I just finished this book and I feel grateful, to the author of course and to the person who insisted that I read it. I believe that every artist, blocked or not, should read it as well. Right now I feel like sharing this particular words, which were the ones for me, really.
So thanks Julia and Peter, and enjoy! ;)
Week 11 – Recovering a sense of Autonomy
I AM AN ARTIST. As an artist, I may need a different mix of stability and flow from other people. I may find that a nine-to-five job steadies me and leaves me freer to create. Or I may find that a nine-to-five drains me of energy and leaves me unable to create. I must experiment with what works for me.
An artist’s cash flow is typically erratic. No law says we must be broke all the time, but the odds are good we may be broke some of the time. Good work will sometimes not sell. People will buy but not pay promptly. The market may be rotten even when the work is great. I cannot control these factors. Being true to the inner artist often results in work that sells—but not always. I have to free myself from determining my value and the value of my work by my work’s market value.
The idea that money validates my credibility is very hard to shake. If money determines real art, then Gauguin was a charlatan. As an artist, I may never have a home that looks like Town and Country—or I may. On the other hand, I may have a book of poems, a song, a piece of performance art, a film.
I need to create what wants to be created. I cannot plan a career to unfold in a sensible direction dictated by cash flow and marketing strategies. Those things are fine; but too much attention to them can stifle the child within, who gets scared and angered when continually put off. Children, as we all know, do not deal well with “Later. Not now.”
Since my artist is a child, the natural child within, I must make some concessions to its sense of timing.Some concessions does not mean total irresponsibility. What it means is letting the artist have quality time, knowing that if I let it do what it wants to it will cooperate with me in doing what I need to do.
Sometimes I will write badly, draw badly, paint badly, perform badly. I have a right to do that to get to the other side. Creativity is its own reward.
As an artist, I must be very careful to surround myself with people who nurture my artist—not people who try to overly domesticate it for my own good. Certain friendships will kick off my artistic imagination and others will deaden it.
I may be a good cook, a rotten housekeeper, and a strong artist. I am messy, disorganized except as pertains to writing, a demon for creative detail, and not real interested in details like polished shoes and floors.
To a large degree my life is my art, and when it gets dull, so does my work. As an artist, I may poke into what
other people think of as dead ends: a punk band that I mysteriously fall for, a piece of gospel music that hooks my inner ear, a piece of red silk I just like and add to a nice outfit, thereby “ruining it.”
As an artist, I may frizz my hair or wear weird clothes. I may spend too much money on perfume in a pretty blue bottle even though the perfume stinks because the bottle lets me write about Paris in the thirties.
As an artist, I write whether I think it’s any good or not. I shoot movies other people may hate. I sketch bad sketches to say, “I was in this room. I was happy. It was May and I was meeting somebody I wanted to meet.”
As an artist, my self-respect comes from doing the work. One performance at a time, one gig at a time, one painting at a time. Two and a half years to make one 90-minute piece of film. Five drafts of one play. Two years working on a musical. Throughout it all, daily, I show up at the morning pages and I write about my ugly curtains, my rotten haircut, my delight in the way the light hit the trees on the morning run.
As an artist, I do not need to be rich but I do need to be richly supported. I cannot allow my emotional and intellectual life to stagnate or the work will show it. My life will show it. My temperament will show it. If I don’t create, I get crabby.
As an artist, I can literally die from boredom. I kill myself when I fail to nurture my artist child because I am acting like somebody else’s idea of an adult. The more I nurture my artist child, the more adult I am able to appear. Spoiling my artist means it will let me type a business letter. Ignoring my artist means a grinding depression.
There is a connection between self-nurturing and self-respect. If I allow myself to be bullied and cowed by other people’s urges for me to be more normal or more nice, I sell myself out. They may like me better, feel more comfortable with my more conventional appearance or behaviour, but I will hate myself. Hating myself, I may lash out at myself and others.
If I sabotage my artist, I can well expect an eating binge, a sex binge, a temper binge. Check the relationship between these behaviours for yourself. When we are not creating, artists are not always very normal or very nice—to ourselves or to others.
Creativity is oxygen for our souls. Cutting off our creativity makes us savage. We react like we are being choked. There is a real rage that surfaces when we are interfered with on a level that involves picking lint off of us and fixing us up. When well-meaning parents and friends push marriage or nine-to-five or anything on us that doesn’t evolve in a way that allows for our art to continue, we will react as if we are fighting for our lives—we are.
To be an artist is to recognize the particular. To appreciate the peculiar. To allow a sense of play in your relationship to accepted standards. To ask the question “Why?” To be an artist is to risk admitting that much of what is money, property, and prestige strikes you as just a little silly.
To be an artist is to acknowledge the astonishing. It is to allow the wrong piece in a room if we like it. It is to hang on to a weird coat that makes us happy. It is to not keep trying to be something that we aren’t.
If you are happier writing than not writing, painting than not painting, singing than not singing, acting than not acting, directing than not directing, for God’s sake (and I mean that literally) let yourself do it.
To kill your dreams because they are irresponsible is to be irresponsible to yourself. Credibility lies with you and God—not with a vote of your friends and acquaintances.
The creator made us creative. Our creativity is our gift from God. Our use of it is our gift to God. Accepting this bargain is the beginning of true self-acceptance.