Artist and blogger Michael Nobbs recently wrote an excellent five-part series on Getting Your Important Work Done, which got me thinking.
One of my big goals (what Nobbs would call My Important Work, what Havi would call my thing) is to be creating art every day. Yet I resist making art.
On the other hand, one of my other big goals is to write every day, and this, at the moment, feels easy and fun. Even if I don’t post every day, rarely a day goes by when I don’t write.
So the question: Why is it so much harder these days to get myself to make art than to write?
Understand I make art for clients on a fairly regular basis – just last night I finished a custom ketubah commission. But making art that I want to make just because I’m curious and compelled and interested and I feel like making it, that’s a lot harder for some reason. These days I’d almost always rather write a blog post.
What’s going on here?
The newest Bliss wins
It occurred to me that for one thing, writing is my newest Bliss. And kind of like a New Best Friend, or a new love, I want to hang with it all the time.
It’s been the same with each of my Blisses: Modern dance. Calligraphy. Salsa dance. Singing. Argentine Tango. Writing. Each one of these has been Passion Number One at some time in my life. And just after first discovery, I can’t not do my new passion.
New passions take me over. They “run me.”
I remember when I first started as a calligrapher and artist, and was astonished to hear other artists and calligraphers complain about needing a push to get to their studio and make stuff.
How can anyone need urging to get to their studio and make stuff, I wondered?
Maybe a year or two later I was disheartened to discover that same resistance had settled on me.
What’s going on here?
Why is it so easy to do the (admittedly hard) thing in the beginning, and so much harder to do it later on, when it’s ironically somewhat easier to do?
The benefits of being a beginner
For one thing, when I’m a beginner, the stakes are low. I don’t have to make any money from it, nor do I have to maintain any kind of reputation, because I don’t have one yet. Part of the challenge that drives me is proving myself and establishing a reputation. And precisely because I am still proving myself, the only high expectations I have to fill are my own.
In other words, I’m still in the exploring phase, still pretty much in Beginner Mind.
When I achieve a certain competency or success level, however, that’s when the resistance starts to kick in.
The challenges of a modicum of mastery
You’d think that when the thing itself gets slightly easier that I’d only be more glued to doing it. But in fact, the opposite seems to happen.
At first, the hard part was in mastering the skills, and perhaps getting some recognition (which I’ll admit, I do crave). But it turns out I thrive on this sort of challenge. It’s precisely the pursuit of mastery that drives my engine.
With a modicum of mastery under my belt, though, the game changes. Going from “total beginner” to “pretty good” is relatively easy. (Not easy, understand; just the easiest part of the journey.)
Pushing beyond this, over the hump to the next level (to what? “remarkable?” “damn good?” “excellent?”) it turns out, is the harder part. It takes a lot more effort, and a lot of focus and commitment to get to each successive level of mastery. (Maybe it’s even exponentially harder?)
Plus there are now expectations to meet, potential to fulfill.
Back when I was still a pretty new calligrapher, I received enthusiastic encouragement from several Big Name calligraphers who seemed hugely impressed with the quality of my beginner work. For a moment, I felt on top of the world from their praise, but then suddenly the prospect of making anything new was fraught with expectations.
I felt like everything I did had to be a masterpiece.
This is not a recipe for fun, play and experimentation!
What’s the solution?
I don’t profess to have The Answer. Reams of books have been written on the subject, and people much more experienced than I have created wonderful courses, such as Julia Cameron’s The Artists Way and the like. And certainly a commitment that feels attainable is a good tactic. (20 minutes a day, say, which is the commitment I took on a few weeks ago to great effect, and also what Michael Nobbs suggests with his 20 minutes a day challenge.)
What I have figured out, though, is that as a Multi-Passionate person, it behooves me to not totally discount where I’m feeling pulled to put my energies. I realize this means I’ll never be The Best at anything, because I’m simply not wired to focus all of my energy on one thing forever. But as a Multi-Passionate Creative, I seem to be happiest when I allow myself to follow whatever’s drawing me forward.
You may be very different (and god knows I used to want greatness way more than happiness), but in my old(er) age I’ve weighed in for happiness over greatness.
(This is in no way meant to discount the value of discipline, of committing to doing My Important Work, of just showing up. Just to acknowledge that as a Multi-Passionate person, I can expect to be buffeted around by continually shifting priorities. It’s part of who I am, and I’m learning to embrace that.)
In addition, I know a huge piece of this puzzle is related to finding my voice (which is a topic for several posts of its own). It’s been so long since I consistently made art just for me that I don’t even know what my art is anymore. I’ve “lost” my voice, and the prospect of looking for it again, of “refinding” it, feels daunting. I know I need to go back to Square One, back to letting myself “suck” for awhile.
Oy. I’m in for a ride.
And you’ve got a passenger seat view.