Many of the articles you’ll read here are of a technical nature, related to the nuts and bolts of gems and jewelry, but at the core of this end product is motivation; the driving force which makes all these great ideas, techniques, and productive and focused action possible.
Like a plant an artist needs care and nutrients to grow and blossom, and like the engine in a car the artist’s brain needs fuel to run, but also requires regular maintenance to operate at peak performance.
Before readers conclude that this article is only meant for artists I must address the importance of buyers in the equation. You buyers and jewelry enthusiasts play an integral role in the nurturing of the creative spirit, and contribution to the field of art jewelry. You may not realize how much impact you have on what is created, and at what rate it is offered, but in many subtle ways you influence the market, determine demand, and in so doing, have a say in the supply of handmade goods that are offered for sale.
Historically art has been viewed as a solitary process, one in which the artist mysteriously closets him or herself in a studio and comes out only to unveil the end result of his/her labor. Even the idea of tutorials showing what goes on behind closed doors is a relatively new concept, and artist co-ops like The Art Jewelry Collective are still something new to many artists, unused to the level of disclosure and collaboration this format involves. Being part of an artist community requires a certain level of trust in the support, security, and camaraderie which makes it a mutually satisfying experience.
Building relationships and alliances with other artists and interchange with potential customers is a very effective way that we can nurture our creativity.
Communication is vital, so those of you who buy jewelry; let us know what you like, comment on our blogs, contact us through Etsy and other sites, let us know your wishes at our shows, and in the brick and mortar stores that carry our work. We want to meet your needs, and in turn, your patronage encourages us to make more of our beautiful items, reach higher, and develop further. Humans are by nature wired to respond to positive reinforcement whether they are artists, brick layers, or doctors. Freud once said that the two most important self-esteem dependent elements in a person’s life are “love and work”, and art embodies both of those in one. The artist’s interaction with his/her medium is an act of love. Then the interaction between the artist and the appreciator culminates at the point of sale as the ultimate compliment, making it possible for the artist to say goodbye to one creation like one’s child leaving the nest to go out and sow seeds of their own. Then the creative process cycle can begin anew.
It is necessary for this flow of energy to keep moving for an artist to stay creative and motivated. Sales and compliments are the exogenous source of motivation; that type which comes from outside us. The other side of the coin is the endogenous sources of motivation; that, which is self-propelled, generated from within.
All of us go through dry spells for a variety of reasons; family demands, a soul-sucking day job, depression, becoming over-extended in other areas of our lives, due to an economic slowdown, overwhelming living expenses, lack of sleep, lack of adequate supplies, not eating right, or too many interruptions. There are times when it feels as if there just isn’t enough time in a day, or enough room in our brain to take the time to do our creative work. I believe that artists are born, not made, and that artists are hard-wired to do what we do. For us, creative time is as much a necessity for overall health as eating healthy, getting enough rest, having loving relationships, exercise, and getting regular medical check-ups. An artist without art will always feel that something is missing, and like muscles, creativity must be exercised or it atrophies.
Imagine if a bird’s ability to fly were taken away. The bird would adapt out of necessity, but its evolutionary destiny to fly is so strong it would never really feel fulfilled, and most likely its lifespan would be shortened. Taking away its ability to fly does not neutralize its need. Unlike other animals, humans have the unique ability to rationalize away their needs and drives in an attempt to adapt to adverse circumstances, but this only works as a temporary fix. I have witnessed the result of this inactivity and creative decline in many people I have come into contact with over the years and it’s not pretty. They become increasingly unhappy, depressed, anxious, withdrawn, and often irritable, and sooner or later it affects their relationships.
If you’re faced with this existential crisis you may be tempted to just throw in the towel, but don’t. Doing so will take away something which is in itself a reward, something positive that helps you cope with things that are not so pleasant but “necessary evils” we are faced with in the course of our daily lives.
What You Can Do if You Find Yourself on Empty
*Identify those activities that have inspired you in the past, and make a list of them. Place it somewhere where you can see it everyday.
*Talk to other artists and supporters. Don’t cut yourself off or shut these people out. They can hold your dreams for you until you can reconnect with your creativity.
*Set aside a time each day for your art and adhere to it, (only pre-empted by something catastrophic). Avoid the urge to multi-task during this time. This should be your special time when you can really focus on the creative process. If you’re so far down you absolutely can’t create new pieces, do other related activities such as planning, record-keeping, market research, look at other artists’ work online or in trade magazines, learn a new technique or perfect one you already know by taking a class or printing out written instructions off the internet. There are lots of free tutorials offered online if money is a barrier.
*Get together with a friend to work on art-related activities such as going to bead shows, work on marketing, go to check out local stores for more places to sell your work, or to talk and share ideas. An outside opinion is helpful in expanding the flow of ideas when you’re stuck, and replacing any negative self-talk inside your own head that may be keeping you stagnant. Doing this can also get you to associate creating with fun again.
*Beware of “yes buts”! In times of stagnation it may feel like a strain to continue to stick to your routine and your goals, and you may find thoughts coming into your head like; “I’m too busy. I don’t have time to work on new pieces, to promote my work, or list it for sale.” “I’m not selling anything anyway, so what’s the use.” “I’m too stressed out by family matters, job, etc. and making new things, buying supplies, investing any time and energy into my business is just too much pressure to put on myself.” “I just don’t know if I care anymore.” These kinds of thoughts are not usually something you should follow. Instead, take a breather and regroup. In most cases thoughts like these are a sign that other issues in your life are intruding upon what is usually an enjoyable activity, and a sign telling you to look at other areas of your life that are not working for you. The beliefs that keep you in a deadlock are often related to assumptions that other commitments are immovable. Part of the static nature of these beliefs is due to an overgeneralization, a perceived lack of time. Often we are unaware of the actual amount of time spent on each of our activities during the course of a day. You may find more spare time than you knew existed when you actually map it out.
*Try this; take one day as representative of your schedule and carry around a notebook with you. Mark down the time you start and he time you end each activity; for example;
Tuesday, Feb. 12th, 2008
8:00 AM- Breakfast 9:00 AM
9:00 AM- Etsy (forum, convos, check shop) 12:00 Noon
12:00 Noon- Talking to daughter on the phone 1:00 PM
1:00 PM- Surfing the internet 3:00 PM
3:00 PM- Talking to husband on the phone 4:00 PM
4:00 PM- Dinner party 8:00 PM
8:00 PM- Watching American Idol 9:00 PM
9:00 PM- Chatting in chat room or social networking site 10:00 PM
10:00 PM- Rearranging the living room furniture, filling out surveys 12:00 Midnight
12:00 Midnight- Going to sleep 8:00 AM
Or in the instance of somebody who has a “day job”;
Tuesday, Feb. 12th, 2008
7:00 AM- Stopped at Dunkin Donuts for coffee and Danish on the way to work 8:00 AM
8:00 AM- Talked to 3 people on cell phone 9:00 AM
9:00 AM- Work (1/2 hr. lunch break 1:00-1:30 PM) 5:00 PM
5:00 PM- Driving home in traffic 6:00 PM
6:00 PM- Dinner 7:00 PM
7:00 PM- Time spent at the local bar 11:00 PM
11:30 PM- Home and sleeping 6:30 AM
Now, look at the time spent on each of your activities and ask yourself whether the time spent on each is absolutely necessary and whether the consequences of not doing it (or not spending as much time at it) would be sufficiently serious to warrant continuing it as is or whether you could replace it with some art-related activity.
With family-related activities often the underlying feat is that is we don’t do certain things our family member will be angry or feel that we don’t love them, or we ourselves feel that taking time for ourselves is somehow self-indulgent and disloyal to our family.
If we’ve volunteered for our church or other community commitments in our local area we may feel obligated to devote time to that for fear that we won’t be liked or well-thought-of if we say to those people that we need to spend more time on our art instead. We may fear that if we don’t continue to do those things nobody else will do it, but in truth those people will manage without our intervention and others will take on those roles we’ve been assuming up till now. In some cases we might need to set up alternative arrangements, but nevertheless most of these situations can be managed without our being solely responsible to the extent of giving up our own life and sacrificing the success of our business.
First an artist must entertain the idea that there is an alternative before one can take the steps necessary to unburden one of those activities that are not conducive to creativity.
Although this is an extreme analogy think of it in these terms;
If you have a burning hot ember in one hand and a soft bunny in the other which would you drop?
More times than not suffering and self-sacrifice don’t bring virtue and bliss, but instead resentment and cynicism, neither of which is good for the heart or the soul.
Take care of your creative spirit and it will take care of you. It is in large part what has gotten you through the hard times thus far.