Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Continuing the Journey - Getting Past the Doldrums

This past Monday morning, I was sitting around my living room, absentmindedly flipping channels when I came across an old sea-faring movie, and it struck me, as I sat there, doing  nothing, that I was - like the ship - stuck in the Doldrums. Only my doldrums are an expression of lack of motivation, rather than lack of wind. But, the more I thought about it, the more the metaphor grew on me. My Artistic Journey is EXACTLY like that at this particular moment.

For the past several months, since my medical condition has pretty much taken all opportunity for 'regular-employment' away from me, I have been trying to make a new path - establish a new journey - as a working artists, with the goal of creating, marketing and selling my work to make a living. 

For a while I was doing fine, the Artistic ship cruising along nicely with a good wind in the sails. I have been encouraged along the way by family and friends who have expressed their support for my new venture and like a nice crisp breeze in the sails, have given me a lot of energy to begin my journey.

So, I set out, painting, drawing almost daily. I even started a project who's design was to keep me 'artistic' every day. I was sailing along fine in this regard. I was making new works and even making some sales - all giving me the drive to keep going. But, like a seafaring adventure, things happen, life seems to get in the way and sooner or later, the wind gets taken from the sails and the ship starts to drift. 

I have fallen into the Artistic Doldrums - drifting now for a couple of weeks - and I am scared that the wind will not return, and, like in the movie, supplies will run out and my crew will mutiny, and set me adrift - alone, with little hope of ever continuing on or returning to my creative journey.

O.K., I know it may be a bit melodramatic, but as an Artist - as most artists are - solitary individuals - I find it really hard to stay motivated, and to have the self-discipline to follow through on my goals of daily art work. I find excuses NOT to create, rather than reasons to get things done. One day it is a bad head-ache and I end up crawling into a bottle of aspirin and under a blanket - wasting away the day trying to chase away the pain, rather than working THROUGH it. The next day it is depression with which I struggle, where all my artistic endeavors seem pointless and profitless. So, I sit, in my chair, moping, again, not getting anything accomplished artistically. It has been all too easy for me, at times, to see everything I face as just one more day stuck in the windless sea, drifting, with no direction, no purpose, with now positive end in sight.

I have spent a lot of time reading artist biographies (maybe THAT is part of the problem!) and as I read their stories of how their lives unfolded artistically and personally, it is no wonder that so many of my historic counterparts turned to alcohol, drugs, bad relationships and the like - often to the point of suicidal tendencies - that I now better understand their 'motivations' for the extremes. I guess it is a good thing that I DON'T have the spare money for alcohol, drugs or the like! So, for me, I guess it is the fear of what the future may or may not hold that has become my challenge to overcome. 

As yet, I don't have extremely wealthy patrons that can give me huge stipends in advance of artwork to be created (though I DO  have a few customers who seem to value what I do and send what they can and purchase  what the can, which is awesome) I don't have the kind of freedom that many artists do in that economic regard. Generally, though, I don't mind. I am not sure that someone dumping a big wad of cash on me to 'create' would necessarily be a good thing anyhow... I am only now becoming a bit comfortable in the amount of work I can produce. But, I see the limitations of this as well. The reality is, that if I do not get out of my doldrums - seek my own wind - I may never get my journey back underway and be able to move forward. Therein, lies the rub. Self-Motivation. Self-Determination. It is not nearly as easy as it might seem.

Since I have been making this transition from the 'traditional-work-world' to one of a more artistic nature, I have had discussions with many people that see my new life-style through THEIR eyes, as one that is so 'rewarding' or so 'liberating' or even 'relaxing'. Not so, my dear friends. Taking on the task of being a working-artist who's goal is to make a living is very difficult - at least for me. Much like any other situation of 'self-employment', I generally have no one here to kick my ass into gear, to get off my chair and get out and DO what I need to. Sure, I have friends and family who 'encourage' me, but as is with most other artists who go through this process of creative lack of wind, it is not as easy as it looks to get out in front of the ship in a dingy and row, row, row until your creative back is sore, to get the ship back into a good wind, and to get moving again. 

I am NOT trying to play the fiddle of self-pity here, but rather to try to take a look at WHY and HOW I end up in these Artistic dead-zones, and WHAT I can do to get out of them. I am realistic enough to realize that ALL artists go through this. Heck, we ALL do - artists or not - we have days or weeks when we get up in the morning prepare for 'work' and say, 'What the hell. Why am I bothering anyhow?' This is not unusual and I am not alone in the experience. But, the difference for me (and many artists) is that it is really, up to US to find a way to rise above the 'dead-zone', to push on into a new wind, and that if WE don't do it ourselves then no one else will. 

So, how the HELL do I do it? Well, if I had the answer to that I wouldn't be writing this entry, now would I? As I seek to regain the creative wind, I think the answer for me will be to work hard to discipline myself into a schedule where I am doing SOMETHING, every day, knowing that it is not really the finished product that is important at the end of each day, but that I make the EFFORT to create, that I take the time to just DO. Sometimes, that is indeed enough. Sometimes that is indeed all that can be accomplished. 

I think that I have been pressuring myself to COMPLETE something each day and that if I don't accomplish that, then I feel like I have not worked hard enough, or have not put forth enough effort to DESERVE to continue trying to be a working artist. I think many of these issues come directly from a lifetime of traditional work, where that is often the goal - produce daily, meet the quota, or suffer the consequences (get fired). As an Artist, I need to DEFINE exactly what my goals are - sometimes on a minute by minute basis - depending on a variety of things. I need to continue to be realistic and focused on the PROCESS more than the PRODUCT.

Hmmm. PROCESS over PRODUCT. Funny. I spent many years preaching this to my art students in the past, yet find it hard to follow my own advice. PROCESS over PRODUCT. Doing and improving as I work towards the end of a project. It is almost laughable how these things come full circle sometimes. 

I know that my economic and artistic success will depend FULLY on how much effort I put into the PROCESS (improving my skills, getting better technique, becoming more efficient, etc.) and that if I am doing THAT the rest will fall into place. 

No one is going to GIVE me anything as an artist. No one is going to BUY anything that I do not PRODUCE! And, the longer I sit in these 'Doldrums' moaning about it, the more time slips by and more opportunities are missed to get my Artistic ship back into the strong winds of the journey that I have put myself on. 

So, today marks one more day where I will make the effort to get back on the path - back into the wind - and get some things accomplished. 

"Row, Row, Row! Put your back into it you scallywags!"