When we achieve a great accomplishment, we feel buoyant and bright, don't we? As we should—we've probably surmounted some great challenge, or brought to fruition a cool idea and it came out better than we had hoped. But the truth is, we can crash and burn, too. We’ve all experienced periods of inadequacy and frustration. Sometimes, these feelings can be so strong, they keep us out of our studios altogether. This is normal. The ups and downs of the creative process are part of our private lives as artists.
The only problem is if these down periods last too long. They may be normal, but they're definitely not pleasant, so any strategy that cuts them short is useful and welcome. After over twenty years in this biz, I've found that certain tactics work really well to keep that sense of buoyancy flowing through all our projects.
So how do we stay eager and motivated in our studios when the lows drag us down? Here are some ideas to keep those creative fires burning bright, even in our most frustrating moods:
- Maintain perspective: Adopt the idea that we create our work, our work doesn’t create us; our worth isn’t dependent on what people think of our art, only on what we think of it. To create art based on chasing down people’s approval has only one destination: Faceplant central. It can also dumb down our work as we appeal to the lowest common denominator and we want our work to be distinctive and fresh. So instead, creating art on our own terms boosts our joy, and that shows in our work. Don’t worry about the rest—it’ll fall into place.
- Stay open-minded: A rut can induce boredom that saps passion right out of the studio. Really, keeping our skills stretched to the point of breaking is far more important than many artists realize. Only through audaciousness do we tap into our passion—and all great art is first a product of passion. So push your envelopes and dispense with comfort zones! Try new things and stretch beyond what you think you're capable of creating. Creating on the edge of your gifts not only adds excitement, but you'll end up happily surprising yourself, too.
- Build bonds: Being an artist is a solitary endeavor, and that can lead to feelings that feed disillusionment. Finding supportive, social groups of like-minds can be just the ticket, and often the best choices are forums hosted by organizations, clubs, or groups dedicated just to artists. We all need encouragement and support from time to time, especially from those who sail in the same boat. We'll also find ideas and opinions that fuel our creativity, adding to a diverse body of work that keeps us interested.
- Cultivate quality: Taking pride in our craft validates our work, and our sense of self-worth. Yet “quality” doesn’t mean just good quality materials—it also means good quality work. Always put 100% of yourself into each piece, creating consistently high quality work that builds confidence and reliability for your collector base. And working to stay artistically progressive reminds us that we are capable of far more than we may believe.
- Clarity: Having a clear, honest understanding of why we chose to create within equine realism can be instrumental in keeping disillusion at bay. But it’s not enough to say, “because I like it.” Realism is no easy discipline, and we need more meaningful reasons to reaffirm our commitment. How people respond to our work often mirrors how we regard our relationship with it, so give it some thought. When we have something clear "to say" through out work, our narratives deepen and our work becomes more meaningful.
- Explore: Equine realism is inordinately demanding and myopically focused, and our muse may need variety from time to time. We could enroll in art classes, and maybe even in creative outlets totally unlike our profession, such as stained glass, plein air painting, weaving, or ceramics. We may find a need to develop these other outlets parallel to our realistic work, because we not only have to stay open-minded about our art, but about ourselves, too! Our creativity can be applied to any number of things, and interestingly enough, they usually reflect back to inform our realistic work.
- Baby steppin’: While practice makes perfect, driving ourselves crazy in the process isn’t constructive. And sometimes we can attempt more than we’re capable of at that moment. So rather than be hard on ourselves, it’s better to just giggle it off, and switch gears. The point is—don’t stop and stew! Switch gears! You can always come back to a difficult project later, perhaps when we're better prepared.
- Welcome change: As we grow, our art, expectations and interests will change, too. Embrace it! Perhaps the expectations of our collector base have shifted, or some new fresh approach has raised the bar. We need to say current. The moment we become resistant to metamorphosis, we cease to be artists that create compelling work. And change won’t ruin our reputations, destroy our customer base, or threaten our livelihoods. Opportunity evolves with us.
- Stoke the fire: Sometimes all we need is to re-experience “horse life.” Getting personal with the real deal can do much to reinvigorate our passion for this beast. So attending horse shows, visiting stables, or even taking riding lessons can give us healing opportunities to chill with horses and snap some reference photos. Likewise, visiting galleries, museum exhibits, art shows, open studios, or foundry tours are beneficial. Artist retreats and workshops are terrific outlets, too. Every so often, we need to be reminded why the horse fascinates us, and why we’re artists that specialize in their expression.
- Keep it positive: If we find ourselves overwhelmed, shuffling pieces around can do the trick. We can either waste time battling a problem piece (and inevitably create a lesser work), or better use that time (and emotional energy) to work on something else. Working on several projects at once, or having different ideas to shuffle between can go far to keeping our interest piqued. Conditioning ourselves to equate our creative state of mind with negative emotions is destructive. So having lots of sideline projects can help us make a detour rather than stopping altogether.
- Experience life: Our “other” selves are just as important. Family, friends, pets, extra-curricular activities and even travel all play significant parts in our life that come back to support our art life. In a sense, they provide distance and perspective because working in our studios without “taking a breath” can be suffocating. Plus, our creative “subroutines” need time away from the studio, and so our downtimes are just as important as our active times.
- Create different kinds of work. For instance, bas-relief, medallions, plaques and other such gift items can go far to keep our interest. Maybe take a ceramics class, or a painting class. The possibilities are endless. The point is, apply your creativity to many ways of expression, as that will keep it fueled and fired up.
- Appreciate irony. Our view of our work often isn’t shared by others, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. More often, it’s ironic. For instance, many of our perceived mistakes or hard sells often turn out to be our most popular pieces! So we should learn from these unexpected results because in them lie gems of insight about ourselves, our choices, and how our work is perceived.
- Reevaluate. We cannot create in a vacuum. The reevaluation process asks us to stretch ourselves because when we can recognize our problem areas, we can learn how to amend them. And so we can proceed with our art with a clear and reasonable understanding of our next step, and that certainly can keep us motivated. So work to find blindspots or areas of our process that need tweaking. Sometimes this alone can reinvigorate our interest in our work as we learn to sculpt "all over again."
- Self-value: Most of all, we shouldn’t minimize our talents. Respecting ourselves and our abilities maintains our sense of pride and worth. We also can recognize those things that make our art special, and work to enhance it. If all we do is fixate on the faults in our art and our presumed inadequacies, we’re creating a negative feedback loop that erodes our desire to create at all. Always remember that your art is special and unique, and work to protect that idea.
Though we may not know it, every minute in our studio is a series of motivation-induced moments strung together by a continuum of passion. Each moment inspires the next, and so it goes until we complete our piece. It’s critical to protect this delicate chain of psychological events.
How we work to reclaim our happiness when confronted by disillusionment speaks much of our commitment to our art. Yet are our darkest moments really all doom and gloom? If we step back and think about it, don’t they really give us an opportunity to progress? In this way, our disillusion really is a kind of gift, without which we wouldn’t have that pivotal opportunity to grow. In fact, when these moments happen, aren't they a way of our art telling us we need to change something? When we feel at our weakest really is the moment when we fathom our true strength, and it’s within this revelation that our enthusiasm can be reignited in wonderful ways that surprise us.
"Anxiety and uncertainty doesn't mean you should stop or run away—it very likely means you're right on track. Outside the comfort zone is where the best creativity and your best life live." ~ Susan Baili, M.D.