Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Three Stages of Creative Struggle

This friction causes resistance,
which is the cause of all existence
-Killah Priest

This past month or so has been a struggle for me in a number of ways. Though we are now settled into our apartment in Austin, I don't have a job yet and my money is dwindling very fast. Each day I feel an increasing guilt and pressure because I haven't brought in any income in a distressingly long time.

At the same time, I am rigorously trying to fully tap into my creative flow and harness my ability as a writer. As I've been doing this, it has become very clear that there is a whole heck of a lot of struggle involved with being creative, with making something out of nothing. It's a stress unlike anything experienced at my old day job, a profession of performing menial automatic tasks that are given to me. Entering numbers in a computer mostly, doing paperwork, that kinda stuff. And now here I am piling up personally important writing projects for myself and oftentimes it becomes a major struggle to discipline myself into devoting my full focus and creative energy to completing these projects. As this struggle has gone on, I've reflected on the stages an artist must go through to exist and succeed in the world. It's not easy and it is seemingly a constant battle. Here's how I break it down:


Stage 1: Inner Struggle
This is the stage in which I seem to most often be. This is the battle against one's own self. It is certainly much easier to be passive (read a book, watch sports) than it is to be creative and so I often find that I have to push myself, discipline myself to sit down and devote a chunk of time to pursuing my craft and channeling creative energies, letting my creative soul breathe. I have found that, for me personally, when a task or project seems big (the Joyce paper I'm working on, music reviews I'm trying to write), the inner defense against doing it is even stronger and I procrastinate or find something else that should be done first. There is also the voice that says "why bother, you're no good anyway" or "why waste your time? It's not going to amount to anything"---this is the little Mephistopheles sitting on the artist's shoulder and he has to be defeated in order to proceed. It is out of all of this resistance and struggle that an artist's work is manifested.


Stage 2: One Voice in the Maelstrom
Once the initial stage of creating and pushing through blockages has been overcome, the artist has his completed work. But it's like the tree falling inside a forest: If nobody hears it, does it even make a sound? If nobody is there to apprehend or appreciate your art, what good is it? For some people the very act of channeling creativity is a therapeutic one and that's satisfying enough, thus there is no need or desire to share it with the world. But if one is trying to establish themselves as an artist in the world, this is the stage in which one struggles to be recognized, to have their work read or looked at and appreciated. With so many books, paintings, films, etc in the world, why would someone look at yours? This second stage can be a harrowing one for some people. Once they've passed the first stage of struggle and realized to appreciate their own art, it is so important to them that other people see it as well. It is surely a battle, a struggle to have their voice heard amidst a maelstrom of other creative voices.


Stage 3: Can You Handle the Heights?
After establishing a personal creative discipline and manifesting works of art, if one manages to reap the benefits of attention and recognition they are now an artist. A professional artist, as most of us hope (everyone wants to pursue their love and their calling in life as a career). But, success always breeds hatred. Success breeds jealousy. A successful artist, whether a novelist or musician or whatever, will inevitably be met with harsh criticism, people who think you suck or shouldn't be doing this. Oftentimes they can be vicious. These are the stillborn or unborn creative souls stuck in Stage 1 (or perhaps defeated from the Stage 1 struggle) trying to drag the successful artist back down to their level. A weak-hearted artist can be easily consumed at this stage and immediately be pulled off their perch of success. There is another aspect to this stage---the higher the heights one reaches as a successful artist, the more likely they are to lose touch with the true nature of their aesthetics and fall victim to greed, to selling their artistic souls and integrity. We've all seen this happen to people (seems to be common with musicians).


With all of these stages it is also easy for one to wobble, lose their balance and fall back down to the previous stage. There is nothing easy about being an artist. Personally, as someone who has spent most of my working life sitting in boring offices, I've often been jealous of those who live the artistic life but after just a month of trying to do it consistently myself, I realize it's harder than anything I've ever done. It is a constant struggle. I don't think anybody can quite understand this until they've tried it themselves.

You may notice that this is almost exactly what the Bildungsroman story deals with and especially the so-called Kunstlerroman, the growth, maturity, and struggle of an artist. It should come as no surprise that my mind has been supersaturated with thoughts on A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man for many months now as I'm trying to finish up a paper on it.

I am interested to see what other people think of this outline of stages.

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