A friend of mine who is an artist stopped painting last year after he realized he was repeating himself in terms of technique, subject matter and approach. A few weeks ago we visited a local museum together in an attempt to jump start his creative engine. It may be months before something clicks but it will click eventually. Meanwhile he suffers.
To follow a creative career is hard work, often painful and frequently not valued by the larger society. Few parents encourage their children to become poets, actors, dancers, painters or composers for they recognize that the arts do not often bring success, at least in material terms. For every rock star there are thousands of unknown garage bands. For every Picasso there are thousands – perhaps millions – of weekend painters. It is true of all the arts.
So why do it? A creative person does what he or she does because it is more painful not to do it. In the beginning it really isn’t about fame or money or the thrill of execution; it is an undeniable hunger or longing that demands self-expression. And this self-expression comes at a price.
To access the creative realm, courage is need. Inhibitions must be set aside along with the fears of the ego, and the artist must embark on a journey that may lead to judgment, failure, ridicule, poverty, madness or even, worse, indifference. These are not unfounded concerns – just read the lives of the artists.
So why risk it? Because when the artist can open to the Creative, the small self is swept away – at least for a while. A new reality is experienced that is vital, raw, unlimited and filled with joy. It is a feeling that your real self has been found at last – a homecoming. There is nothing – except perhaps sexual intimacy or mystical revelation – that can approach it, and all three of these activities are related in that the small self is absent.
Luckily, this joy is not contingent on the quality of the work produced nor the ‘worthiness’ of the artist. It requires only the willingness to surrender the small self to the Creative Self.
When someone in a creative field starts adjusting his work to attract fame, money, recognition, satisfaction, pride, etc. the purity of the surrender is lost and with it, I believe, the source of originality and inspiration. When the artist listens to the demands of the market place rather than the voice of his inner nature he has effectively shut the door on his creative journey.
It is not easy to maintain this balance between selflessness and the self – and this is the great struggle of the artist. How long do you keep painting when you can’t make a living at it? How long do you keep going to auditions when you never get the starring role? How many rejection slips does it take to discourage a writer? How do you hold to your vision when your family is in need?
I don’t have any answers to these questions. They are unique and personal to each individual artist. Some people keep creating in spite of the odds; others commercialize their work; some give up and get a ‘real job’; some become teachers and hope to inspire others, while some wait for retirement from the everyday world.
Meanwhile, the creative journey continues in each of our lives and we can define our ‘art’ in our own personal terms. The art of engineering, of homemaking, of cleaning, of parenting, of computing – all are worthy vehicles ready to carry us along our individual paths to the Creative Self.
I have a new post on the art blog at http://MarieTaylorArt.wordpress.com.