Thursday, January 19, 2012
The end of the movie Cast Away when Tom Hanks is standing at the intersection in the middle of apparent nowhere, after the girl in the truck has explained where all the roads lead - seen it? Though a likely conclusion is inferred, the movie - like real life - doesn't finish the story for us.
Though I have not shared the experience of being marooned with only a ball for company, I identify with the sense of being lost and a search that, while seemingly external, is a metaphor for the inner journey. Miles-long stretches of open roads, no clearly marked destinations... crossroads. I've spent many hours standing there often not realizing that it wasn't going to be made easy by a bolt of lightening or script writer. Sometimes having choices is as overwhelming as not having any.
A studio stocked with enough supplies to go retail does not equate to art making. A stack of empty journals and cache of pens doesn't create prose. I've written poetry, short stories, essays, blog posts, worked in acrylics, collage, mixed media, assemblage, fabrics; however, I'm uncertain that I know how to do 'my real work.' And what is that work? All I know is that it involves creativity.
I just finished reading Steven Pressfield's The War of Art. It has been around for a decade and I'm no stranger to books dealing with the creative process, or more important, the lack of it, but I've only recently discovered the gem. Maybe it's the way he writes - decisive, direct and to the point - maybe it's the right time, or both, but the book has taken hold in my thought process.
A lifelong writer, I never had writer's block until after attending an advanced fiction program with highly credentialed authors as instructors. No slight to them, once I realized just how a 'great' paragraph should read I couldn't muster a competent sentence. How's that for Resistance, which Pressfield says is the enemy of creativity. Both real and imagined, Resistance is what stands between us, meaning, "Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us.
When I started making art, my naive self knew I could spend endless hours in the studio and never run out of ideas, options, techniques, materials. The exploration and experimentation were heady and just plain fun. But then I reached a point when, in retrospect, I started taking it too seriously. Pressfield's take on Resistance is eloquent and powerful; in my life it is the viney, tangled web ready to morph into a flesh-eating virus.
The more I learned about mixed media art and the blog community that teaches, supports and unites us, the more difficult it became to produce. The art war takes place in the hierarchy mode where most of us operate, a pecking order that inevitably leads to comparisons. That would have made my next step, or rung on the ladder, getting a piece of my work published in a magazine, possibly even a book. Those thoughts created a sound akin to a door slamming shut in my mind. So, I haven't completed anything - that I 'like' - for a while now. And worse, I've been unable to decide on the criteria for really liking a piece.
My best work may have been the backgrounds I did when Jim (my DH) needed help last fall. One of the 18x18s canvases was the dominant visual aspect of the piece. I suppose knowing that a background can't be screwed up, that it can only evolve or take on an entirely new life through texture, color, collage... makes it OK to play. But transferring that mindset to creating a finished project, one that reflects my inner artistic self, remains elusive. The longing for writing, for soldering, painting, sewing, whatever, doesn't necessarily translate to action.
I crawled out on the giant limb that usually rescues me from myself and invested in a new table/organizational system for my part of the studio. Yes, my husband said... you're swimming in a sea of pieces, parts and paper. But no, I answered, then I'll have to admit that I am committed to making art. Yet another Pressfield quote, "The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death." Yes, his book has turned me into a cheerleader of sorts though it may have more to do with my particular need for his words.
Rather than turn into an even more frustrated looney, I've been organizing and making room for the new work center. There I will start texturing, scraping, painting, sanding, writing on and messing in backgrounds until I figure out what I do want to create. I will show up and do the work. If you're still reading chances are you've found yourself in this dilemma; if so, read the book. Again, it's The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield. It might not change your life like it has mine, but I guarantee you won't be disappointed!