When I ran the Maniscalco Gallery in Grosse Pointe, I remember more than once, artists coming through the door, head down, arms full of art, mumbling something like, “I don’t want to look at anyone else’s art. That’s how I know that what I’m doing is completely original.” In virtually every case, their work was derivative and uninteresting. Working in a vacuum produces vacuous art.
Hiding Our Candle Under a Bushel
I know so many artists who hide away, afraid to share their gifts. And by share their gifts I’m talking about exposing their talent to others who may have something wonderful to teach them. We grow as artists, not in isolation, but by the process of building relationships. I believe everyone I meet has the potential to transform me and my work. It’s not always good news. Sometimes it hurts. But I would not be the artist I am today if I were not open and available to so many others with whom I have crossed paths. In fact, my path consists in large part, of the combined paths of teachers and students and so many, far too many to thank. But I am grateful nonetheless.
Many people stop creating, because of their toxic relationship to sharing it with others. If you’d like to get back into creating, do it first for yourself, then as a gift to others, whether they approve of it or not. I got to a very high level in music, writing and art because I wanted to please others. But that only took me so far. Because, the people I wanted so desperately to please, at the end of the day, didn’t really care what I did. That’s the cold hard truth. It was only when I gave up trying to please others that my creative life took off.
Time is All We Have
So today, I am giving you permission to sacrifice something you don’t want to do and replace it with creative time. Time is the only thing we really have. Choose wisely how you spend it. Creativity is a deposit into your psychological bank account; passive entertainment is a withdrawal.
A Burning Desire
But creativity demands effort. And effort demands a compelling reason for exerting it. I find it helps to have a good reason for creating, some subject that interests you, some technique you’d like to try, rather than just some vague desire to paint or write. We create because we have something burning inside us that needs to be said. If you don’t have a burning desire to create, maybe it is just not the season for it. Perhaps you need to ask more questions, be a little more curious, be interested in what’s happening in your world. Our creativity is most powerful when it is in response to something we are dealing with personally.
Raise the Stakes
Sometimes we just need to raise the stakes. The reality is no one is going to die if you don’t write that poem that came to you in the shower. So you may have to create a sense of urgency, like sign up for a poetry contest, or promise a painting as a wedding gift. Sometimes we create as an escape. As a chronic pain sufferer, I find the best therapy is to dive into the creative process. At this point in my life, I don’t need a whole lot of excuses to paint. For instance, I painted “A Rose for Ukraine” not only because I wanted to create something in solidarity with Ukrainians but because I enjoy painting still lifes. Ultimately, the good feelings from the creative process itself are all the excuse I need to drop everything and create.
This may sound cynical, but I got into painting because I needed the money. I engineered my life so I had nothing to fall back on but my artistic talent. I’m not sure I would recommend that. It has made me into quite the go getter. I simply do not accept defeat. When others say it can’t be done, I will find a way. That came as a direct result of choosing art as my livelihood and the magnitude of commitment it demanded from me.