Welcome to Tuesdays with Chel.
“To be an artist is to recognize the particular. To appreciate the peculiar. To allow a sense of play in your relationship to accepted standards. To ask the question ‘Why?'”
– Julia Cameron
Welcome to the Bliss Habits Book Club! For the next several weeks, we’ll be discussing and working our way through The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron.
This week’s chapter, week 11, is called “Recovering a Sense of Autonomy”. Cameron starts out by discussing ACCEPTANCE – not only our acceptance by others, but our acceptance of ourselves as creative beings with unique working habits and definitions of success.
The first section of the chapter reads like a personal manifesto, and I found quite a few passages that *really* resonated with me, and I suspect there are parts of this section that will resonate strongly with anyone creative. Here are some of my favorites:
“I AM AN ARTIST. As an artist, I must experiment with what works for me.
Since my artist is a child, the natural child within, I must make some concessions to its sense of timing. Some concessions does not mean total irresponsibility. What it means is letting the artist have quality time, knowing that if I let it do what it wants to it will cooperate with me in doing what I need to do.
Sometimes I will write badly, draw badly, paint badly, perform badly. I have a right to do that to get to the other side. Creativity is its own reward.” – Julia Cameron
As I have mentioned before, the idea of “creativity is its own reward” hits me hard. Why? Because by coming around to the idea of the creative process being more important than the end product, I’ve been forced to take a good, hard look at my creative habits. And I’m not liking what I see. I’ve been realizing there a lot of stuff that *doesn’t* make me happy.
And that scares the crap out of me.
Why? If there’s one thing that I have always been able to count on, it’s that art makes me happy. Creativity makes me happy. When all else fails, I can pick up my paints and find something meaningful in that process, something that will transform my mood, or at the very least, make my day a little less sucky.
But throughout these last few weeks, as I’ve reevaluated my creative habits, I’ve been forced to see that there are things I don’t enjoy about my creative process. There are passions (passions that I have defined the word “artist” around) that no longer hold any value for me.
And, admitting that makes me feel a little empty, a little bit unsettled. If I could always count on a certain creative pursuit to bring me happiness, and that’s no longer the case, then what? There’s an empty spot, a hole that needs to be filled. It’s scary. Suppose I don’t find anything that made me as happy as what I am giving up once did?
But as Cameron writes:
“To a large degree my life is my art, and when it gets dull, so does my work. I cannot allow my emotional and intellectual life to stagnate or the work will show it. My life will show it. My temperament will show it.”
This makes so much sense. Our creative work does reflect our inner climate. And when we get too settled in what we do, and become even a little bit bored by it, it is magnified in not only our finished works, but the process of making them. So we have to keep growing, evolving, trying new things, finding new loves. Finding NEW and fresh reasons to return to our art studios, our typewriters, our desks, our easels every single day. Cameron writes:
“As an artist, my self-respect comes from doing the work. One performance at a time, one gig at a time, one painting at a time. …The creator made us creative. Our creativity is our gift from God. Our use of it is our gift to God. Accepting this bargain is the beginning of true self-acceptance.”
Whether you connect with (a) God or not, it’s important to recognize that creativity is indeed a unique trait. It’s almost like when we were born, we were given a different perspective on life. Like, super-hero vision, or something. And by using that perspective, be seeing the world through it and translating what we see and understand for those that don’t, we are indeed providing a service. Even if it seems incredibly silly because being creative can be such a *fun* thing. But think of how many people love to read, love to go to museums and look at the art, love to linger over a beautifully and artfully prepared meal. There is much appreciation for creativity. It brings happiness to the world.
“To be an artist is to recognize the particular. To appreciate the peculiar. To allow a sense of play in your relationship to accepted standards. To ask the question ‘Why?'”- Julia Cameron
But… does being an artist, tending to that creativity, mean we are irresponsible? We may not be contributing to the world (and our finances) in a way that’s understood or appreciated by everyone.
I have struggled with this for a LONG time, the battle of “what sells” vs. “what’s meaningful to create.” It’s *so* hard. And finding a balance is like a needle in a haystack. And the balance always shifts so every single day it’s a new search for that balance. But Cameron points out:
“Being true to the inner artist often results in work that sells—but not always. I have to free myself from determining my value and the value of my work by my work’s market value. [But] the idea that money validates my credibility is very hard to shake. I must learn that as an artist my credibility lies with me, …and my work. I need to create what wants to be created. I cannot plan a career to unfold in a sensible direction dictated by cash flow and marketing strategies. Those things are fine; but too much attention to them can stifle the child within, who gets scared and angered when continually put off.”
I think a lot of us agree with this- when we start tuning into the voice of the marketplace and our bank account and tuning out our creative voices, we miss a lot of important things that *don’t* get repeated.
Cameron discusses this in the section called SUCCESS. She writes:
“Deciding to play by the numbers, we lose our commitment to counting ourselves and our own goals worthy… You don’t need to overturn a successful career in order to find creative fulfillment. [Instead] it is necessary to overturn each day’s schedule slightly to allow for those small adjustments in daily trajectory that, over the long haul, alter the course and the satisfactions of our careers.”
I appreciate this perspective. It’s going to be a while before I can trade in my financially-based ideas of creative success for more emotionally-based ideas of success. I like the idea of making small changes over time rather than trying to overthrow my belief system in one fell swoop.
“Artists can and do responsibly meet the demands of their business partnerships. What is more difficult and more critical is for us as artists to continue to meet the inner demand of our own artistic growth…. If we ignore our inner commitment, the cost rapidly becomes apparent in the outer world. A certain lackluster tone, a rote inevitability, evicts creative excitement from our lives and, eventually, our finances.” – Julia Cameron
Cameron also discusses boredom and the dreaded “plateau” that we all hit at one time or another.
“Creativity is a spiritual practice. It is not something that can be perfected, finished, and set aside. It is my experience that we reach plateaus of creative attainment only to have a certain restlessness set in. Just when we get there, ‘there’ disappears. Dissatisfied with our accomplishments, however lofty, we are once again confronted with our creative self and its hungers. The questions we have just laid to rest now rear their heads again: what are we going to do … now?” – Julia Cameron
As I have written before, I’ve felt this very strongly these last few weeks. Now that I’m trying to shift the goal from financial success to emotional success, I have no idea what to do with myself creatively. I spent so much time focusing on marketability that I lost sight of what made *me* feel connected and tapped in to the creative flow. I started thinking maybe a creative hiatus might be a good idea- a month or so away from the art studio. But Cameron doesn’t think that’s such a great idea. She writes:
“This unfinished quality, this restless appetite for further exploration, tests us. We are asked to expand in order that we not contract. Evading this commitment—an evasion that tempts us all—leads straight to stagnation, discontent, spiritual discomfort. ‘Can’t I rest?’ we wonder. In a word, the answer is no.
The ruthless truth is that if we don’t keep moving, we sink to the bottom and die. The choice is very simple: we can insist on resting on our laurels, or we can begin anew. The stringent requirement of a sustained creative life is the humility to start again, to begin anew. It is this willingness to once more be a beginner that distinguishes a creative career.”
Beginning is a scary place, but it’s also a GREAT place. There’s always a next step, something to move towards and aspire to. Always more work to be done. Always a reason to return to our creative space.
However, breaks *are* necessary. Cameron encourages that we take them in the form of exercise. She calls this THE ZEN OF SPORTS. She writes:
“Most blocked creatives are cerebral beings. We think of all the things we want to do but can’t. Early in recovery, we next think of all the things we want to do but don’t. In order to effect a real recovery, one that lasts, we need to move out of the head and into a body of work. To do this, we must first of all move into the body. There is a connection between self-nurturing and self-respect…. Exercise teaches the rewards of process. It teaches the sense of satisfaction over small tasks well done.”
“We do learn by going. [Through physical activity] we learn we are stronger than we thought.”
Another “creative break”, of sorts, is what Cameron calls BUILDING YOUR ARTIST’S ALTAR. She writes:
“In order to stay easily and happily creative, we need to stay spiritually centered. This is easier to do if we allow ourselves centering rituals. It is important that we devise these ourselves from the elements that feel holy and happy to us… A spiritual room or even a spiritual corner is an excellent way to do this. Fill it with things that make you happy. Remember that your artist is fed by images.”
I love this idea. A lot of people create vision boards, or inspiration boards. I mean, Pinterest is basically one HUGE creative altar, isn’t it? But it’s nice to have a tactile place, IN OUR PERSONAL SPACE, where we can create a zone of inspiration and good energy. Cameron writes:
“An artist’s altar should be a sensory experience. We are meant to celebrate the good things of this earth. Pretty leaves, rocks, candles, sea treasures. Remember, the artist child speaks the language of the soul: music, dance, scent, shells …”
After I read this, I realized I have a few of these going on around my house, in my art studio, too, but nothing *focused*. But I love the idea of a creative altar. A place to get inspired, get centered, and get reminded of what creativity is really all about- connection, growth, and joy.
The discussion is continued on Facebook, as well. Please join us.
Chel Micheline is a mixed-media artist, curator, writer, and avid gardener/reader/swimmer who lives in Southwest Florida with her husband and daughter. When Chel’s not making art or pondering the Bliss Habits, she’s blogging at gingerblue.com (come say hi!) or posting new things in the gingerblue etsy shop.