By: Joseph A. Garcia, PsyD
When my son was born, I witnessed the intimate struggle of my wife bringing the most beautiful thing I had ever seen into full view of the world. It strikes me now that the act of creating a piece of art is no less intimate and in many ways no less difficult a process than that of creating a life. Much in the way that my son was hidden from me before he was born, the world does not see the behind the scenes struggles, self-doubt, anxiety and pain that the artist often experiences during the process of creating a piece prior to showing. In much the same way that a parent has hopes and an aspiration for their child in the world, the artist too has these hopes and desires for their work. I have often said that being a parent is one of the most wonderful and terrifying things I have ever done. I can only imagine having my child judged every day. Artists (to include all art forms including music, theater, writing, etc.) live with having their “children” judged every day.
Living under this type of constant scrutiny and having ones success be contingent upon not only excellent creative output but a constant flow of that creative output can cause extreme fatigue as well as anxiety and stress. Carrie Schmitt wrote an excellent blog entry (http://www.scoutiegirl.com/birthing-your-ar-becoming-a-creativity-doula) detailing this idea. She looked at how self-care for the artist can often be the same as prenatal care. She specifically mentions;
- eating well,
- getting exercise,
- surrounding yourself with people you trust,
- and breathing.
- These are all excellent examples of prenatal or in our case pre-creation self-care.
I would like to add a few things to this list to reflect the more competitive academic world of art. I will use Lao Tzu’s verse 24 from the Tao Te Ching to elucidate a way of creative being.
He who stands on tiptoe
doesn’t stand firm.
He who rushes ahead
doesn’t go far.
These lines bring to mind the idea of mindfulness. When one is attempting to look off into the distance or rushing to get toward some goal, that person is not in the here and now, they are not being mindful. Mindfulness is a buzzword in the field of psychology and stress reduction these days and for good reason. Being mindful (not as a break from your work but as break during your work) can yield powerful and transformative results. The big idea here is to be fully in the moment of your work while you are creating it. Put aside all thoughts of critique, deadlines, and self-doubt. A mantra you may use before starting to work might be;
“I am here because I am an artist, I am an artist because I create, I create because I am creating”
Then do your work with your entire being. If you are divided in yourself between the stress of competition, deadlines, and critique then you are not putting yourself entirely into your work. Without YOU your work will suffer. Be an attentive parent to your work.
He who tries to shine
dims his own light.
This line may be seen as a lesson in energy conservation. When under constant pressure to perform and stand out amongst our peers it is easy to fall into a pattern of excessive energy output. This is where I say, “just relax”. This is a much easier thing to say than to do. However, if you struggle to shine you burn your fuel much less efficiently. I recommend finding relaxation techniques that work for you. The therapists at White Cloud Therapeutic Services can help you with. We can introduce you to techniques ranging from meditation, traditional relaxation techniques, and finding ways to maximize your potential counseling.
He who defines himself
can’t know who he really is.
He who has power over others
can’t empower himself.
These last lines of the poem speak to the source of your personal energy. By allowing yourself to break the confines of restrictive labeling and self-definition you give yourself the room to experience your creative impulses freely and without reservation. Within a diverse curriculum and the need to create within many different formats this mindset can help you to move between the many paradigms of the artistic world.
He who clings to his work
will create nothing that endures.
If you want to accord with the Tao,
just do your job, then let go.
The natural end to the creative process is to let go of your work. This can be a scary time for the artist. To continue with the original metaphor, this is the moment when the parent sends their child off into the world as an adult and must trust that they have done the best they could and that their work is complete. Perfectionism, while a powerful tool for the artist, can in the end be the artist’s most detrimental liability. Deciding that your work is complete and ready for the world can be difficult but liberating. This is the moment when you sign your name, turn in your work and move on to the next project. With this done, breath deeply, take a moment, celebrate your creation and then move on. Let go. And with that, I will take my own advice and move on to my next project.