I came across something this past week that reminded of an Aha I had while viewing the Matisse exhibit a few years back.
I can’t compare my rough drafts with someone else’s finished masterpiece.
Yet I fall victim to this all the time and people in my workshops often do the same thing. We’re too hard on ourselves. We forget we aren’t seeing the process and the experiments of the masters. We don’t ever see the bits and pieces lying in closets, sitting on a hard drive or consigned to the trash.
Our work is as unique as our signature and that comparison can be helpful. I never worry that my signature doesn’t look like someone else’s. It doesn’t even cross my mind. (Not to mention that would be illegal.)
That’s why we shouldn’t compare our efforts to the person sitting next to us in a workshop or even worse, hanging in a gallery. We are learning about tools and techniques, just like we did in school as we learned to sign our names. Be gentle with your inner artist.
There IS a lot to learn by studying the work of others who have mastered their craft. Just don’t try to BE them.
Let’s be ourselves
So next time my inner voice says “I wish I could paint like…” I’ll remind myself that it’s better if I let myself paint like me.
I believe we notice it more at the start of a new year because we revisit our resolutions and good intentions and wonder WHY did last year get away from us…again?
What is it? Where does it come from? Why do we avoid our work (even when we say it’s important to us) and how do we beat it?
The good news is , you’re not alone in this battle. We all experience resistance in one form or another. There isn’t a creative soul out there who hasn’t felt it pushing them away from their work at some point.
Here’s what I’ve learned about this tricky little blighter on my own journey.
Creative Resistance is…
invisible but it’s effects are very real.
It’s aim is to keep you from doing your work. And, while it may seem to come from outside of you, it is self-generated and self-perpetuated. It is also a force of nature and a liar.
It’s fuel is fear.
So ask yourself, “What is it about my creativity that I’m afraid of? If I did something about it, what is the worst that could happen? The best?”
(Weirdly, it’s usually the good stuff that scares us more.)
Get that fear out where you can see it. Don’t let it fester in the dark. Write about it. Make an art journal page. Dance it out. Whatever it takes. Get that fear moving and you are no long stuck.
The Resistance Compass
Creative Resistance is actually a very good compass , pointing the way to what truly matters to you.
In fact, the more you resist, the more valuable that thing is to you. That’s information you can use! Use your Resistance to navigate by and discover what it is you really need to be up to.
The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it. Steven Pressfield, The War of Art.
If your Creative Resistance is BIG then it’s a good indicator that something BIG is waiting to come through you.
Procrastination is a common symptom of Creative Resistance because it’s the easiest to rationalize. (After all, the dishes MUST be washed.)
But when you put off doing your art, you put off important work. Not to put to fine a point on it, but you could end up putting off your life’s work. After all, something is calling to you to bring it into the world. Pay attention.
Change your response
You can do something about this right now. Sit down and create something. Anything. Even a doodle counts. You’ll be thumbing your nose at Creative Resistance, when you do.
A ‘no limits’ philosophy — “Break away – The sky is the limit – Be all you can be” — is popular, especially among life coaches and motivational speakers.
As a society it appears we’ve accepted this philosophy without question. In fact, I couldn’t find any positive images depicting limits, constraints and boundaries to use with this post.
So let me play the devil’s advocate here and argue for the other side because I know my creative practice benefits from some well-placed boundaries.
Parkinson’s Law states, “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”
I’ve known a number of people who took a year off from work to write or paint or compose. They start out with good intentions, excited and committed but hey, there’s LOTS of time. I’ll just do this… And then that…And then one morning they wake up and realize the year is over with little to nothing to show for it.
As a freelance writer I understood Parkinson’s Law so I’d request tight deadlines. Nothing eliminated web surfing and other distractions than a commitment breathing down my neck.
Creative productivity doesn’t need huge swathes of time. Rather, it requires focus and making good use of the time I have. Tight schedules or short windows of opportunity create urgency. An empty calendar does not.
Work expands to fill the time available. Time constraints focus your creativity.
Last year when we moved to Nova Scotia, most of the second floor apartment became my studio space. Luxury! I stretched out and filled the rooms but it wasn’t long before I spent too much time looking for stuff, rearranging things, cleaning, organizing…
In short, all that space wasn’t the advantage I thought it was. Then, this past summer, we opened a BnB on the first floor of our home. That created constraints on my studio space as we moved upstairs while guests occupied the lower level.
I had to downsize – which held a certain irony after our long distance move. Less than a year later and here I was, purging again. I got real about what was a true creative priority to me. I chose my painting, quilting and writing over other creative outlets like paper crafts and soap-making.
Clarity about my creative priorities made it easier to sort through art supplies, storage systems and furniture. I packed up and gave the extra things to someone who would actually use it (and not just store it like I was).
One artist’s junk is another’s treasure, after all.
It was all good. Getting rid of the extraneous stuff often forced me to find alternative solutions to achieve my vision. My creative muscle (aka my brain) got a lot of exercise.
Once I completed the purge, I moved my desk and computer to a cozy alcove in our upstairs kitchen. Moving my computer off to one side held an unexpected benefit. Because the computer is off to one side and no longer sits between me and my paints, the siren call of email and social media isn’t as loud.
“Psst. Over here….that’s right…C’mon…you know you wanna…it will only take a couple of minutes…”
In fact, I put my painting table and supplies where my desk had been because that room has the best light in the house. I don’t know why I didn’t set up in there right from Day One. (Who knows why we do these things?) Now I step into my studio BEFORE I go anywhere near my desk.
I gave a lot of thought to what I needed to paint and pared down to the essentials only. I have two tables, one where I can be seated and one where I work standing up. My supplies and equipment are all within easy reach. The happy result is that I’m painting more because most of the time everything is right there, ready to go.
Limits, self-imposed and otherwise, force me to come up with better, more creative solutions. They keep me focused on my priorities by eliminating temptations and distractions. Too much time, space or stuff can lull me into feeling I’m being creative because I’m thinking about it or sorting through things or ‘researching’. By setting reasonable limits, I’m motivated to take action and stuff gets done.
How about you? Share your experience in the comments. I’d love to hear from you!