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Saturday, April 21, 2012

5 Ways to Keep Creativity From Becoming "A Job"

"Eggs Planted"
Oil on linen - 6x8"
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I recently posted about the pull of commercially driven work and how it can be a road that leads us away from heart-centered creativity.

Of course if you are a professional artist, a good portion of your time needs to be dedicated to commercial output, and if you are joyfully engaged in the process of creating this work, then you are lucky enough to have the best of both worlds. Yay!

What I want to focus on are solutions for the rest of us, those who feel the angst and discontent that can come with external parameters and pressures increasingly overtaking our creative space. Several of my coaching clients are professional artists, and it has been interesting to find that almost every one of them has brought this topic to coaching. Clearly it is more the norm than an anomaly - so I thought it would be beneficial to offer up some suggestions for dealing with it.

Earn Your Living Another Way
Okay, might as well get this one out of the way right out of the gate. If the compromises of making a living from your art are interfering with what you really want for and from it on a fairly regular basis, then maybe earning a living from it is getting in the way. It's possible the best choice is to find something else you love to do for a living that won't require the same kind of compromise, and free up your art making time to be a total playground - no rules, no parameters, no demands other than the ones you want for it.

What's that? Really bad idea? Okay, I hear you - the dream is to make a living at this gig. Hang in, got some other ideas:

One for Them, One for Me
Not a bad strategy - you paint one for the market, one for yourself, and repeat. Honour this intention and it's highly likely that more than half in the "one for me" pile will be better than the ones in the "one for them" pile, so you'll have more than enough commercial work, but without feeling you're painting in a box.

Intentionally Segregate Your Creative Time 
I have been on this path for a while now, and it is the best way I have found to paint commercially while still honouring what I want most for my art, which is to be continually growing and excelling. I consciously segregate my painting time. When I'm painting for the market, I don't try anything super daring, difficult, or out of my comfort zone. I stay within my skill level and strive for competent work.

Then I schedule painting time in which I am either painting a subject that is not likely to sell in my market (but I am captivated with), or trying something that is totally about challenge and skill building. If I thought about saleability in these sessions, I would have shackles on before I even started. Again the end result often winds up marketable, but it is the mindset while in process that is paramount.

Paint First - Schedule a Show Second
It seems to me the system is backwards. Current system: Commit to a show date with your gallery and then start painting for the show. The only reasons I can think this makes any sense at all are:
  • the gallery can slot you into their show schedule for the year and start advertising
  • the artist has a job to get done - read "discipline" - which (speaking as someone who has issues with discipline) admittedly is a pretty valuable reason to do it this way
  • ideally the artist is going to get a big fat pay cheque at the end of it - but no guarantee there
Those reasons aside, this is so far from optimal when viewed in terms of creative freedom it boggles my mind. Right from the start there are parameters: the number of paintings, when they will be completed by (this is the biggest killer of honouring the creative process ever - don't even get me started...), the general sizes they'll be, the subject matter, etc.

I have been thinking about this a lot lately and here's what I've decided makes way more sense. Paint the paintings first, whatever you want, however many turn out, as long as it takes, the only goal being to explore what's possible. Once you have created a body of work you're happy with - call your gallery and ask if they'd like to book a show. I'm going to test drive it - will let you know how it goes. :-)

Add a Creative Outlet That is Not About Commercial Work
In addition to your creative "work", I have found it is a real asset to have an avenue of creative pursuit that is completely outside of something you would try to sell. On those days (or weeks) when you feel stuck or stalled, it is a place to go where your creative flame can burn in a different way. Choose something that is fun and engaging, and most important - freeing. An added bonus is that your "real work" will definitely benefit in indirect and magical ways.

I have found a couple of wonderful creative outlets that I'll share in upcoming posts, and I'd love to hear if you have some of your own.