Artist in Training

The world has done a disservice to artists by assuming their talent is simply innate rather than a skill that is learned and practiced. Hands do not just hold brushes and make beautiful things appear on paper… just like that. Most people wouldn’t assume the same for scientists and mathematicians. While we might acknowledge a brilliant doctor has an innate talent, we also recognize the years of study and training needed to succeed.

It is tricky being an artist because it is unclear when we can call ourselves one. Do I profess to be an artist when I first sell a piece of art? When I have a show in a gallery? When I study it in university? When I love art class and draw in my spare time? While some people have confidence to boldly declare themselves an artist, others feel like frauds. It doesn’t appear to be related to ability. Whereas, in most other occupations, one knows when they can claim their occupational status. If one wants to advance or improve, the steps to take are clear. Maybe it is because people see artists in two categories. One kind being like Van Gogh or Michelangelo. The other being hobbyists. You can’t be a hobbyist doctor, can you? Or maybe the difference is that being an artist can be considered a way of life rather than just occupational?

Being an artist is a humbling experience. Your art is your soul exposed on paper. Out there in the open for criticism, good or bad.  You sit down to create and sometimes there is no inspiration. Or things just don’t turn out the way you want. While I think routines and rituals are important for productivity, I think teaching artists about the creative process is vital. I don’t remember an art instructor ever telling me how to overcome “writer’s block” or a “lack of inspiration” other than saying “just keep drawing”. Sometimes I can sit there for hours and I’ll just become more frustrated.

In our jobs, it is expected we will be evenly productive throughout the day and week. In school or the workplace we’re taught to sit there and get the job done and keep on doing more, more, more until the bell rings or our co-workers leave. That is fine for many occupations, but a career requiring creativity does not follow the same path.

Creativity is energy that travels in waves

What I’ve come to realize is that creativity is energy that travels in waves. When I’m done an art piece, I often can’t jump into the next project right away. My store of creative energy has depleted itself. Sitting at my craft table or at my computer is a waste of time. I’m going to end up fretting over my lack of productivity and ever growing list of deadlines. I have learned to react when I see my creativity has waned. It is time to step away from my art supplies. It is time to rest my brain and engage my body in an activity. The activity doesn’t have to be rigorous. It just has to be something where the brain isn’t being asked to participate in any big way. I get lots of ideas when I’m trying to fall asleep but that isn’t very useful because I’m asleep before I can harness the creative thoughts. I used to get great inspiration when I was nursing my babies. My mind would wander and come up with all sorts of future to-do lists. Now that those babies are in school, I can tackle projects on a whim. Sometimes it is something annoying and dreaded like cleaning toilets and wiping down baseboards. Blah! Other times it might be gardening or yard work.

This morning I sat down to do my work and was immediately frustrated by my lack of focus and motivation. So I put on my rubber boots, stepped outside, grabbed my shovel, and started digging. An hour later I had accomplished a chore but more importantly, I had ideas overflowing for numerous projects. No one taught me to do this. I always thought this type of jumping to unrelated tasks made me flightly or lazy about my work. No! It is the creative process.

Artist in Training | Melanie Ritchie

See you tomorrow!

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