Monday, July 12, 2010

How Do Artists Keep Going?

Writers' Retreat: After a glorious week of immersion in our fiction projects (and, in one case, an illustrated book for children)...plunging into laughter, fellowship, and the grace of wind, ocean, woods and sky with several fellow writers on Cape Cod, I'm in awe of our staying power.

We, the tribe of artists.  How do we keep going? Some of us have chronic illnesses.  Threats of severe illness.  Financial pressure...Kids with issues.  The need to generate income. When important decisions need to be made about creative work, family needs tempt us to all but forget we're writers. We have trouble getting published.  We are remaindered, rejected, on the wrong side of whatever genre wave is cresting at  the moment we seek recognition.  Other people get recognized ahead of us.  Yeah, we're jealous.

Joan Acocella, dance critic for theThe New Yorker, celebrates the courage of artists in her wonderful book, Twenty-eight Artists and Two Saints.  I return to these essays again and again while I clank away at my anvil, nine years now and counting since I began writing my first novel.  It's encouraging that she rejects the notion that art is born out of "neurosis", that artwork is a rare metal wrested by the refined few out of their childhood traumas.  No, it's all about work ethic, she insists.  The survivors are those who rolls up their sleeves, every day, and get the work done.

This is the best news we could receive. The creative process doesn't always feel good, but you get down and do it.  Despite everything. Whatever the work needs; you find it and follow the heat.  Somehow.

I wrote her once to tell her so, and her response to me is burned into my heart: Corragio, wrote.  Be of good cheer.  Keep the faith.  In the book's introduction she relates that during three years of corrosive criticism after his company was invited to perform in Belgium, the choreographer Mark Morris was questioned by a reviewer hungry for his "reaction" to the booing and hissing audiences, the terrible reviews. The interviewer wanted bitterness--serrated, quotable words.

Instead, he made a statement that every artist should spray paint onto the nearest wall:  "It's just a review--it's not a gun."

It's a rejection slip, not a comment on your work or on you as a human being.
It's an opinion; opinions vary.  Why give a negative opinion more credence than a positive one?

Readers, what keeps you going?


Catherine Stine said...

Great post! The magic of the retreat is the community. It's part of what keeps me going. And the work ethic, and the fact that I believe, in my core, that I have something unique to say.
You describe the roadblocks with unflinching accuracy.
The good part is that, in time, one can usually find a way around them.

HelenQP said...

Yeah...the thing that matters isn't the road blocks--but the ways we persevere in spite of them.

I'm going thru withdrawal, I think. That was an amazing week, wasn't it? Sad. Maybe it's the rain.

JRWilson said...

Helen, you speak from the heart as always. I'm lucky to have found my way to another artistic soul. What a therapeutic week it must have been. I forget sometimes that creative sorts thrive when in company with each other.

"...get down and do it. Despite everything.". you say! How true! And I might add "because of" everything. The crazier things get, the more important to hold true to your art and exercise it. Wonderful and surprising things happen to me when I open my sketchbook. I go for long stretches of not using it--perfectionism? fear of mediocrity? fear of what will come from the depths? (probably the latter) and then when I get it out and draw, a part of my soul knits back together...

Somehow the creative act seems less important when faced with mounting everyday issues, when in reality it really becomes more so...

HelenQP said...

Yeah...what's really important is inversely proportional to what's merely important. Choking is the operative verb...I can call you at annoying intervals to ask if you've opened your sketchbook yet today...if you like...