If you ask me what I came to do in this world, I, an artist, would answer you: I am here to live out loud. – Émile Zola
Last week, life demanded something new from me.
We left the house at sunrise, headed for my husband’s knee surgery. It was a day of firsts. First surgery ever for him. First time I was the one waiting. First time so far away from family support when life felt scary.
For the six months prior we kept busy, focused on finishing projects like the new BnB suite and my studio. The last 30 days were particularly intense. Toward the end of all our rushing about, we had to keep re-evaluating what we had time for and what could wait. Creative time fell off my list of priorities.
As we drove to Kentville, I took a deep breath and noticed the world around me again.
Mist in low-lying places. A pheasant pacing along the shoulder of the rural road. The silhouette of a lone hawk on the phone line, looking for her breakfast. Soft pink on the eastern horizon, gradually brightening to a sunny day. The spring green of fields and trees.
Now that the (successful) surgery is behind us, I’ve taken on the role of caretaker, which still devours a lot of hours in my day. My studio is waiting for me to return and I’m okay with that. This is what you do for someone you love.
What does this rather personal story have to do with art and creativity?
A lot actually. Art should happen while we are living very real, very human lives. If we aren’t connected to the people around us, how can our art communicate anything meaningful?
I’m sure you’ve read posts, watched videos and listened to other artists who advise “Just follow your passion”. The experts (and those clever memes) tell us, “If it was really important you’d find time.” The implication seems to be creative passion must take precedent over everything else or we’re not really serious about our art.
We nod our heads because it sounds like great advice and then beat ourselves up, wondering why we can’t find the time or energy to ‘just do it.’
I know if this is true for me, it’s also true for a lot you reading this.
Finding the balance in life
The truth is, this is one more example of those social media ‘echo chambers’ people are talking about. Hearing only one side of any story distorts our perception of what it takes to lead a meaningful life. Because those of us who are artists and writers often seek out creative experts focused on their chosen topic, we can miss the counterbalance of what it means to cope with real life.
It becomes a trap of ‘all or nothing’ thinking. And if I’ve learned nothing else, life is about balance. Ever tried to stand on one foot? In order to retain your balance, your leg and ankle are making constant small adjustments. Balance means adjusting, not rigidity.
We live in a world of contrasts. If our goal is peace of mind then we must let go of the judgments. Both light and shadow are necessary. Ask any artist. Without the shadow, how do you show light?
Filling the well
We fill our creative wells by living full lives and living sometimes demands a lot of us. When we embrace the ups and downs, we have something to say when we do get into our studios or back to our desks.
We must be about life’s business if we want our creative expression to touch other hearts. We must be real. There are times when that passion we’re following will mean taking care of personal needs or a loved one, time with a child or being an active part of our community. It all matters.
Meaningful art doesn’t happen in a bubble. And when life gets crazy busy, as mine did, we can try to fit some tiny snippets of creativity around the other priorities. They act as reminders that this too, is part of who you are.
I did a couple of small sketches and made notes in the little book I keep in my purse. I used my phone to take reference photos. I browsed Pinterest for inspiration and ideas for when my schedule has more space. I knit, keeping my husband company as he heals. I stayed connected to a Facebook group of creative folk.
Meanwhile my focus is on my husband. Underneath, the creative urge is building, like steam under pressure. When the time is right and I return to my studio, I’ll have lots to work with.