When someone asks you, “What do you do?” what is your answer? If you’re like most of us, context matters. You might say one thing at a professional networking reception and quite another at a neighborhood block party. But how often do you answer, “I create art?”
Part of living an art-committed life is fully owning the identity of a creative. It isn’t always advisable to proclaim yourself as such in every social situation. Yet we need to be able to say it out loud at least occasionally.
My last post, about the challenge of maintaining an art-committed life, prompted me to return to the author from whom I stole that marvelous phrase, Dr. Eric Maisel. I skimmed again this week his book Creativity for Life, in which he discusses the progression from an artful life (enjoying creative works) to an art-filled life (making the enjoyment of creative works a central part of your life) to the art-committed life.
Each chapter presents a challenge to living that life and the possibilities that exist when the challenge is met. I was struck in my return to the book by Chapter Eleven, “Social Interactions and Community.” He examines the isolation creatives often feel, and “the important topic of whether or not artists can find community among themselves.”
Artists can feel like outsiders for many reasons, Maisel writes. Part of it is the mythos of the lone artist, but that mythos rises from the fact that much of a typical creative’s process involves work in solitude. He also discusses how, as one becomes immersed in her creative path, she can find it difficult to articulate her life and work to someone not so immersed. I see that when I am at one of my MFA residencies and a late-night discussion will drift into the role of extended metaphor in prose; that is not a typical topic of conversation at a Capitol Hill reception here in D.C.
I will only have one more MFA residency. But social media produces its own communities. I’ve experienced that here with The Artist’s Road, where I can confess to feeling creatively stuck and receive not confusion or mocking but empathy.
Many commenters to my most recent post here cited the importance of joining a writer’s group, or going to open mic readings, or finding an online partner with which to share work. And yet the universe decided to provide additional input. Yesterday, two artists found their way to a post I wrote a year ago on whether our own insecurities drive our creativity, and if we can truly support another’s success if we view that as a failure on our part.
The first new commenter said other artists “will prevent others to succeed and are unable to give you friendly support and instead will hide opportunities from you.” The second said “I feel this is a new era – that of the ingathering of humankind, where everyone is recognized for their qualities. If one artist or writer succeeds, then I do also.” I think the truth is somewhere in between, that our reptilian brain–trapped in zero-sum thinking–sees anyone else’s success as a threat, but that as we grow as human beings, we can learn to celebrate another’s success without personalizing it as our own failure.
I believe a key element to maintaining an art-committed life is being able to share your artistic fears and triumphs with someone you can trust. Perhaps it’s a spouse who isn’t artistically driven but knows how to listen. Perhaps it’s a creative mentor or peer. But when I think back to times in my past where I left the creative path, it was in part because no one was there to tell me I needed to stay on it.
How do you find ways to talk about your creative passion with a trusted other?