MAYBE IT’S YOU: Staying Creatively Centered When Creativity Changes Things

A few days ago, I wrote about how people who are less than gracious about our creative efforts. I’ve learned that some relationships change when we begin our creative journey as an artist. I shared how some friends and family members will react badly–or not at all.

Today I want to talk about the other factor that changes:

You. (I can almost hear you…. “Wha-a-a…???”

Here’s a quick story to illustrate.

I start every day with a freshly brewed cup of coffee. I use the same coffee maker, the same filters, the same amount of coffee, and the same mug. (My favorite one!)

Why do I love this mug? Big (16 oz.), beautiful aqua color, holds the heat, flat bottom that doesn't collect water in the dishwasher.

Why do I love this mug? Big (16 oz.), beautiful aqua color, holds the heat, flat bottom that doesn’t collect water in the dishwasher.

Yet every single time, something feels different. And this happens when I pour the finished coffee into my mug.

Some days, the pot feels light. “Dang!” I think as I pour. “I didn’t put enough water in!” Other days, the pot feels heavy. “Dang!” I think. “I won’t have enough room for cream!”

And yet every day the cup is filled to almost exactly the right level. Because I put almost exactly the same amount of water in each time.

The reality of the coffee hasn’t changed. What changes is my perception. Daily.

This morning I realized this is also a big piece of why creativity changes things.

If your creative efforts are new, or if you’ve made a major shift in what you do, you’ve changed, too. You’re on strange new ground. You may feel excited, anxious, happy, scared. You most probably feel open–and vulnerable. What people say suddenly matters–a lot. The things people do and say may carry more power, more impact on your psyche.

This is what spiritual, emotional growth does–it changes how we perceive what is going on around us. The same stuff is there, but now we’re reading it differently.

The person who was a little less supportive than you’d like? Well, that imbalance of who-does-what-for-whom has probably always been there. But now you see it’s falling short.

The person whose center of the universe is always themselves? That’s been there, too. Only now you actually see how quickly the topic changes from your new venture to theirs, or their kids’, or whatever.

The person who’s always been hyper-critical? Or worse, silent? Perhaps you didn’t notice it when you stood on more solid ground, or you were confident enough that it rolled off your back. But now it hurts.

YOU have changed. They haven’t.

Is this good or bad? Neither. Or rather, irrelevant in the long term.

You’ve taken a major growth step. It isn’t easy, not for any of us. Being open to growth, being willing to learn in any major life change, is an acquired skill. Some people learn early, some late. (Me? I’m kinda behind schedule. But I’m getting there.) Some are not nearly as far along on their journey as you are, and some are way ahead of you.

And yes, even other artists can be shadow artists. No matter how long they’ve been at it, no matter how excellent their work, no matter how well-known they are, some artists may not actually be very far along on their own spiritual/emotional path. These “big circles” may still try to take a few bites out of you. (For an excellent, quick, simple read on this phenomenon, grab yourself a copy of THE NIBBLE THEORY by Kaleel Jamison. It’s a little book worth its weight in gold. I still reread it!)

In the end, your job is to make your art and get it out into the world. Sometimes that’s easy, sometimes it’s hard.

But don’t make it harder by focusing on the drama these people will try to bring into your process. Focus on what you need to do, and how you need to grow, as an artist.

Don’t take the silence, the criticism, the lack of reciprocity alarm you or anger you too much. You’ll get over it, and you’ll get better at ignoring it. You can choose to forgive, you can choose to accept and move on, you can choose to set boundaries, or you can choose to hurt.

I’m still a little stuck at “hurt”. But those life travelers who are further along than I am keep reminding me that this is my journey.

And my time and energy are better spent concentrating on that, than on the direction of, or the lack of, “journeying” by others.

P.S. In the spirit full disclosure, me telling you to do this, helps me do it, too.

WHAT MARTHA SAID: Staying Creatively Centered When Creativity Changes Things

My series on Lessons from the Move has touched some nerves. Turns out many people have encountered the sometimes wonderful, sometimes confounding experiences a major life change can trigger–in ourselves and in our community.

Someone wrote a poignant letter, describing the lack of response or support from their community, now that they’ve embarked on their own art career. Here was my response:

I’ve been pondering your email since it appeared in my in box.

You are just starting out with your creative work. And you’re finding that some people–friends, even–are not very enthusiastic. Not very supportive. Not even very interested, looks like.

Ouch.

You are not whiny and “small”. You are sharing your new-born creativity to your circle, and they are not reacting well. (Or at least not as you imagined they would.) Of course it hurts. Your sharing your new baby to the world, and the only response you’re getting is, “Cute shirt.”

It brings back so many painful memories. And I don’t have any answers, especially not easy ones.

The easy reply is, there are many kinds of friends. There are ones who come around only when things are going well. Others who come around only when things are NOT going well. Some people who can only give so much, and only at certain times. People you can call at 4 a.m. to bail you out of jail, and people who will never pick up the tab, or even split it fairly. People who love you on Tuesday and hate you on Friday. People who are grateful for your help, and then expect you to help over, and over, and over, and over and over again. Others who find it very difficult to accept help in any form, and those who would never even think to ask for help.

A friend once told me that even Oprah, who “knows” thousands and thousands of people, has only a very few that she can share her deepest self with. And this friend, who was very very good to me for years, couldn’t bear it when I became more successful with my art than she was.

Shadow artists are a subtle complication in life. Are you familiar with Julia Cameron’s books? These are people who can’t find their own creative life, whether from self-doubt or fear, or simply lack of talent. Some of them use their inner yearnings to support people who do create. Some become gate-keepers, dream-smashers, and detractors ruled by their lizard-brain jealousy.

I often recite the phrase, “A reason, a season, a lifetime.” (See quote below.) It refers to the people who cross your path briefly, to teach you something (not always something good, just insightful); the people who join your life for a longer period, to explore something deeper; and those who will be in your life for a long, long, long time. The latter are rare indeed.

I could make up many stories about why your friends are behaving the way they are. Maybe they see you as more blessed by life, and therefore not “deserving” of help or support. (Though everyone was to be supported for SOMETHING by SOMEONE.) Maybe they are envious. Maybe they are takers. Maybe their non-public life is nothing like what you see, and they are suffering horribly by something you will never know about. Maybe they have no idea what it means to be an artist, and our need to recognized for our gifts. Maybe they just don’t like your work. (I hate this reason, but there you go.)

Acknowledge the hurt. Consider what role these people will play in your life going forward. If there’s a particular friendship you’d like to salvage, then yes, talk to the person. Don’t get judgy, don’t assume anything. Just say what it looks like, and ask them for clarity. Then listen to what they say. Do they blame you? Or make excuses? Or do they respond with love? When I get to this point, I figure the friendship is already compromised, what do I have to lose? But if given a chance, these people step up to the plate, then it’s worth it.

And the friendship isn’t worth it, then simply put them on the shelf labeled, “Good for a, b, c, and d but not for w, x, y, or z.” Don’t expect them to change or step out of their box unless huge changes are observed. What they are to you, is up to you. What they are to god is between them and god, as a new friend just told me. (I use “god” to mean whatever/whoever you believe is “in charge” of the universe.)

You may have better understanding til then. But until then, only share your new work with the people you know will enjoy it. (Or at least have the integrity to recognize it for your first efforts and will tell you truthfully–and lovingly–how you can get even better.) As your customer base grows, they will be the ones who will wholeheartedly embrace your creative work. That’s why shows and open studios are so important to artists, especially those just starting out–we yearn for the recognition, the support and the admiration.

I hope this helps. I could go on and on (like I usually do!) But it boils down to what Martha Graham said:

There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. … No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.

Do your work. Keep doing it. Get better. Bring it out into the world. Rinse. Lather. Repeat.
hugs,
Luann

Reason, Season, or Lifetime

People come into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime.
When you figure out which one it is,
you will know what to do for each person.

When someone is in your life for a REASON,
it is usually to meet a need you have expressed.
They have come to assist you through a difficulty;
to provide you with guidance and support;
to aid you physically, emotionally or spiritually.
They may seem like a godsend, and they are.
They are there for the reason you need them to be.

Then, without any wrongdoing on your part or at an inconvenient time,
this person will say or do something to bring the relationship to an end.
Sometimes they die. Sometimes they walk away.
Sometimes they act up and force you to take a stand.
What we must realize is that our need has been met, our desire fulfilled; their work is done.
The prayer you sent up has been answered and now it is time to move on.

Some people come into your life for a SEASON,
because your turn has come to share, grow or learn.
They bring you an experience of peace or make you laugh.
They may teach you something you have never done.
They usually give you an unbelievable amount of joy.
Believe it. It is real. But only for a season.

LIFETIME relationships teach you lifetime lessons;
things you must build upon in order to have a solid emotional foundation.
Your job is to accept the lesson, love the person,
and put what you have learned to use in all other relationships and areas of your life.
It is said that love is blind but friendship is clairvoyant.

— Unknown

TEN MYTHS ABOUT ARTISTS #14: Artists Don’t Care What Other People Think

MYTH: Real artists have the courage of their convictions. They don’t care what other people think.
REALITY: Oh, it’s sad, but we care very very much what you think!

This is a myth that started out as “Real artists are loners”. Well, some are, and some aren’t. It’s that simple.

But it quickly got tangled into another myth we hold about artists, one that gets pretty jumbled. So bear with me as I untangle some of the threads.

Yes, some artists do need solitude to create. We need time to explore an idea, to follow it through to all its possibilities. Some people can’t listen to conversation or even music lyrics while they write. Me, for one.

Sometimes talking too much about what we’re doing, or our next project, feels like actually working on it. And our creative energy dissipates.

Other artists, however, work well in partnership and collaboration. They find the give-and-take of brainstorming invigorating, forcing them to go further and higher than they ever imagined.

Our own creative processes are so individual to us, it would be impossible to determine any one way any given work of art gets made.

It’s who we hang with, and why, after the work is created, that gets a little dicey.

Artists may act like we don’t care what other people think about our work. You’ve probably met some (or you are one.) You ask them about the work and you get a snotty reply or a cold shoulder. Or you talk with them at a party and they can only talk about how talented and creative they are.

But it is almost pathetic how much we care what others think.

It would be wonderful if we didn’t. A lot less pain in the world, and I probably wouldn’t have to write this series of myths.

But we do care very very much what you think.

And we are terrified you’re going to tell us.

We hope you love it. We hope it knocks your socks off. We hope you think it’s the most marvelous thing you’ve ever experienced.

And it’s so very, very hard to hear, if you don’t.

This need to have our work loved is so powerful, I hate to share it with you.

Because this knowledge is a terrible weapon in the wrong hands.

I don’t mean we’ll necessarily change it if you don’t love it. We have our artistic integrity, after all.

Wait for it…….

bwahhahahahahahahahaha!!

Again, some people will stand firm, and others don’t mind using a little less blue or a few more dots, if that will win approval. It’s your choice.

Even my fiery artist friend Lee, who fiercely created his art at all hours when the muse struck, sometimes going days without sleep, would call me up to come and see the new work. And he waited anxiously, child-like, yearning for my approval. Not my judgment–he was extremely proud of his artist title–but he wanted others to see what he saw, and appreciate what he created.

But the world is not kind to artists, especially those of us who wear our hearts on our sleeves.

After all, human beings are creatures of opinions. We all got ’em, and we have one on everything. Even the things we don’t know much about.

And of course, we all have a little mean streak in us. It is so easy to criticize what someone has made.

But some people cultivate their mean streak. It is very important to recognize and avoid those people.

Caveat: I know the role of the art critique is a hallowed tradition, especially in art schools. I’ve been to literary gatherings where writers submitted their latest piece and subjected it to a group review.

I know that not all art is beautiful, wonderful, powerful or narrative. There’s a lot of stuff out there I don’t care for.

I myself have served as a mini-consultant for artists and craftspeople, evaluating their current work and assessing whether it is appropriate for their perceived goals and venues.

But I see that function as a way of gently aligning what people say they want, and what they do.

All too often, that critical process is used as a chance to savage the work of someone whose talent threatens our own little jealous lizard brain.

If someone says they are an accomplished seamstress and they want their work to sell, they sabotage their efforts by making shoddy work quickly so they can sell to a lower end market. If someone says they’re a writer, but they don’t blog or submit manuscripts or otherwise get their writing out into the world, then I encourage them to show the rest of us that they are, indeed, a writer.

I don’t try to rip them a new one and denigrate their efforts.

Am I saying we should be namby-pamby and never offer honest feedback about the work of others? Or we are so weak in spirit that we can’t handle a little criticism?

Nope, not saying that. What I’m saying is that we must be aware of our need to have approval–and not let others, whose intentions may be less than honorable, use that as a knife to cut us to the quick.

When we make art, it will be stronger if we focus on what is inside us, what we want to say and what we want it to do.

In a perfect world, we then let go. We know it’s done, that it’s out in the world. And we have to truly not care what other people think. That’s hard, but we can at least try.

In the meantime, be very particular who you show your work to, especially during the creative process. We all know people who, for who-knows-what reasons, cannot celebrate our success with us. They will sabotage your efforts in refined and subtle ways.

Instead, create your own artist community.

These workshops by Deborah Kruger, fiber artist extraordinaire, are excellent. Similar to Julia Cameron’s work and The Artist’s Way. (Just don’t do what so many artists do, and focus on all the meetings and exercises instead of making your art!)

Yes, we all need honest feedback. And sometimes criticism spurs us on to do our most truly powerful work.

But it’s a harsh diet to live on all the time. Someone who tries to destroy your spirit with criticism is not your friend, and not your supporter.

Choose your friends carefully when it comes to you and your art.