I think all creatives yearn for some kind of success, some kind of recognition for the work we do. Success is maybe not why we photograph, write, paint or travel—or whatever creative activity we do—or ought not to be. The work itself, being creative, is a reward good enough if we only let ourselves not get obsessed with the thought of success. The craving for success can actually get in the way of our creative endeavour.
Nevertheless, we do feel good when we experience some kind of success, whether it’s monetary gain or just some heartfelt feedback from a good friend. I am sure you know what I am talking about.
Success is all in our minds, though. You cannot control how the world will receive and perceive your artistic work, but you can be in command of how you feel about it yourself. If you let yourself feel good…
I really enjoyed your piece, Eli! It very much resonated with me! I keep finding posts and comments like yours that are so in sync with Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way (1992),* to which I’ve become a convert over the past few years. I guess you really do find what you look for. Perhaps you’re familiar with the book. A huge part of Cameron’s program aligns with your sentiments in this post. Cameron spends much text encouraging the child in us to play–even, or especially, in a messy way–at art, in whatever form.
If it is to “work” for you and your readers, I think initial creative writing (both fiction and non-fiction, even journalism and scholarly work), like any art, has to feel something like play, something with a natural flow and ease and subconscious hum about it. Editing is the real work, as it calls for a more analytical mode and purpose, the imposition of structure upon the raw, lovely “mess.”
Coming across your post, Eli, also reinforces my last post, a response to resisting perfectionism in favor of simply making art. A perfectionist approach to play certainly is no fun, just as it is often counterproductive to even the adult-like goals of one’s writing. Initial, rough drafts of creative output should be a flawed fountain of fun.
Many people do not enjoy their professions, trades, or jobs, and the same can be true for writers, but it doesn’t have to be.
Play-write instead of playing “right,” and you’ll be on the right writing track.
See my previous posts on the theme of perfectionism vs. the artist’s way (a.k.a., the way of beautiful imperfection). They make up almost one-third of my total number of posts, I’m just realizing after compiling the list.
*Disclaimer: I feel compelled to note that, although you may notice a pattern of “promotion” here, I solemnly swear I am in no way in the employ or service of Julia Cameron or her associates and have no financial incentive to promote her work. I just like it–clearly! 🙂 Looks like it’s time for a new category page.
I agree with most of the major points in the main post linked above on the confidence/vulnerability topic, including the embedded, sampled responses. In fact, I found myself at each turn nodding and thinking, “Just like Julia Cameron says in The Artist’s Way.” Many of these themes and issues arise frequently in the book. **
The one thing I disagree with, and side with Cameron about, is the notion that we are our own best judges. While it is true that during the creation process it is best to eschew judgement (especially of ourselves) altogether, once the art has been created and it’s time to assess and edit, others’ opinions are often helpful and sometimes indispensable.
“All too often, it is audacity and not talent that moves an artist to center stage.” — Julia Cameron
Julia Cameron effectively says, Repeat after me, “My job is to create, not to judge.” This mindset frees us to express ourselves in flow without expectation, and it reminds us that there are enough critics among potential readers out there–our own misgivings need not apply.
At the same time, it is part of a writer’s job not to avoid judgement but to seek the wisest, most trusted sources of beta readers for objective, constructive feedback and counsel. Although this step can be scary even with trusted readers, it’s better than to resign ourselves solely to subjective self-flagellation by our internal committee of unreliable critics.
“Always remember that your Censor’s negative opinions are not the truth.” — Julia Cameron
In other words, each phase has its useful function and purpose (creation, critique, and self-critique), and we need not fear going through all the phases, as long as the input is positive and helps us move forward with our writing and, thus, our confidence. Cameron equally encourages artists to shield themselves against negativity in general and disparaging reviews in particular.
“Progress, not perfection, is what we should be asking of ourselves.” — Julia Cameron
Ultimately, art is meant to communicate, which requires an interface and exchange between writer and reader, speaker and listener, image and viewer. Not everyone on the receiving end will be nice to the provider, but very few will be intentionally mean or corrosive. Artistic expression requires a little trust and a little faith in people, not to mention courage, if it is to be shared confidently.
“Leap, and the net will appear.” — Julia Cameron
Avoiding all external judgement, a course that may seem blissful and safe, is not the path to unshakable confidence. It is a fool’s errand to make art while simultaneously expecting to publish and preparing to ignore responses to what we make. We only retard our development by insisting on operating in a vacuum.
Artistic growth occurs in conversation with other art and artists–which is increasingly true in the blogging and social networking age–whatever forms the art and the conversations may take. The dual gift is that we cannot help but improve as people while we improve as artists.
We can always learn from each other, even through the challenging moments. When we remain open with a balanced, sensible approach to engagement, artistic fortitude can be mutually and self-reinforcing. From there, we only get better.
** Seriously, if you are a budding (or veteran but jaded) creative type with low or wavering self-esteem, you should probably give The Artist’s Way program a try. Applied as intended, it is therapy that liberates mind and spirit and a system that fuels inspiration and creativity.
~ Read the post (contains explicit language), then take the poll. ~
Here is my adapted definition of synchronicity: A mild (positive) shock of recognition of the convergence that alerts your mind to a potentially important connection between one object, person, place, or idea and another.
The phenomenon is neither deja vu nor ESP, but something akin to both. Whereas these two focus, respectively, on the past and the future, synchronicity lives in the present, with us, urging us to be captivated–now. Yet, there is a predictive factor in play with any associated time delay between one half of the connection and the other. Perhaps it is a form of ESP after all.
It serves as a kind of homing beacon, saying simply, “Yes. Yes, this is for you and you alone.” The meaning of the convergence is unique to the recipient; the recognition is one that only the recipient can experience in just this way. The effect on the recipient may be an urge or need to follow up–to say, write, or do something to acknowledge the synchronous event.
Why does it happen? Because we asked for it somewhere deep in our subconscious mind. Why do we respond as we do? Because we realize it is an answer to an unspoken (or perhaps spoken) question we had sent out into the ether.
You could call it an answered prayer. Some call it meaningless coincidence. Whatever you call it, it is good, for our good.
The Artist’s Way author Julia Cameron explains that when we open ourselves up to these connective possibilities, the flood gates open, and these moments may arise more frequently. If our answer to the “yes” of the synchronous moment is also “yes,” in the way we keep ourselves open, receptive, unafraid, even in awe, and lovingly curious about what may happen next, the chance of these recurrences increases.
An emotional rejection of the moment, whether through fear or scoffing skepticism, will discourage the shy matchmaker that is synchronicity from reappearing and offering its gifts again.
For me, the visitations have been relatively few and infrequent but, mainly, consistent with the definition and “rules” of relationship the experts present.
The most vivid recollection I have of this phenomenon is of an instance while driving in my daily commute from Cuyahoga Falls to University Circle in Cleveland several years back. It was so vivid that, in retrospect, I almost believed I must have made my query aloud. How else could the reply have come with such stark, unmistakable delivery?
Traversing a highway bridge in relatively bright daylight, I spotted a dark object ahead of me near the end of the bridge but in the middle of the road. It was fairly large, so I thought it might have been a shredded semi tire or large trash bag.
As I drew closer, details revealed a flapping motion toward the top of the somewhat rounded object. It did not move like a bag and moved too much to be heavy rubber or any other usual debris.
Considering the possibility of its being a dead animal, I was puzzled, as no road kill I had ever seen, whether squirrel or groundhog or raccoon or even deer, would present this kind of motion. Within range to see the object clearly, I gasped when I realized what it was.
The shock of recognition in this case was neither mild nor particularly positive. It was a dead Canada goose, on its back, with its stiff, webbed feet waving in the wind of the traffic on a bridge.
I had seen such geese alive hundreds of times, so ordinarily, a witnessing of this deceased version should not have disturbed or frightened me much at all, I suppose. But I immediately recalled my unspoken question of recent days, which even in my mind had been more of a passing observation:
“Hmm. I’ve never seen a dead Canada goose before.” I had thought it odd not to have seen one, or realized seeing it, in my nearly 30-year lifetime.
The universe gives us what we ask for.
After I gasped, in consternation and with furrowed brow, I said aloud, “Oh, no, that’s not what I meant!” I brought hand to face as I refocused on the road ahead of me. Being a bird lover and an animal lover makes seeing dead animals, however repeatedly, a slightly saddening experience for me, but I rarely tense up or feel the need to say or do anything in particular but sigh or inaudibly exhale and keep driving.
Even though I had no particular love of Canada geese–we all know they can be obstinate, loud and disgusting nuisances in large numbers–seeing the answer to my question lying there, in that ridiculous position, trying to swim upside down through the air while glued to the asphalt, struck me as rather horrifying. But it took the question’s existence and this clear answer of that question to create the full impact.
Was this synchronicity? If so, what ever for? Was it mere coincidence? If so, why was my reaction so vehement? Was it answered “prayer”–God, I hope not! Thinking that the last option might be the case, I was stricken with a sense of guilt and fear that I had somehow made it happen, that I had provided the outcome for myself.
How could I say “yes” to such a perceived power? Who wants to be able to kill innocent creatures one normally admires and sometimes loves by simply wondering about their death? Was it a sign that I needed to think more positively, else I could start offing things with my brain waves?
After all this, providing these definitions, rules, explanations, and the sense that I must know something of what I speak, I must confess: I don’t know why it happened or what it meant, if anything. I do know, however, that my awareness of synchronicity as a phenomenon had been heightened around the same time, though focused, or at least tossed haphazardly, in other directions.
This was certainly an unexpected confluence, an unanticipated call and response. Unwelcome is more like it. If there was anything to do, what could it possibly be? Too freaked out to follow up, to face the strangeness of it any more than sharing the story with others, I never did pursue, or seek to create, any meaning from the experience.
Is this writing piece itself the answer? Is the point merely to make material available for writerly pondering? Why do I bring this up now? Why not?
The truth is I crave positive synchronicity in my life and art. It’s a way of overcoming reluctance to express myself, of beckoning what I perceive to be external motivation to make it a regular part of my life. Yet, I have not decided exactly what constitutes regular enough or legitimately constant self-expression. Perhaps this desire is just a childish way of shirking routine responsibility.
These misgivings are the kind that lie at the heart of the purpose of The Artist’s Way program. Art is legitimate, Cameron hammers home. You do have something worth expressing. Stop asking for permission and seeking some undefined legitimacy. Just express you. Let the creativity, the communication, the thing to give flow through you out into that same ether where your questions linger and sometimes receive answers.
As a philosopher, I stand by the notion that seeking and knowing the right questions remains largely more important than having the answers. I’m good at asking provocative questions. They serve me in personal growth, as a tutor and teacher, as a mentor and writing peer, as a wife, a daughter, a caregiver of a special needs pet, and a friend.
Like anything, though, in excess, questions merely cripple, and they strain to serve the pursuit of art. This can take the form of self-sabotage.
Whether that’s what the goose encounter was or not, it definitely felt counterproductive and thwarting. It only raised more questions and fears. And it was just downright unpleasant in itself.
So, am I to redefine or relabel more appropriately, if that’s the case? Was it not synchronicity, this supreme, benevolent source of all good, as I had interpreted it to be? (Really, I thought God was saying, “Here you go!” in a cruelly cheerful tone.)
Are we all just full of shit? Sometimes I think so.
If it didn’t really mean anything, why do I feel compelled to frame it in this way, or to talk about it at all? Is the interpretation more of a twisted desperation to experience life-saving synchronicity? Or, is it a way to close the door on synchronicity’s potential forever, by saying, “If this is what it looks like, I’m not looking!”?
I wish I knew, but I don’t. All I can do is move forward now. That did happen about seven or eight years ago, anyway.
I have experienced what I would label as positive synchronicity since then, again in the context of re-raising my awareness of it, particularly in re-reading The Artist’s Way, though that isn’t the only source of discussion about it I have read. And this time, art was served, in the form of a poem, or, rather, the affirmation of a poem I had just created.
My recognition of the occurrence took the form of exclamatory marginalia, which are anything but marginal in my studious life. It impressed upon me a subtle encouragement to continue on the theme I had chosen, to try it out in new works, to dwell in the world of this general theme, which happens to be my relationship to animals.
That’s not coincidence. It’s not answered prayer. It’s not really synchronicity either. It’s just part of who I am, a thread of personality running through my experiences and artistic tendencies.
Whatever the causal label, the effective reality is authentic living, being true to myself. And by thinking and writing about it, I reinforce and hone my understanding of who I am.
I have taken an inventory of art I produced and enjoyed in 2013, a sort of artist’s résumé. Never mind publishing or selling most of these. There are as many things simply enjoyed as created, anyway. This is art for art’s sake, in the spirit of Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. Behold my “artist’s dates.”
It’s amazing how much and how well my way has become an artist’s way over the past year. 2014, here I come! I plan to try painting pottery for the first time soon, to continue nature drawing, try other new activities, and develop my skills in some art forms already explored.
My advice to blocked or otherwise yearning artists? Get out there and play the artist’s way. Note: It helps tremendously to read and follow the program of the book. I especially recommend doing this with a friend or a group of fellow creatives to help motivate you and hold you accountable. Play on.