I work with clients who are professional artists, adolescent musicians who compete in international competitions, etc. Presenting problems sometimes include a lack of inspiration or crippling anxiety that blocks the ability to perform or audition. My sense is that these problems are partly due to a disconnection from the individual's core soul source - as well as a loss of serving as a channel for spiritual expression.
I am inviting folks to share how they stay connected to their creative source, to their artist soul.
Interesting and timely discussion. I have been -and periodically- find myself on both sides -both as an artist myself and as a curator working with artists- of these concerns and have grappled and written about them.There are layers.
Your sense that this can come from a disconnection from the core soul source is always a consideration.
Also, when an artist moves deep enough into their work that it craves to connect with the larger human culture, in our western culture, this is often a blocked calling. Very few -even amongst the most talented and articulate- of western artists (I have heard it is 1%, but even if it were higher, probably not more than 10% at most) find that this culture supports their work. And, when it does, it might for a year or several years and then it might not again. How many artists can sustain supporting themselves and continue showing up as contributors?
The disconnect there can be devastating to artists who get the message that their contributions are not valued. If it is compared with other well-paid professions, (doctors, analysts, church leaders, non-profit managers, etc....how many of those would stay with their work, no matter how soul inspired it is, if it does not come with any livelihood?
And inside these desires, also lie the treacherous illusions of them, the seductions, the quick sand of fame and fortune.
Another concern is the disconnect between the process and the end result, or product, in a society that places more value on the final creation than the magical, esoteric, joy, deep thinking, and beingness that great creative endeavors may require behind a completed, finished realization. Further, like all work that requires large amounts of think-tank time or soul work, without a birth channel, or even with one, that time alone can be both deeply nourishing soul work and another opportunity for disconnect.
The artist, in this culture, thus often walks a precarious path.
A seasoned artist will know that the creative well is infinite for they will have touched it. However, there may be times when an artist may need to exist in the desert of themselves. Listening deeply inside the place where they are not connecting as they did may be a place where they need to go deeper still again, transform, perhaps leave behind even the work society has valued and seek out new veins to follow.
Such choices may also be risky to an artist with the illusion of a solid hold on their place in culture.
I am very interested in how you address these issues with artists and hope you will write more herein.
Again, thank you for opening this valuable discussion.
Hi, Roberta. Thank you for your extended, thoughtful, and passionate response. "Blocked calling" is a good description of what (too) many artists experience in their daily lives and their over arching careers. The unappreciative and blind cultural context can be wounding and discouraging. What kind of relationship is established with cultural context is an issue every artist addresses, consciously or not. At one point, I deliberately turned my back on the coastal art scenes, art journals and magazines, and contemporary artists - and went to the remote Native American villages in the Alaskan bush to teach, visual art and dance. But, it was here, far away from distractions and contemporary art, that my art became my own. For some artists, being popular, with many sales and shows, is inhibiting in that galleries want the popular "product" produced repeatedly and a desire to change one's work may mean that the popularity and gallery representation disappear.
How many artists can sustain supporting themselves and continue showing up as contributors? - you asked. The vast majority of visual artists who earn MFA degrees are no longer making art 2 years later. I think the percentage is around 90%. Is this a failure of graduate education for artists? The economic reality of working at a job (for money) and also sustaining creativity as an artist can be discouraging, fatiguing - or freeing. Without the need to rely on the sale of art for income, the artist can make what they choose. Even withdrawing from exhibiting can be part of the process.
There is an idea that artists should continually be productive - but, sometimes, depending on life circumstances, there may be "years of silence" - and that happens. It's not necessarily bad. It may be the field lying fallow, resting. It may be the waning period, the trough of the wave. With the crest of the wave lasting years - and the trough of the wave also lasting years. If being in the trough, or being past the creative intensity of youth, feels okay - then it's not a problem. For some artists, a youth and young adulthood of intense creativity helps resolve wounds, trauma, helps the individual acquire integrity and self-actualization - and there comes a point when it is possible to maintain these states w/o art making. If there is no yearning to make art, if there is no sense of loss, well, then, fine - and those folks do not come and see me. Their lives have taken a different turn.
Sometimes it is necessary to not judge creative block, not fight it, not view it as a terrible situation - but instead accept the block as part of the process. I have found that simply going to sit beside the creative block, be with it, sometimes visualizing it as a dam or whatever image the artist comes up with, and examining it - what does it look like? What is it constructed from? What does it block? What surrounds it? How does it work (if mechanical)? Can it be crossed or is there a passage through? Even what is the weather like, the lighting, the time of year? The block becomes familiar and less frightening.
Yes, material product can be overvalued in comparison to process.
Sometimes, there is a fear of being alone for prolonged periods of time, where solitude is unbearable.
I agree with all that you wrote. My words in this post are a stream of thought on the topic.
Sometimes, artists realize that part of their task is to serve society by experiencing and presenting (in the container of art) the magic, joy, depth, beingness, grief, loss, tragedy, sacredness, mystery, that many nonartists are unable to access most of the time. This is one way in which artists are shamanlike (which I discuss further in my research).
I've found that shifting the perception of myself from being the originating source - to being the channel and the tool - takes the weight of responsibility from myself. I do have the responsibility to be the best tool possible for channeling what is deeply human and gloriously sacred.
right on. or as muddy waters once said to me, "right on cat". I like this Rita Chiarelli ( Canadian) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3M9_ILQa9IA, "Man that Lady can rock"! Much commercial painting, writing, film making, psychology etc, doesn't do much for me. But when I read Sassoons' war poems http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uv8XMiwjH-4 or listen to Bill Walton talk about his love for Pistol Pete Maravich http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zk-JJX2SRHc..... Soul.
Thank god the kids have their artists that they look up to ( most which I've never heard of ( Earl "the Goat Manigault") and most likely never will. Fame and recognition ( particularly from fellow artists and the "Man" or "Woman" on the street) are something we all long for. For now writing poetry, singing verse ( Vachel Lindsay) are my rewards...... Seeing my daughter's paintings or hearing her sing with her friends, this is what keeps me going. Hopefully I can pass on some of this inspiration and insight to clients and students.
Take care... Jeff
Hi, Jeffery. I am guessing that those artists who the kids look up to, those artists are articulating something, accessing something that is both inside and outside of the kids. Yes, we do long for fame. Recognition. I used to laugh and say that everyday I went to the mailbox and checked for a letter stating that my brilliance and talent had been recognized and here is a check for a large sum to go with it. Imagine my surprise when that happened!
Sounds like your have found creativity, writing poetry, singing verse, to be its own reward, intrinsic reward. And that the creative processes and products of others (your daughter, her friends) are an ongoing source of inspiration.
I'm curious what you mean when you wrote "this inspiration and insight" - wanting to share it with others - do you mean the simple, wonderful joy of creativity, in of itself? Without material reward or wide recognition? Being alive and living life to its fullest?
good writing and good checking. One thing I know ...is that I don't know. And I'm getting even worse as the days go on. My Mother Donna Rahn was a beautiful painter and craftmaker. Just had eye for design and color. She also loved to sing with her Dad on the way into town. One time they lost their pigs right in front of Brigham Young's house. I guess the pigs where running and making a mess everywhere. This was the same mother that could point out a Cezanne or Giacometti's lines and love that went into them. Maybe I don't know what I mean anymore...only what I love and who I love. Enjoy your large checks. I only wish they'd come a little more often....all the best Jeff
Your comment about relating to the block reminds me of the classic "empty chair" technique of exteriorizing the "problem" and having a conversation with THE BLOCK. Also curious as to whether there are some changes within the artist's psyche that change the direction of the work. Its frustrating having to learn a new language to express the changes and can shut a person down while developing the new language or focus of language for expression. I guess having acquired some recognition and affirmation related to the old language would make an artist resistant/fearful of moving into a new language of expression - in addition to all the comments about the mechanistic materialistic culture included.
Do your artists isolate themselves from other artists during this time or do they tend to seek out other artists in an informal or formal support group fashion? I hover at the outskirts of art but I do remember an artist friend who went through a blue funk but then collaborated with another artist of a different media (she was a pianist, he was a choreographer) and regained her creative juices.
I suppose there could be similarities to the empty chair technique you describe, and certainly I've known artists who benefited from putting an empty chair outside their studio door, inviting their inner critique to have a seat and get comfortable, thank the inner critic for being concerned about protecting the artist, assure the inner critic that the artist could handle "it" (whatever the great "it" was that had come up as an issue), promise to check back with the inner critic in a few hours, and literally close the studio door, perhaps even turning the lock.
The difference between the empty chair you described and what I've done is this - instead of exteriorizing the problem and having a conversation with the block, the artist goes into the problem and merely observes, is present, sees, hears, feels, describes the block - without a goal. The goal is "merely" to be there. Without striving or drive. Sustained attention can result in an altered consciousness and a relationship with block that becomes acceptance, recognition, not fighting against it and not beating one's self up about it.
Yes, working is a different medium than usual can be freeing - can get around certain kinds of problems that have developed.
Artists vary as to whether more community or more solitude is right for where they are in the process. Sometimes socializing can be a form of avoidance. Sometimes socializing, "communitas", is the key that unlocks process.
There doesn't seem to be one quick fix or magic elixir that works for everyone. But, I will say this, slowing down and becoming more present and conscious can do wonders.
Although difficult, the idea of being -without needing action or direction or resolution- can eventually allow what needs to evolve, come through, occur, etc. to occur, inward and outward. The question though may also ask, "How long must I wait?" and that cannot be answered. (If, for example, the answer was, "For years" or "forever," what would that answer do to help?) (And I wonder how long a client would stay with a therapist who would answer so? I have heard some therapists just say: "when you decide you want to get up, you will" but I think it is more complicated than that, which implies will over, or mind over the complication of what is and needs to occur.)
But, in that pause or meditation, or not-doing space, what is behind the wall may get a chance, eventually, to speak.
I guess I need to point to an "elephant in the room." Isn't it possible that an artist may be an artist for awhile but not for a life? Do we assume that an artist is a core identity or can it be a personal myth that changes over time. Is it ever a true revelation that a person's artistic identity and production has an end for another personal myth to develop?
This is a very good point, Ed.
I believe that what an artist is, is possible of continuing evolution and definition.
When I first began to make art that went out into the world, I thought of myself as a "painter." That evolved as I later moved into sculpture, dance, performance, writing, etc. Instead of defining my work by one medium, which would have limited my work, it became more so, what "creative project" I was immersed in and by how my inspiration manifested. I am still a painter, but also a sculptor, writer, dancer, etc. And, for what it is worth, after an illness, I re-engaged my creativity by learning how to cook Thai food and thought that was a perfect focus for both healing and for my creativity (although, it was a return to a "personal realm" in creativity and I did not take that out into the world professionally, it was none-the-less delicious, healthy, and creative).
I like the idea that the "work" is "to create" - which is also a very innate calling for all human beings.
(However, an artist can mistakenly get stuck on a pedestal --one defined by the "art world," by an artist's own self-definition, or by where an artist may have attracted acclaim, respect, money, etc.-- that tries to hold us to a repeating pattern of a body of work that has already been completed.)
Therefore, perhaps, the "idea" of the "artist" can become like being a dead butterfly pinned to the wall. What we want to do is fly, procreate, create, transform.
I tend to believe, however, like the author of this conversation, that one emerges more in culture as an "artist" when his or her work moves through and deeper through the territory of the "personal" and accesses that place that is "universal" in nature. That is the point where culture is fed by the work, whether one is an architect, a scientist, an artist, a leader, etc.
How long must I wait? Roberta wrote.
There are many possible responses: As long as you need to. Until you are ready. You don't have to wait - you can go after it - as in finding inspiration is not a passive activity - one can go inwards or outwards to discover sources of inspiration.
Where should I start? Anywhere!?! I like the idea of Robert renewing and reentering creativity through learning how to cook Thai food. That creativity can be manifest in any activity (parenting, gardening, interior decor, painted cars, mail art).
Actually, I've found having someone do collage is very effective. To have a stack of books or magazines and flip through quickly, taking out any pix that catches one's interest/attention - don't have to know why - and make collages out of them. I saw a student make an incredible folding book that was a series of collages. Collages can be a quick way "in". Bypasses possible anxieties about not drawing or painting or dancing well. I have several "games" or "exercises" that use various "bypasses" - and get amazing, even funny, results. Some of it is metaphorical, written, or cartoons.
Yes - Ed - I do think that making art can be a phase or period in someone's life and that interests can move into other arenas that might or might not be related to (fine) art.
Yes - Roberta - making secret or private work can be important. Detouring around public performance or exhibit pressures, to make whatever one wants, intuits, is guided to, on whatever compelling tangent arises. That is another good avenue to follow.
Yes - artists can get caught in repeating previously successful ways of working, copying one's self, repeated refinements of what was once fresh - it happens - a lot!
Roberta - and Ed - you are going through processes of defining what an "artist" is - evolving, process not product, creating without end goal of popular/material success, for inner needs. These are valid ideas. Yet, there are also artists for whom creating is a job for which they produce a dependable, predictable product. Some artists are okay with this, relish it, feel successful (murals for a children's hospital) while another artist feels frustrated and unfulfilled. Individual differences. No one correct path.
Your comment above prompts me to ask if there are some identifiable differences between an artist who is extroverted and one who is introverted. For example, an extroverted artist may produce their art as a means of outer communication whereas an introverted artist is producing for the inner audience. Thoughts?