Yesterday, Marilyn Bonnett of Ottawa, Canada, wrote to say, “Success as an artist to me is when you go to sleep your last thoughts are about creating. When you wake up in the morning your first thoughts are about creating. It comes from the gut, from your insides.”
They say that if you wake up in the morning looking for a cigarette, you’re addicted. Quite a few creators — not all — fit the profile that Marilyn describes. Further, it seems there’s often a relationship between our feelings of success and some sort of addictive behavior. But unlike other habits that may threaten health and happiness, this condition might just be good for you. As one friend put it: “Art’s the dope, and I’m the junkie.” I’ve always noticed that the artist’s life is chock-a-block with mind-bending contradictions. Here are a few ideas how you might sniff more of the good stuff:
Work secretly. Don’t let the cat out of the bag.
Share the joy. Enjoy the high with others.
Work quickly. Speed speeds inventiveness.
Take your time. Get it right. Take pains.
Be focused. It’s just a habit.
Multitask. Do something else while the paint dries.
Be self-trusting. Follow your nose to your bliss.
Be strategic. Plan your work, work your plan.
Be compulsive. This dope won’t kill you.
Be beguiled. Let enchantment happen.
Calculate. Take time for enchantment.
Pace yourself; rest, relax. Know your limit.
Take trips. Great things come from altered states.
Be obsessed with the pursuit of perfection.
Know that perfection can never be achieved.
Laugh. Fly. Go naked. Dance in the snow.
Get hooked. Art is its own magic mushroom.
Love. Love of creation. Love of process. Love of others. Love for another. These are the great addictions. Success comes when you can’t stop serving that which you love. “Love, love, love, that is the soul of genius.” (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart)
PS: “For art to exist, for any sort of aesthetic activity or perception to exist, a certain physiological precondition is indispensable: intoxication.” (Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche)
Esoterica: It could be in the DNA. Some folks may be simply wired to connect their hands and brains almost automatically, obsessively, to keep themselves learning and making. Recent research has indicated that certain life activities and values are built into us. Feelings of religious certitude, for example, seem to be related to missing DNA in some individuals. Is it possible that creators may also have a little blank spot, or perhaps a rogue gene?
Drug of choice
by Eleanor Blair, Gainesville, FL, USA
Something we notice early if we’re lucky; creative activities cure a lot of what ails us. Before long, the brush is the first thing we reach for, every chance we get. Practice makes perfect, and a painting a day keeps the doctor away. Oil paint is definitely my drug of choice.
Watching the magic unfold
by Sandy Sandy, Tabernacle, NJ, USA
I too must be addicted to art, because it definitely controls my life. Without it for too long a time and I can get gloomy and easily agitated. I agree with Mozart — love is the key! By trying to stay in touch with the miracles that life offers everyday, I find that uplifting events and inspiring images fuel my creative fire. If I can stay focused and keep up momentum, my enthusiasm and right brain just take over. Like in a dream, I become merely the driver of a vehicle, destination unknown; watching as the magic unfolds. Oh, what a long great trip it’s been!!
Kid art junkie
by Linda Kukulski
This ‘Art Junkie’ grew up building forts out of blankets on the clothesline stand and spending time alone inside, drawing and illustrating little stories, or spool knitting for many long hours. Art was created some 42 years ago by the first one at the playground shack waiting for the supervisor to arrive on Wednesday mornings because that was the day she would take a group of kids to the community centre for arts and crafts. This asbestos duck has for all these years lived in a jewelry case wrapped in tissue, and been the source of much giggling by my own two children.
A place to hide?
Faith Puleston, Wetter, Germany
Sometimes I ask myself if I now hide behind the painting “habit” the way I used to hide behind my stage makeup in the old days. I wonder if pursuing any artistic occupation (or preoccupation) is an attempt to find an identity we haven’t been able to find otherwise. Or is it a form of escape? Is it easier in the long run to be an artist than a “normal” person?
Obeying the command
Beate Epp, Saskatoon, SK, Canada
Every night when I go to bed I’m figuring out composition and colour, drawing, shifting the paint. As I wake up, the same procedure again — and I can hardly wait to get upstairs and go to work. There is a strategy in all this: Every artist must imply that he is practicing ‘art for the art’s sake’ while, being the smokescreen of such formal issues, he continues to obey a command which he cannot fully comprehend, sensing that his formal arrangements actually do refer, quite essentially but indirectly, to the single, almost inexpressible question that burns within him.
It’s in the DNA
I find the DNA connection with religiosity fascinating. Could it be that religious fundamentalists, the same who cause so much trouble around the world, are genetically different from the rest of us? Are they remnant populations of previous peoples? Do they congregate in certain areas and communities?
(RG note) More than two dozen artists wrote to ask about the DNA connection. World-wide research called the “Genome Project,” which has been going on for ten years now, has shone some light on areas that some people don’t wish to look at. It seems what we are and how we behave may depend on the presence or absence of tiny proteins that lie like program notes along the curly skeins. It seems that some pretty basic stuff such as attitudes about love, anti-social behavior, and life preferences may in some degree be in there. More obvious stuff such as the tendency toward homosexuality seems now to be pretty clear. Matt Ridley is an Oxford trained zoologist and science writer whose latest book Nature vs Nurture is a good place to start. He and others conclude that it’s in the DNA of some humans to “seek simple, linear, cause and effect stories and not think in terms of circular causation, in which effects become their own causes.” This implies much of religious thinking. My mind also boggles at the possibility that mess-making, compulsive work-habits and chronic goof-off-ness may be in every one of my cells. Remnant population indeed.
Toast Masters as model
Bill McCaffrey, Lake Worth, FL, USA
Besides being an artist, I’m a member of “Toast Masters International.” They have a very good model to use for creative/volunteer type organizations. Some of the key features are: they are constantly recruiting anyone who will participate, members are expected to accept any responsibility they are asked to perform and if they can’t, they are responsible for finding their own replacement. Responsibilities are distributed across everyone in the group and no one person ends up doing the same thing for everyone time and time again. If the group gets to be more than 50 members it splits and becomes 2 groups. These are just a few of the things that work well keeping this group alive, dynamic, and growing. Anyone who wants to organize a group whose membership is totally volunteer should try Toast Masters long enough to get the hang of how it works.
Small group valuable
A few months ago I was invited to join a tiny group of artists on weekly plein air expeditions. This group only wanted to get together to paint a few hours and later, while warming up with a hot drink at a nearby cafe, discuss art. The only thing I enjoyed when I belonged to larger organized groups were the demos done by the professional artists we invited. I personally get so much more out of this small group. I have 3 wonderful new friends who mentor me. No, we don’t show as a group, but I think if I continue to work hard, if I listen to the wisdom, and paint a lot, then I may come to show by myself in a gallery instead of as a member of a group in a shopping mall or hall.
I am not crazy about being compared to that of a nasty and disgusting habit like smoking cigarettes! The word “addiction” is not what I would call a constructive word. It usually stems from a compulsion and is, I believe, from a lack of self-esteem. And yet, in our society, we use the word addiction like it has sex appeal. These compulsions could be compared to anything in life, from exercise to shopping.
I look at being an artist as having a gift. I often take it for granted. I should be more disciplined, I should paint more often, I should read more and see more work by others. Art is my reason for living. But never have I referred to being an artist as something that I was addicted to. It is something that comes through you. I have yet to fully understand why I am an artist, something I hope to resolve by the end of my life. I don’t drink, I detest cigarettes, I don’t take drugs. Oh, I have a great fondness for M and M’s. I have those in my studio, hidden. Does that make me an addict?
I have been in a mid-ranking gallery for over 7 years, during which time it has changed ownership. Last year the owners decided to up the commission on all artists who had not sold over $10K worth of work during the year. I was fortunate to have my commission remain at the previous 40%. However, last year, due I believe to the downturn in the market my sales did not make it to the magic $10K so on my last cheque, there was a 50% commission deducted — no letter attached explaining the raise or anything. (I also did not receive a congratulations letter the previous year!). For the past year, the gallery has hung all of my work in the back of the gallery, which they say doesn’t matter, but I feel that they are no longer deserving the 40%, let alone the new 50%! I have broached the subject with them and they assure me that I’m still welcome there. They have done well for me in the past, but doesn’t it say something about how they esteem you by where you are hung? I am trying very hard to not let this be an ego issue, honestly!
(RG note) There are times to take control and times to let control go to others. In this case I don’t think there will be much difference if they are 40 or 50 percenters. Fifty-fifty is the more common rate these days. Think more about building relationships in other centers. Let this gallery hang you where they want, back or front, it’s their business. It may have been inconsiderate of them to not inform you of their changes, but that’s the way some of them are. Don’t let their oversight jam in your craw.
Michael Young, Oakville, ON, Canada
I believe the problem of revitalizing art societies is deeper than a lack of drive and energy of the grey hairs and the no hairs. The new generations of artists have grown up in a paradigm of much greater self interest and less sense of mutual cooperation. They reflect society fairly accurately. The value of the community of interests has given way to the “do myself” values, with all that entails. (With much individual success for some, but no resting place for the followers.) I sense the paradigm of the individual has reached its nadir and the benefits of co-operative effort will slowly take root once more, perhaps with the generation that has been worked so hard through school and university (in some cases) they will seek other ways to conduct themselves.
New life begins
Sally Tudhope, Wellington, New Zealand
How timely to come by your website. I’m right on the brink of changing my life, moving city and finally acknowledging that I can no longer ignore my creativity and so enrolling for the foundation level of a Diploma of Art and Creativity. The move means leaving loved ones behind in my home city, and taking a leap into an unknown future. Couple this with the worst weather our country has seen in its entire record keeping history, which has had me abort my travel for two weeks in a row, and consequently I’ve been wondering if I’m really meant to start this journey both to a new city and a new life. However, reading the letters has had me realize two things. One is that creating is in my blood, and to deny myself the opportunity to nurture and encourage that is to deny myself the full, rich life I deserve. The other is that I’m not alone; there are others out there like me. There’s a creative community that I am part of – I just didn’t realize it. Because of your letters I have my courage back to start this new phase of my life with hope and excitement.
(RG note) I’ve asked Sally to keep us informed of her adventure.