Everyone in some, or many, parts of their lives, must overcome hurdles if they are to succeed. We must get over our shyness if we are to interview for a job. Stick to a budget, and not spend willy-nilly, if we want to save money for a new home or car or vacation. We must clear the hurdle of not being afraid to go back to school if we want a different career. Art is no different. Every artist at some point bumps up against an obstacle. That obstacle can be a challenge for them to overcome or perhaps it pushes them in a different direction. The following hurdles are what Cat Bennett covers in her Confident Creative: Drawing to Free the Hand and Mind.
“Watch your thoughts”, Cat warns us. There have been innumerable life coaches, psychologists, counselors, and scientists that stress that our thoughts come before our emotions and that in turn affects how we go throughout our day and interact with others. The same is true for our art. As we create, thoughts might arise that what we’re doing is worthwhile or not. Depending on how much credence we give the thought, how much we indulge in what our ego tosses out to us, determines how we feel about our creation. If we give up based on the thought, how does that make us feel? If we push through the hurdle, how does that affect our creativity? It is estimated that we have over 60,000 thoughts a day. How many are ‘good’ thoughts and help us out, and how many are trivial or ‘negative’ thoughts, which we can let go of and get on with our tasks? The more value we give a thought, the more it hangs around. Consider this when your critic pipes up and mentions that your colors are wrong, or that you’ve used incorrect punctuation, or that you metered on the shadow in the photograph when you should have metered on the sky. If we pay homage to what our critic says, then our enthusiasm for our work diminishes. Perhaps we put it away and take our time returning to it. But if we’re able to allow the thoughts to float by like clouds on a summer day or leaves on a pond, even instigating a ‘positive’ thought, then we are no more bothered by the negative than we are a breeze that brushes past.
Maybe for you, like me sometimes, coming up with a positive thought to replace the negative one is harder than showing up at the page when the critic is on a rampage. Because I am a practicing yogi, I understand Patanjali’s suggestion about watching our thoughts and noticing our habits. Sometimes, my best response is to laugh as I watch my mind spin the same old thoughts, the ones that keep me stuck, the ones that prevent me from creating. When I was taking counseling classes for my Masters, the saying, “Awareness is the first step”, when discussing addictions, was our mantra. Little did I know at that time how true those words are to every part of our life! If we wish to get into better shape, we need to become AWARE of how much we eat, what we eat, and how many hours our butts are planted in a chair. If we want to write/draw/paint/sketch/cook/sew/dance/sing better, then we need to become AWARE of our thoughts about our current performance and what other thoughts arise to take us in a forward direction. When we begin to watch our thoughts, choose what we decide to give our energy to, then we begin to tap into that part of ourselves that is above our thoughts. The more that we become of AWARE of what floats through our mind, the more we are able to be undisturbed by it; the more we can create without interruption.
Watching our thoughts is a form of discipline. Just as we wake up early to log in a couple of jogging miles, or write 2,000 words, we can discern what feels ‘freeing’ and what seems too comfortable. Because our inner critic is so willing to jump in with judgement, we need to be aware from a place of neutrality. One way to become aware of your thoughts is to utilize single-pointed focus. Concentrate fully on what you’re doing in the moment. If your mind wanders, if thoughts intrude, send them on their way and come back to what you’re doing. With practice, we’ll find ourselves more engaged in the moment (and our art) and less concerned with thoughts that trickle into our mind.
Another hurdle that impairs our art is pleasing. When we create only to please others or try to figure out what our readers want, what the art collectors desire, then, according to Cat, our work becomes second-rate and less authentic. Our work should please ourselves, and not the self that judges and condemns our attempts at self-discovery. And it is that judgement that constructs yet another obstacle. One way this comes up is when we try to force creativity. It is in the relaxed, moment-by-moment approach that invites the muse and opens the dance floor for a tango or cha-cha with your inspiration. To push and try to get things right only squeezes the lines feeding your muse.
A great thing about art is that we can ‘Start Over’. A hurdle that some artists face is that they want to keep everything they create, that everything will have the same brilliant shine. Yes, it is all original. Yes, it is all important to growth. But sometimes it is the letting go, the clearing out, the beginning again from a different direction that refreshes us and keeps us entertained as we create.
I have written over and over again about the courage it takes to create. Even if you choose to not share your work with the world, just to put pen to paper, brush to canvas, chalk to sketch pad, voice to music takes an incredible amount of courage. That courage comes with a healthy dose of faith and trust in the universe that your way will be illuminated and the journey will be worth the perceived perils. All of these hurdles can be overcome if we heed the call and show up to do the work. Without judgement, the art is what it is. We discover parts of ourselves covered over by the lies the ego whispers to us when we forget our courage and buy into its tales. Whatever art is created is perfect in that moment. We’ve learned something about ourselves, we’ve brought some joy to our lives, and if we choose to share our work, perhaps we enliven others.
Cat Bennett has much more to share with us, and I in turn have more comments, suggestions, and exercises for us to consider and use when do the work. www.myjoyenterprises.com is what I consider my ‘public forum’. It is where I show my authenticity and perhaps spark an idea in others. More will be showing up soon.