“So what are you going to do today?” Colin asks one morning. “Well!” I say, “I’m going to take the dogs for a walk, chase some bronzes, work on this sculpture – oh, and I have to start this other one, contact so-and-so…” on and on I go. “Cool!” he says, “I didn’t know today was going to have 42 hours in it…”
Um, okay then. I get it. Like everyone, our days always have far less time than we have things to fill them with. That’s fine – we’ve all walked that road many times. The problem comes when I get to the end of the day and I’ve done what I’ve done, but wasn’t able to get that application in, post something, reply to people, finish at least two or three sculptures… yada yada yada, and then the inner critic gets a chance to go all bananas in the brain. I’ll get to that part more in a little bit.
An artist friend of ours once told us, “I kind of picture you going into the studio every day, sitting around being all inspired and making stuff.” Well, yes… and no, not really. Our days are rarely repetitious, but always jam-packed. Naturally, leading up to a show involves a bit more of a push to get things fired, finished and delivered. Here’s a short video recap of a pretty typical day for us – managing the necessities of two blended creative lives leading up to a recent show opening.
Of course, throughout our work cycle, many days involve much more focus on sculpting than this particular one did. Some include more computer work, hosting collectors or…well, writing articles and blog posts, for instance (which might not be exceptional days for video recaps).
Regardless of how much plowing through the mountain of things to do that I might get done, even after a day like this, my natural inclination is to think I should have accomplished more rather than giving myself the freedom to revel in a day well-worked and well-spent. One quote that has always struck a certain note of terror into my heart is by Annie Dillard: “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” So if I’m spending my days stressing over what I didn’t get done, I’m spending my life not treasuring the marvel that the life of an artist truly is.
I find this all particularly challenging when someone else’s agenda or timeline is involved. The foundation of my artistic practice continually incorporates things I want to pursue that nurture my creativity balanced with the projects I need to do. All of these can easily get sidelined when I feel the pressure, real or imagined, of (or my perception of) someone else’s expectations and what they need from me. When I start thinking sleeping four hours a night is a good idea to just get those next few things crossed off the list, I’ve started telling myself, “Seriously, cut the crazy. Just stop it.”
A Few Self-conversations That Seem to Help
1. Every day, I’m going to put in a solid day’s work. I’ll get done what I get done and that’s going to be better than good enough. Moving a mountain can be accomplished with moving one pebble at a time, consistently over time. Railing on myself only slows everything down.
2. Be in communication: when I fall behind on something, my gut response is to drop out of communication until I have something “good” to report. Like many, I want to avoid conflict or being the bringer of bad news. But, it’s much more effective to just communicate and let people know when they might reasonably expect something given my schedule and prior commitments, responsibilities or priorities, even if it might be later than hoped. Better to be honest and straightforward (with them and with myself) about what I can really do in the time I can really do it. People are often unexpectedly gracious when there is clarity around what to expect.
3. Sometimes, on items of less significance, I can allow myself the choice: it can be perfect or it can be done. While I am loathe to admit it, there are some things in life in which “perfect” doesn’t actually make the difference I want to think it does.
4. While I want to see myself as generally imperturbable and relentless, I have to allow space for external stressors out of my control. The last month has had its challenges, pinballing between “everything’s gonna be alright” and “oh…my…god.” Wildfires are raging all around us, devastating communities, people, forests and creatures we’ve loved for decades. Each day we’re faced with the nuclear-bomb-looking smoke explosions on the mountains and the uncertainty of whether our city is next for mandatory evacuation. Should I focus on trying to work or preparing to choose what to save from our life in case I need to make that impossible decision? I don’t know. But I do know that thinking this doesn’t or shouldn’t take a toll on my mind and my creativity is just dumb. The stress of the daily destruction around us and the uncertainty of our future is of course going to put me on edge. I’m learning that I can embrace my heartbreak and still be strong, but to do that I need to cut myself some slack on the production side of things. Then I have the space to do the work I need to do. Cut the crazy: being scared and overwhelmed by things I can’t control is sometimes just part of living. Don’t expect or demand your response to tragedy be that of an automaton. Get a plan in place to help minimize personal catastrophizing as much as possible and quell the mental firestorm. Experiences, both good and bad, will always temper your work. Be kind and compassionate to others as well as yourself. Let it be. Breathe.
And On to a Happier Ending
To finish up on a hopeful note, as art is always a balm to the spirit, here’s a short virtual walk-through of “Gravitas,” the figurative show that opened in Santa Fe last week at EVOKE Contemporary. I have several sculptures in the show including those that we were finishing in the first video. The paintings encompass many diverse approaches to contemporary painting and drawing of the figure. I thought everyone would enjoy seeing the work up close, even if you can’t make it to Santa Fe. Artists in the show include: Daniel Sprick, Lee Price, Shane Wolf, Jeremy Mann, Kent Williams, Bernardo Torrens, Patrick McGrath-Muñiz, Soey Milk, Andrew Shears, Harry Holland, Wade Reynolds, Cheryl Kelley and my sculptures too, of course.
Til next time!