Getting to Work

There is the silly myth that still surrounds the concept of the working artist. The muse hits, and suddenly we're supposed to jump into the process of creation in a fury of inspiration and work until exhaustion prevails, passing out in a near Victorian repose as our audience is able to witness a new masterpiece. That's definitely the Hollywood version, and those, who know artists, usually realize that most art isn't created that way. Unfortunately, some peoples' perceptions go to the other extreme, and so they expect artists can turn off and on at a whim whatever it is that gets us working. Alas, that perception is as ridiculous as the first one.

Professional artists can't make a living by making art a la the popular perceptions of Michelangelo and Van Gogh. The truth is they both worked all the time and didn't let little things like interpersonal skills, bathing (Michelangelo), or insanity and the odd ingestion of lead based pigments (Van Gogh) get in the way of cranking out masterworks. However much they accomplished, today's artists don't often have a single rich patron or family to sustain us while we loose ourselves in our work. Of course, if we waited until the muse hit, we'd starve as well. Waiting on such a muse to inspire us off our backsides and to work has all the efficiency of getting from Atlanta to London by walking.

So what's a pro to do? Well, it's important to have tricks up your sleeve. We all need something that moves the fulcrum on the see saw to make it go from down to up. We are a visual lot, so looking at what inspires us is often a good start. I have a couple of books on ethnic jewelry that work like magic when I flip to the Middle Eastern chapters. Most of us have some kind of sound track that also puts us in the mood, as it were. Many of us have a whole arsenal of tricks to get going, so that whether the muse shows up or not, we still have inventory to show and sell.

There's one more challenge for all but the wildly independent (read 20 something males with no spouse, no kids, a small trust fund, and a Buddhist bent for materially minimal living). Most of us aren't islands. We have kids and spouses, pets and houses, gardens in need of weeding, clothes in need of washing, and refrigerators and pantries that are always mysteriously missing that key ingredient that will let one make tonight's dinner.

There is nothing so completely frustrating as making art in the middle of, well, life. It's the pulling of emotional energy away from oneself and outward toward others, energy that must stop going outward, do an about face, and begin recharging one's own batteries in order to gain any kind of flow state. When the pulling doesn't stop, no amount of pictures or sounds can galvanize an artist back to the process of making art. It's like asking a black hole to stop what it's doing and create a little matter.

I used to be perpetually frustrated with friends, who thought if I was home that I must not be working, despite always having had my studio in my home. Things got easier when so many more people began working from home even if they weren't self employed. Still, people used to seeing artists work may erroneously believe that artists just show up in their workspace and switch whatever button to work just like if someone working in an office sits down at the computer with a cup of coffee in the morning and immediately starts working... after checking email... and getting on Facebook.

As important as simply showing up is, gaining momentum is what gets us into a flow state that helps us create. For me, it's essential that I be thinking about what I'm working on before I actually sit down to work on it. I mentally feel my way through what I want to make or make progress on, and the ensuing build up of ideas is the momentum that carries me over to the bench and makes my hands pick up the tools. It's like stretching before running or dancing. Walking in and hitting the ground running, is a great way to get injured. My walking over to the bench and grabbing the torch without getting myself into the right frame of mind is probably a recipe for melting something or worse, potentially setting the house on fire.

This mental shift and momentum is a stealth move. Since it's going on in my own head, no one is aware of it except me, although everyone around can become painfully aware if I am derailed from making that shift and the momentum is lost. In other words, getting interrupted multiple times before I begin can be as frustrating and creatively devastating as getting interrupted after I've started. How well do runners run after the 12th false start? It's all too easy to give up and remember that I need to update my mailing list and catch up on email, and as important as those tasks are, they don't get art made.

Most artists cope with that problem by working away from home. I've always kept my studio here so that I could work through the night while my little one slept. I'm not sure what would happen if I moved work out. I've always been afraid that I'd never get there. Perhaps I should be more afraid that I'd never come home. ;-)

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