Artistic Expression Digression

by Nicole Matusow

It took me a couple of hours to write this sentence. Yes, that sentence. The first one. I was distracted by social media, old family photos, my calendar reminders, a sink full of dishes, that hissing sound emanating from the radiator...and my own thoughts. My creative energy compelled me to open a blank page and start writing. Something seemed to lead me astray. Disorder set in, and I was everywhere but on this page. I’m back now.

Most of the creatives I encounter—both in my practice and personal life—feel stuck at some point or another. Sure, I know a few people whose hunger for creativity is insatiable as they crank out page after page or get role after role, without losing momentum. This isn’t for them. The rest of us artists, actors, filmmakers, sculptors, designers, writers, and musicians get stuck somewhere in the process between I have all week to work on it and It’s Friday already? And the cycle continues.

It wasn’t like that when we were kids. Sure, we were distracted by shiny objects, cake, and cartoons, but we could sit and draw for hours. It wasn’t going to be a masterpiece, or even something we’d necessarily hang up on the fridge. It was just something we needed to do at that moment to discharge our creativity. It was fun, good practice, and without concern.

Adulting sure does get in the way, but it’s not the only obstacle. Sure, our jobs, relationships, families, and binge-worthy TV take up a lot of our time these days, but even if we had the free time needed to compose a song or storyboard a graphic novel, would we do it? Uh, no. Probably not. Definitely not yet. But why? Well, the short answer could be fear. Fear of judgment, fear of criticism, fear of failure. Oh, and let’s not forget fear of success, which leads to fear of next failure. We didn’t worry about these fears when we were young. Maybe it was because we’d draw a picture of our family standing in front of our house on a sunny day, and then go do something else. There wasn’t pressure to make more drawings, find an agent, secure an art show, and expose our creativity (and ourselves) to the public. There were no intentions when we sat down with our crayons and construction paper; the journey was the destination. I drew and cut out thousands of paper dolls as a kid. Thousands. Now I find it hard to take out a sketchbook and sketch one face. Why? Because, what if it sucks? And if it sucks, I’ve failed. Art is very personal that way.

As adults, we feel we have to have goals and aspirations. A finished product. Success is a precise measurement depending on our craft. An actor has a resume, an artist has pieces in a gallery, a musician has sold records. Money has exchanged hands. Our success is decided by other people. And who we are hangs upon our successes and failures. Creating art is a means to an end, and the end better happen, or we’ve failed. It’s not enough of an accomplishment to have written a screenplay. Unless your screenplay is optioned and becomes a film, it may as well not exist. And if your art doesn’t exist, you don’t exist. And if you don’t exist, how will you make your mark on the planet? Sigh.

At some point between creative expression and stagnation resides expectation. For instance, you think of a story to write. Then what? You sit down to write it. Then what? You write a whole chapter. Then what? You think of ideas for future chapters. Then what? The then-whats turn into what-ifs, and you stop. It’s too hard, and there’s no end in sight. It’ll take months or years. And what’s the point anyway? It’ll never get published. You’re right.

We can’t all have the stamina or fearlessness of olympic athletes. But what we can do is borrow a tip from their playbook: Practice often. At least once a day. Then take a couple of days off. Rekindle the joy you derive from your art and creativity, and don’t think about the next step in the process until you get there.

If you can’t even think of starting, what’s getting in your way? Your relationship issues, job stress, the illness of a loved one? Go find a therapist to talk to. If you find yourself stuck in a part of the creative process, what’s getting in the way? Go ask your therapist.

As an actor, try learning some monologues without being concerned about auditioning or performing in front of an audience. If you’re a sculptor, consider removing the accumulated mail off your workbench and go play with some clay. Painters, what would it take to set up your easel in the best light and push some paint across the canvas? No expectations. No next steps. No pressure. You’re an artist, so act like one. The planet awaits...

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