April 12, 2005
Some artists report periods of general anxiety that come and go
during their careers. The condition may include heart
palpitations, sleeplessness, panic attacks, depression and
feelings of inadequacy. While some of these are just part of
living, they can also be brought on by the insecure and
sometimes difficult nature of the artist's life. There's that
nagging fear that work is not coming up to expectations. There
can be fear of change as well as fear of stagnation. Fact is
that shadowy fears and tensions can block creativity, interfere
with productivity, and drag down quality.
While it's difficult at arm's length to prescribe antidotes when
specific professional intervention may be required, there are
some tactics that often give relief. It's good to keep in mind
that most creators become more fussy and particular as they go
along. What might look fantastic to a twenty-year-old may not
be good enough for a fifty. With aging, we discriminate more,
often against ourselves.
Healthy self-delusion can go a long way toward controlling the
problem. "Naming and claiming" appropriated techniques and
systems gives ego-power to the studio. Creators with ripe
imaginations can successfully delude themselves that they are
the centre of the universe. It seems some artists saddle
themselves with too much reality. Artists that I admire often
have an outrageous and seemingly unsustainable fantasy of self
worth. It's not always that nice to behold, but it's the glue
that keeps them from going off the rails.
Another often effective antidote is simply a change of medium.
Working within given media has a "life" that an artist can
expect may diminish or even die. It's important not to get
stuck in a medium when a shift from say acrylics to oils will
press the refresh button. Doldrums induced anxiety can also be
reversed by a wider, pro-active pursuit of variety and creative
invention. The studio needs to be looked upon as the happy
hunting ground of change. I often wonder how much of the
anxiety that I hear about is the result of a boring routine and
sameness that gives the solitary artist too much time to go over
the negatives. Mature artists who beat this devil know that
when personal processes become interesting in themselves,
anxieties are somewhat diminished. For creators, there's
nothing wrong with being self-absorbed.
PS: "A creative block is the wall we erect to ward off the
anxiety we suppose we'll experience if we sit down to work."
(Eric Maisel) "Work done with anxiety about results is inferior
to work done without such anxiety, in the calm of
self-surrender." (Bhagavad Gita)
Esoterica: Declining prowess, both real and imaginary, can give
performance anxiety to older artists. There's the fear that
you've lost something that won't come back. It's good to keep
on remembering that every work has to be seen freshly and
caressed as if it was totally unique. Sustained interest and
excellence are enhanced by nurturing and honouring the flow of
love that goes into and comes out of the work at hand. I don't
think there's a blue pill.
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