There is much talk among creatives about the concept of the muse, how, if, and when she visits, what to do when she doesn’t, and how to be creative on demand anyway…because it’s our job. Anyone who ever went to art school or has worked in a creative job for someone else knows that waiting around for the muse to strike is not an option. We show up, and we get the work done.
For a lot of us, making stuff is our way of being in the world. Thirty-plus years as a metalsmith and pushing 40 years working in the arts have finally taught me one highly valuable lesson: That showing up and being creative on demand, come hell or high water, is a great recipe for producing lots of good work…and, alas, an even better recipe for burnout.
When people start discussing what creative work takes to perform, how they believe that they have to get out of the way of themselves and their egos and give space for ideas to come into their heads, I realize that I’m, as usual, the odd woman out. Instead I always have the sensation of a creative impetus that wells up and has to get out – sometimes urgently like a giant bug out of an ”Edgar suit.” I’m not alone in this idea, described by the poet Lorca as duende, but in the world of creativity and art blogging, I am definitely in the minority.
That top down, ego out of the way concept is a masculine model. Something that is trapped and bursting to get out is a feminine model. Despite the obvious biological metaphor of giving birth, which way people experience that idea-ready-to-put-forth feeling is irrespective of sex, gender, or orientation. Both are totally subjective and completely valid, yet our hyper masculine culture makes the masculine model more popular to discuss.
When people ask where I get my ideas, my first thought is always that they really do not want that sneak peek inside my brain that never stops solving problems. I imagine they will be completely overwhelmed if I tell them the truth, that the ideas never stop coming and that sometimes I feel like I’ll drown in them before I can even jot them down before I forget the interesting ones worth pursuing. I usually just say, “My imagination,” and describe my major influences like astronomy, nature, and architecture from antiquity.
Most of the time people still look a little dazed at my edited response. I feel like I’m giving them the wrong answer, but then, if they already think they know the answer, asking me for confirmation seems silly. Occasionally, their eyes light up, and they start asking me interesting questions about my influences. Those are the magic conversations.
Frankly, here in my head, every day is Museday. Every spark sets something in my imagination alight; ever idea begets another idea. Before you get envious, let me assure you that it can be as stressful as feeling like not having any ideas because it always feels like I’m in a war with time. Also, I don’t believe people when they say they don’t have ideas. Everyone is full of ideas (sort of like everyone is full of opinions). That blank paper / writer’s block syndrome is not about feeling blank; it’s about being afraid of messing up. Too many people are just afraid that the ideas they have are ‘bad’ ones not worth trying, and so, ashamed and fearful, they say they don’t have any ideas. I’m here to call BS.
My challenge in my war with time is deciding, moment to moment, what I should be working on. Yesterday, it finally sank in that my problem with deciding what I should be working on is the ‘should’ part. The word should implies there is something I am beholden to do creatively, some moral or ethical imperative from outside sources that determines which unfinished metalwork piece I should continue or which idea for a painting I should start or which major to-be-published project I should tackle next .
My work comes from within, a distillation of all that I love and find fascinating. My job is to express that distillation, to let it come up and out and run wild within the processes that entrance me. Only from that place can I do my best work, the work that inspires others and foreshadows trends and tastes.
Granted, it’s a helluva way to make a living, yet I’ve eeked one out for decades until finally my ideas and influences have provided some security even in uncertain times. If anyone sees the freedom of following my ideas as self indulgent, oh well, too bad. My work is not for them.
Welcome to now. Welcome to Museday, where all ideas are, well, ideas, and some will certainly be worth pursuing if we can ignore both the inner and outer critics…And, I’ll be damned, I think I just rewrote my artist statement two paragraphs back…
Stay safe and wash your hands.