“I trust in nature for the stable laws of beauty and utility. Spring shall plant and autumn garner to the end of time.”Robert Browning
“Go to your studio and make stuff.”Fred Babb
I love this time of year! Autumn, the season that Irish poet William Allingham called “the mellow time,” when everything slows down and we transition from summer to winter and move from the outside world to an inside world and make preparations for the cold months ahead. A long-standing autumn tradition of mine has been to look back over the year and to ask myself what I’ve accomplished, what worked and what didn’t, what I’ve learned, and what I want to accomplish in the coming year.
This time last year I was totally inspired by something I read about artist Alex Kanevsky. He talked about how winning a grant that allowed him to do nothing but paint every day for almost two years was a breakthrough experience for him because it allowed him to discover both continuity and his personal modus operandi.
Reading what he said got me in touch with how often it happens that when I look back over a year, I notice that while I can usually tally up a list of personal achievements, I’m often disappointed with what I accomplished in the studio. In unraveling that thought, I got in touch with the fact that when my personal life gets super busy and time becomes an issue, my painting life suffers because I feel like I don’t have time to spend in the studio. I began to recognize that when I stop painting for long stretches of time, I often forget where I was when last I painted. When I finally find my way back into the studio again, it usually feels like I’m back to square one again, with no idea of what square two even looks like. It’s like having to reinvent the wheel over and over again.
I’ve totally fallen in love with the idea of continuity! Merriam-Webster defines continuity as uninterrupted connection, succession, or union. My one and only art intention for 2016 was to discover continuity (OK – maybe I also wanted to discover a little more about my own personal MO as an artist – but of course that can only be found through continuous connection to one’s art; continuity). 2016 was as busy as ever, but I held the idea of continuity throughout the year. I still wasn’t in the studio as much as I would have liked, but I made a conscious effort this year to always have something percolating in the studio – something delicious to chew on that’s trying to lure me back into the studio. In looking back over 2016, I can say that the assignment I gave myself to consciously seek continuity not only made a difference in my art, it made the whole year a little more delicious as well.
Is there one habit or practice that really makes a difference between getting your creative work done and not getting it done?
Yes. The most important practice an artist can institute is a morning creativity practice where she carves out some time bright and early every day, five, six or seven days a week, to work on her novel, practice her instrument, or get right to her painting studio. There are three important reasons to institute a morning creativity practice. The first reason is the most obvious one—you’ll be getting a lot of creative work done! Even if only a percentage of what you do pleases you, by virtue of working regularly you’ll start to create a body of work. That’ll feel good! A second reason is that you get to make use of your “sleep thinking”—you get to make use of whatever your brain has been thinking about all night. Create first thing and capture those thoughts that have been percolating all night! The third reason is that, by creating first thing, you’ll have the experience of making some meaning on that day and the rest of the day can pass in a half-meaningless way and you won’t get depressed! Getting right to your creative work first thing each day provides you with a daily shot of meaningfulness. That’s a lot of goodness to get from one practice.
I’d like you to chat a bit about what you call the “freedom key.” What sort of freedom are you talking about?
Many different sorts—let’s look at just one, the freedom not be perfect; or, to put it slightly differently, the freedom to make big mistakes and messes. Not so long ago I got an email from a painter in Rhode Island. She wrote, “I’m a perfectionist and I want my artwork to be perfect. Sometimes this prevents me from getting started on a new project or from finishing the one I’m currently working on. I think to myself: If it’s not going to be the best, why bother to do it? How do I move past these feelings?” One way to get out of this trap is to move from a purely intellectual understanding that messes are part of the creative process to a genuine visceral understanding of that truth. You need to feel that freedom in your body. As an intellectual matter, every artist knows that some percentage of her work will prove less than stellar, especially if she is taking risks with subject matter or technique. But accepting that obvious truth on a feeling level eludes far too many creative and would-be creative people. They want to “perfect” things in their head before turning to the canvas or the computer screen and a result they stay in their head and never get started. You have to feel free to show up and make a big mess—only then will good things start happening!
Another key that interested me is what you call the “relationship key.” What sorts of relationships did you have in mind and what can an artist do to improve his relationship skills?
All sorts of relationships! And relationships in the arts are frequently very complicated. You may be very friendly with a fellow painter and also quite envious of her. You may actively dislike a gallery owner or a collector but decide that he is too valuable to cast aside, maybe because he is your only advocate or your only customer. You may respect your editor’s opinions but despise the rudeness with which she delivers them. There may be no such thing as a genuinely straightforward relationship anywhere in life but relationships in the arts are that much more complicated and shadowy. The main improvement an artist can make is to actually think about the matter! You can decide how you want to be in relationships but only if you actively decide. You get to decide if you want to be honest and straightforward even if others aren’t, if you want to be polite and diplomatic even if others aren’t, if you want to be quiet and calm even if others are stirring the pot and making dramas. It may not prove easy to be the person you want to be at all times and in all situations, especially since the marketplace has a way of throwing us off our game, but you can nevertheless hold the intention to try your darnedest to be the “you” you would most like to be. This takes thought and preparation!
I hope you’ve enjoyed this interview with America’s foremost creativity coach, Eric Maisel. Creating is often difficult and challenging. The hard work involved with producing new work, managing personality traits, and maintaining a satisfying personal life are things we artists deal with on a daily basis. In this new book, Making Your Creative Mark, Eric Maisel offers solutions to these and many other issues that artists face and provides insight that will help you create and manage a meaningful life in the arts. This book is a definite must read for all artists!
“Eric Maisel has made a career out of helping artists, musicians, dancers, and writers cope with the traumas and troubles that are the price of admission to a creative life.” Intuitionmagazine
Making Your Creative Mark by Eric Maisel
One of my favorite authors has just released a brand new book – and I am very pleased to be part of the blog tour that is introducing it! Making Your Creative Mark is the latest book by Eric Maisel, and it’s a must read for artists who are serious about creating a successful and fulfilling life in the arts.
This is the 13th book by Eric Maisel that I’ve read. Over the years, the insights I’ve discovered in his books have been an enormous help to me in learning how to honor my creative life and how to deal with the daunting challenges that every artist must navigate and negotiate on a daily basis.
In Making Your Creative Mark, Eric Maisel addresses nine issues of vital importance to anyone who creates or wants to create. In the book’s introduction he writes, “Most likely you know how often you stall, block, and give up. Most likely you understand that the art marketplace is a difficult place. Most likely you understand how often time gets away from you, how often you fret about whether what you’re attempting matters to anyone, including yourself, and how often your discipline eludes you. You can name the challenges. But what to do about them? Mastering the nine keys in this book will help you tremendously.”
Here is the first of a two-part interview with Eric Maisel about his new book, Making Your Creative Mark. Enjoy!
An Interview with Eric Maisel, Part 1
Why do you think someone would want to gamble everything on a life in the arts when it’s so hard to make it as an artist?
Human beings crave the psychological experience of meaning. We want that almost more than we want anything else. There are maybe a score of ways that human beings regularly generate that psychological experience: through service, through relationships, by excelling, by seizing new experiences – and by creating. Creating is one of our prime meaning opportunities and for many people the most important. Therefore folks who decide to devote themselves to an art discipline aren’t making some sort of calculation about risk versus reward. What they are doing is honoring their need to make their own meaning. If you look at a life in the arts as a smart career choice it doesn’t make that much sense; if you look at it as a tremendous meaning opportunity, it makes perfect sense.
You’ve organized the book around nine keys. Can you highlight one or two of them for us?
I start with the “mind key” because I believe that getting a grip on our thoughts and doing a better job of thinking thoughts that actually serve us are supremely important skills to master. Most people do a poor job of “minding their mind” and choosing to think in ways that serve them. It is a completely common practice for people to present themselves with thoughts that amount to self-sabotage and to refuse to dispute those thoughts once they arise. If people did a better job of “minding their mind” by noticing what they were thinking and by making an effort to replace defensive and unproductive thoughts with less defensive and more productive thoughts, they would live in less pain and they would give themselves a much better chance of living the life they dream of living. This is doubly true for artists who can doubt their talent, take criticism too seriously, find a hundred ways to avoid the hard working of creating, andmore. There’s really nothing more important than getting a grip on your own thoughts!
You present what you call “the stress key.” What are some of your top tips for reducing the stress that a life in the arts produces?
Life produces stress, the artistic personality produces additional stress, creating produces even more stress, and living the artist’s life is the topper! An artist must learn how to deal with all of these stressors—and how to deal with them effectively. There are many tactics an artist can try—the key is actually trying some! You might try “writing your stress away.” Research reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests that writing about stressful situations and experiences can reduce your stress levels – and can actually lead to improvements in immune functioning, fewer visits to the doctor, and an increased sense of well-being. You can reframe a given demand as an opportunity, turning your “stressful” upcoming gallery show into a golden opportunity. You can have a fruitful conversation with yourself and answer the following four questions: 1. What are my current stressors? 2. What unhealthy strategies am I currently employing to deal with these stressors? 3. What healthy strategies am I currently employing to deal with these stressors? 4. What new stress management strategies would I like to learn? An artist needs to honor the reality of stress and make plans for dealing with it!
Eric Maisel is the author of Making Your Creative Mark and twenty other creativity titles. America’s foremost creativity coach, he is widely known as a creativity expert who coaches individuals and trains creativity coaches through workshops and keynotes nationally and internationally. He has blogs on the Huffington Post and Psychology Today and writes a column for Professional Artist Magazine. Visit him online at http://www.ericmaisel.com.
Eric Maisel, America’s foremost creativity coach, columnist for Professional Artist magazine, and author of 40 books, is doing a month-long blog tour to discuss his brand new book, Rethinking Depression, and I’m excited that my blog is the second stop on his tour and he is with us here today! Eric is one of my heroes and one of my favorite authors. I’ve read 12 of his books, and I return to them frequently, especially when I’m in need of emotional support, a cheerleader, or some new “dragon slaying” techniques. I’ve read Rethinking Depression and I think it’s destined to be one of my all time favorites! Reading this book is like taking a master class on how to shed negative labels and create an authentic life of purpose and meaning.
The first part of the book takes a look at the common human experiences of unhappiness and sadness. Taking them out of the shadows and acknowledging their existence is the first step in reducing their power over us. Eric asks us to take as much control as possible of our thoughts, attitudes, moods, and behaviors and to view our freedom to take control over our lives as a joy and a blessing. Another important step is deciding to focus on making meaning rather than on monitoring moods.
The second part of the book presents an extensive program for living an authentic life based on three fundamental questions: “What matters to you?”, “Are your thoughts aligned with what matters to you?”, and “Are your behaviors aligned with what matters to you?” This time Eric asks us to remove the protective blinders we have put in place to avoid the many painful facts of existence and the shortcomings of our personalities, and to don the mantle of meaning maker – and to be clear with ourselves – that we are the only one who can make our lives meaningful. He points out that nothing is more important than meaning yet nothing is so little investigated, and he encourages us to understand and embrace the fact that personal meaning is a completely subjective affair and that it can shift and change. Once we accept this view, meaning is always available to us – it is always waiting for us.
The best part of the book for me is the 20-element program Eric designed to help us organize our lives around what matters most to us. Not only will following the program help us find personal meaning and make it real in our life, it also offers support in eliminating the unhappiness that comes from inauthentic living. Eric states that not all unhappiness will vanish if we follow the program; we’re human beings after all, and not immune to pain. But he promises that a lot of our unhappiness will.
Eric – welcome to my blog! First of all, I want to say that I am a huge fan and I’m very excited about your new book! Because I connect so closely to your work on the psychology of creativity and creativity coaching, I started reading Rethinking Depression in terms of how it might help an artist live an authentic and meaningful creative life. But the more I read, the more I realized that some of my thinking and attitudes in both my everyday life and my creative life were in need of a tune-up. I seem to be always working on “balancing my everyday life with my creative life”, thinking that if I could only achieve that goal, I would be in my studio more frequently. But I began to realize that I was wearing those “protective blinders” you speak about and that it isn’t always my busy everyday life that keeps me out of the studio, it’s me wanting to avoid confronting those “dragons” that often show up at my studio door.
Here is my first question: Removing our blinders and taking an honest look at the dualities inherent in the creative process requires that we accept not only the magic – those moments when we’re in the flow and everything is going beautifully – but also doubt, fear, anxiety, discouragement, disappointment, and despair – to name just a few of the “dragons” that can get in our way. Can you make some recommendations for how we can say an unconditional YES! to the negative aspects of the creative process and slay those dragons so that we can get on with it, do our work, and make ourselves proud?
Eric: Everything that we need to know is embedded in the word “process.” It is the truth about process that we make mistakes and messes, start on projects that never come alive, do a percentage of excellent work and a percentage of mediocre work, stall on some days, and engage in a remarkable dance of attachment and detachment as we care about our work while also not attaching to the outcome. Once we understand process and genuinely honor it, we can begin to take the “bad with the good” with what amounts to equanimity!
Donna: In Rethinking Depression, you present a program for living an authentic life organized around three questions: “What matters to you?”, “Are your thoughts aligned with what matters to you?”, and “Are your behaviors aligned with what matters to you?” Considering those questions brings up competing things that matter for the artist who has chosen the creative life as a way of making meaning and who also desires a meaningful everyday family life. Trying to “balance everyday life with the creative life” seems more like wishful thinking than supportive thinking. Can you suggest an alternative way of thinking about it and some strategies for dealing with competing pulls?
Eric: The simplest answer is that you maintain a creativity practice, say perhaps for the first hour or two of your day or in whatever way works for you, and when you are done you decide that you are really done and you return to the rest of life. You might use as a mantra or affirmation “I return with strength” as a bridge from creating to the rest of your life, to remind yourself that you haven’t completely exhausted yourself in the service of your work and that you have strength left for the other tasks in life. It is completely possible to create for a certain number of hours every day and to also be available for your family and your other meaning needs for a certain number of hours every day: the only thing standing in the way of that possibility is a person’s own unwillingness to honor both creating and relating.
Creating is such a solitary pursuit. Consequently often the only voice we hear concerning our personal creative process and our desire to have both a meaningful everyday life and creative life is our own negative voice – the voice of judgment that says there must be something wrong with us if it’s not all magic every time and every day. Eric makes it clear that our judgment of our experiences can be either positive or negative – it’s entirely up to us. Removing the blinders and accepting that there are – and always will be – both positive and negative aspects of the creative process and everyday life has both humbled and freed me.
What do you think about what Eric said about the truth of the creative process, and how do you honor those ever-present dualities?
You can see the rest of Eric Maisel’s blog tour for Rethinking Depressionhere.
Thank you so much Eric for sharing your thoughts about the creative process and living the creative life with us today!
Long ago, I decided that my creative life is something that matters enormously to me. It gives my life passion, purpose, meaning, joy, happiness, fulfillment, and a great deal of satisfaction. And there is great magic to be found in those peak creative moments of being “in the flow”, those moments when everything seems to beautifully fall into place.
But there is also great magic to be found in my everyday life as well – spending endless hours talking with my oh so grown-up daughter about life, love, and art, cooking dinner with my husband, having 3 hour dinners in the summer with my husband of 46 years on our tiny patio – candles and wine included, hanging out and getting goofy with my 4 grandkids, holidays, long lunches with special friends.
I seem to be always working on “balancing my everyday life with my creative life” so that I can find more time for my painting. But, if I haven’t learned anything else in all these years of chasing after that goal, I’ve learned that we can’t “find more time” because it doesn’t exist. Maybe a better idea is to decide that both my everyday life and my creative life matter enormously to me. And rather than drawing a line in the sand between them, a better idea would be to pay attention to the magic and the dragons that are part and parcel to both and slay the dragons that restrict, impinge and generally prevent me from getting on with the magic.
That immediately leads to the question: How do I decide what to do when “opposite” things that matter to me compete for my time and attention?
Here is an answer I found in Eric Maisel’s brand new book, “Rethinking Depression”:
“You weigh your actions against a vision you have of the person you would like to be, the person it would make you proudest to be; you take action; you learn from your experience to what extent you guessed right; and you make use of what you’ve learned as you make your next decision. We can give this a shorthand name: the principle of personal pride. You use the principle of personal pride to make your meaning. This may be the beautiful, imperfect, harrowing way – the way of making meaning.”
I am excited to announce that Eric Maisel, Creativity Coach, Psychotherapist, and author of over 40 books, will be stopping by my blog on Monday, April 2 on his month-long blog tour to promote his new book, Rethinking Depression. I hope you’ll visit my blog on April 2 for a sneak peek into his new book and to hear more from Eric about how the ideas he presents in the book can be applied to the artist’s journey and living the creative life.