us in various directions.
At any rate, these different personalities, just like real people, can feel hurt, frustrated, angry, and resentful.
… And I think that’s where I am right now. Here I thought I was running free, three years away from a highly structured and demanding career. However, I took that pace and structure with me. The result: I have a full-scale rebellion on my hand, triggered by my very ambitious and merciless set of New Years resolutions and goals. (Clearly, the Taskmaster was given entirely too much influence in the process.)
So, I think what I’m going to do is reconvene my selves and tell them we’re starting from scratch. We’ll see how it goes.
In the meantime, I am going to work on reordering my ideas about what it means to be an artist and how best to keep up my work. One thing is clear: I can’t achieve anything through sheer will power alone.
For this, I like the idea of the middle way in Buddhism, the path of moderation in between the two extremes of self-indulgence and self-mortification. In yoga, there is equal emphasis placed on the problems of attachment and aversion. The goal is to practice non-attachment without feeling deprivation. This is something a person must address at some point when they are trying to achieve something through discipline alone.
Let me give you an example. Say you decide to go on a crash diet in the hopes of losing a few pounds as a New Year’s resolution. You eat a very lean, low-calorie diet for a few days and then, on Friday, you order a large pizza and a liter of Coke and proceed to consume it down to the last bite. Following the middle way, food is a necessary, potentially enjoyable part of life and you should neither deprive yourself of its nourishment, nor should you ever gorge yourself. To change your diet and get in shape, you would be wise to simply try some healthy, flavorful recipes with your favorite ingredients or try a new, fun sport or exercise. Enjoyment is the key to sticking with anything.
Perhaps the rigid schedule I lived with the past three years has served its purpose. It kept me on track, somewhat, but I’m willing to admit now that I could probably improve upon it in a way that allows me more freedom and openness. I have been showing up to do the work, but I dare say I’m still not doing my best work.
I didn’t think I would be shedding another skin… I didn’t know I was still carrying around so much from my previous career which no longer serves me.
And so here I am faced with the unknown again.
I had clung to my precious schedule, afraid that if I took it away, I would have nothing to keep me honest. Which, frankly, does a disservice to my desire and need to create in the absence of all expectations. Isn’t this my life calling, after all? I would work no matter what, even if I thought no one would ever see it. Especially if I thought no one would see it.
In the end, I think the answer might be a period of total freedom. I table all the administrative tasks, put my Etsy shop on the back-burner, and give myself complete freedom to play every day for… let’s say three months. To appease the taskmaster, I will work each day for “X” hours. Beyond that, I’m free to fill the time in however I want, so long as it is creatively spent.
It’s just a thought I’m kicking around, anyway. For a change, I would like to be flexible about the path ahead of me right now, including with this.
How about you? If you are an artist or maker, how do you stay on schedule and, conversely, how do you make sure your freedom to create is boundless?