Riding the Creative Waves

I’ve been under some stress lately, which has inhibited my creative thinking. It’s hard to focus on building something new when you’re more focused on keeping your head above water. But is that even true, or just a convenient excuse? Many artists throughout the centuries have produced amazing works of art while living through circumstances much more dire than mine.

Think of the World War I poets; or Modigliani pushing boundaries while suffering from tuberculosis and alcoholism, and languishing in poverty; or Billie Holiday who lived in the shadow of a difficult childhood, legal problems, and drug use, to say nothing of racism.

There are days when I tell myself if I were a “real artist,” like them, I could power through my doubts and worries and hold fast to a creative schedule. If I were a “real artist” I could turn the struggles into inspiration. If I were a “real artist” my art would save me.

On those days, I tell myself all I have to do is “find the joy again,” and everything will “go back to normal.” The joy is still there, after all. I felt it recently while hosting my art salons, and when I spoke to a young artist about some ideas she had for her business, and often while I write this blog.

Somehow, even in the midst of truly terrible circumstances, all of those great artists must have still been able to tap into the joy of creating, right? Or maybe it wasn’t joy, it was obsession or desperation or a panacea.

Possibly. Regardless, that was their journey, not mine. I think for most of us, our output is tied more closely to the natural rise and fall of creative tides, and we, as artists, made a choice to step into a boat and venture out into this ocean. We can also choose at any time to dock the boat for good. On some level, most of us know that. When it gets hard, when it gets frustrating, when it breaks our hearts, we know we can take the boat back to the dock anytime we want. No one is forcing us to ride these waves.

Some artists do just that. They retire and look back fondly on their careers. Others ignore their personal warning signs and keep going until the boat capsizes in a storm. Either way, it’s helpful to remember our artistic destinies are not all up to fate. We have a say in what we choose to take from this journey, in what we choose to learn. And if part of what we learn is that our art matters, and it also doesn’t matter, that’s profound. If we stopped creating art today, the world would go on. If we let go of our artist identities, we would find new ones. Our art does not define us, and there is no such thing as a “real artist.” There is only art that feels real.

The fact is, I can still find the joy in creating. Maybe not as often as I used to, maybe not in the same way as before, but it’s still there. So, I’m still here. And I’ve decided I will be until that joy is gone. Then I’ll look for something new to bring me purpose or contentment and I’ll think back fondly on all I created.

While I’m still choosing to be in the boat for now, I’m no longer pushing so hard to get as far away from the pier as possible. I’ve learned that sometimes you have to return to port and spend some time making repairs to the boat if you want it to stay seaworthy. It’s a rough ride out there, after all, but when the sea is calm, and the breeze is mild, and the dolphins are jumping beside the boat, you can see the horizon, and it’s a breathtaking view.

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