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Getting To Your Happy (Creative) Place

by Luann Udell on 10/6/2016 9:48:30 AM

This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. She's blogged since 2002 about the business side--and the spiritual inside--of art. She says, "I share my experiences so you won't have to make ALL the same mistakes I did...."  For ten years, Luann also wrote a column ("Craft Matters") for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explored the funnier side of her life in craft. She's a double-juried member of the prestigious League of New Hampshire Craftsmen (fiber & art jewelry). Her work has appeared in books, magazines and newspapers across the country and she is a published writer.

Good, constructive criticism is always a good thing. But we should also consider the source, and seek out our best people for triangulation.

I opened my journal today, and found an entry from a week ago. 

It started, “I feel so....dead today...”  I went on to list all the things that were not going well, and how powerless I felt to change that. I had ‘failed’ at a workshop. I recalled cruel words about my work from a ‘friend’ years ago. My foot hurt. (I can really pile it on when I’m low!)

What did I write today? “And a week later, I am on fire with new ideas and designs!”

What happened in between??

To be truthful, not much. A change in the weather. A change of scenery. Meeting up with a good friend here and there. A good night’s sleep. Time. A glass of wine (or three!)

In short, everything that felt daunting and dreary a handful of days ago, has melted away, leaving new energy and enthusiasm in its wake.

We artists and creative people can easily fall prey to these passing mindsets. In order to create something new, we have to be open to the beauty in front of us, open and receptive to everything life throws at us. 

Of course, that also means we sometimes forget to shut that door. We may leave ourselves open to a hostile remark, or the destructive narcissism of another person. The toxicity of the news can drain us. We may be heavily influenced by a powerful book or movie. We may care too much when someone is critical of our work, or our efforts, or our actions. Even something as simple as an idea that didn’t pan out, a painting that didn’t quite work the way we wanted, a design that wasn’t as exciting as we’d hope, can cause us to temporarily doubt our abilities and talents.

This was doubly proven to me today. A friend back East reached out to me recently. I held off getting back to them until I had ‘more time’ later today. 

Then something caught my attention, something that made me realize I should call them now. I followed that impulse, and remembered something powerful:

There are people in our lives who, when we stumble, will remember who we are. When we forget, they will hold us up until we can remember for ourselves again. 

After we talked, my friend exclaimed, “I feel so much better now! I’m so glad we talked!” I had to remind them I merely was repeating insights she had shared with me three years ago!

She held me up then. It was my turn to hold her up, now.

Journaling serves this purpose for me, especially when I’m in a hard place. It’s a way to get the buzzy voice out of my head, and down on paper, where it’s easier to test my assumptions. Are things really that bad? Is the situation permanent? Is it something I can fix, or something I can simply let go for now? Is there someone who can offer me another point of view? Or someone I can ‘triangulate’ with, someone who will confirm my perception, yet (or ‘and so’) offer me guidance?

Of course, some art, great art, is created because of the very hard places we find ourselves in. Picasso’s Guernica is an obvious example. 

Yet a more subtle example is Lawrence Weschler’s essay, “Vermeer in Bosnia” (in his book by the same name). 

During the Yugoslav War Crimes Tribunal years ago, Weschler spoke with a jurist who had to listen to horrific testimony for weeks on end. The jurist mentioned that he found peace and comfort in the Mauritshuis museum, with its collection of Vermeer paintings.

The final irony is, Vermeer’s intimate glimpses of quiet domesticity were actually created during a time of similar horror and violence. “Only Lawrence Weschler could reveal the connections between the twentieth century’s Yugoslav wars and the equally violent Holland in which Vermeer created his luminously serene paintings….” 

An artist creates a place for quiet contemplation, during a time of intense war and destruction, which, centuries later, creates another respite in an equally heinous period in our modern times.

Friendship. Journaling. Rest. A walk, or a drive in the country. A faithful dog or sleeping cat. A loaf of bread, a jug of wine (or three!)....

What restores you to your happy, creative frame of mind?


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Topics: advice for artists | art and psychology | art appreciation | creativity | FineArtViews | inspiration | Luann Udell 

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Jana Parkes
Beautiful sharing, Luann! And so true about the struggles, and also the benefits of connecting and helping each other out. thank you!

Marilyn Rose
Such a fresh perspective on this common subject, Luann - thanks for yourinsightful article. I identify with Vermeer's creating a balance for chaos and upheaval in the outside world by looking inward and painting what he loved. Those images bring people back home to their inner strength and peace.

Luann insightful as always loved this piece. There is so much chaos in the world and our own life seems nothing goes "right" at times but your right a talk with a friend or journaling can be a great help. But also stories/blogs from people like you are I think even more helpful since are friends may say what we want to hear you just put it out there and it really touches many of us in a way that's different. Thanks for this post!

Luann Udell
Jana, your comment is actually so timely for me--again! Thank you for taking the time to comment, it made a difference.

Luann Udell
Marilyn, your words are so powerful! "...Those images bring people back home to their inner strength and peace."

So very, very true, and part of the often-hidden job description for artists.

Mark Brockman
I have, some time ago, been in some very dark places that paralyzed my ability to work. Hopefully those days are behind me. Now those down times are just grey and no longer black and though they may slow me down they don't stop me. But those grey days are often my most contemplative days so I don't fight them but except them and work with them. My life as a whole is much better for letting go.

As artists I think we sometimes think of ourselves as being invincible, that we should always be able to create, but we are not invincible. Those down times, whatever might cause them, can be a time to recharge, to understand what it is we really want from what ever it is we create.

Other artists, especially those we admire most, can put us in a dangerous place when we compare ourselves to them. I know, I've done it far to many times and still do, dang it all. But in truth we should only compare our work to ourselves.

As to the wine, well in my case a bit of whisky is nice, just a little mind you.

Luann Udell
Cindy, YES, you are absolutely right sometimes the words of a complete stranger can lift us up. Watch out for the words that take us down, but I've seen over and over again, how the universe will offer us a tiny glimpse of the bigger truth. It's magic!

Luann Udell
Mark, I agree with you, our darkest times have their place in our creative life.

And whiskey....YEAH!!!

John P. Weiss
My favorite lines in your post: "She held me up then. It was my turn to hold her up, now." It's amazing how a friend can uplift a weary heart. Also, I think we all have an ebb and flow. Down times, then up times. The key is to soldier on through the rough spots and remember "this too will pass." Thanks for a great post today, Luann.

David Nevue
Luann, what a beautiful article. Artists are very emotional people and we express it in our art.

Your friend helped you in a time of need and your artwork will help someone you never met in a time of need.

The art that you create and share to the world is bringing people to there happy place. That is powerful.

Marilyn Rose
Thanks Luanne, I'm glad my words reached you - it is my mission.

Jim Springett
Hi Luann, I think as artists we pretty much go though an analysis similar to what you portrait. AS a person who needs to have a healing influence daily, I simply paint, not so much with a customer in mind, but what the wildlife I paint means to me and what do they teach me. Wildlife to me are so peaceful and do not make war, love abides in the animal kingdom, not always with humans. So painting first and working on things that I have control over with no expectations on results which would mean I am trying to impact things out of my control. Each painting I learn new things not just about painting but about myself, and over the past 26 years of painting a lot of healing has taken place with no end in sight. Thanks for touching upon the essence of all of us, peace be yours too. :) J

Jeffrey Leech
Hi Luann,
When you described yourself a week ago I thought you were talking about me. The ups and downs, are we all like this? Are all artists mini-manic depressives? I am still working on ways to get through the downs. I have tried to grunt through it but the results on those days are terrible!!!
Thank you for your suggestion,

Luann Udell
John, maybe there's a song in there somewhere....?
hugs to you!

Luann Udell
David, thank you for your kind words, and you are spot on. MAKING our art restores us to ourselves, and in the process, helps others, too.

Lori Woodward
Luann, great post. Love that you're a fellow deep thinker/ponderer. Enjoyed our talks, now so many years ago

Luann Udell
Jim, you've been reading my mind!
AFTER I submitted my article, I realized I'd left out that very aspect you mentioned--that MAKING our art heals us.
So I'll just add, "And this is for the times when we get so caught up in our pain, we forget that."
Thank you for the catch.

Luann Udell
LOL, Jeffrey, I'm often accused of that!

I've learned over the years that writing what is on my mind and in my heart, will often resonate with someone else, even though I don't expect it.

It's a reminder that we are all human, we are all creative beings, and being creative means being open to the world in front of us--and being vulnerable. It's not a weakness, it is an extremely valuabe tool.

Of course, those who AREN'T going through it right now, don't comment, so it all evens out. :^)

And I also hope the article spurs you to write down some options. When we're down, we can't think of any. But it's always a good practice to count our blessings. The other day, I actually created a list of people who have my back. It helped to see 'concrete evidence'--my list--that there are people I can turn to. I'll be you do, too!

Luann Udell
Lori, ditto, girlfriend! You always have a wonderfully unique POV, and it's always thoughtful. I miss your articles here, too.

Luann Udell !
Thanks for the great article, I can relate to that in many ways, but you already stated most of them. I didn't experience much of what you mentioned in the beginning, 'falling prey to, shutting the door' (forgetting mistakes) - what's the saying 'Happiness Is a Bad Memory'. As you (and other artists 'readers') probably know that true artists have internal mindsets that overriding negativity, to include Passion, Drive, Willpower and Perseverance (to name a few), right? From as long as I can remember, I had a PMA (Positive Mental Attitude). I thought perhaps I would pass on the couple of useful techniques? One of my favorite saying, that I would I tell myself in tough times, was a strong and willing attitude - "Attitude Controls Motivation - Motivation Controls Performance - Performance Controls Success" - in my ongoing series of quotes that I've developed - one is very fitting here -
as far as your, "The toxicity of the news can drain us" - there's the newspaper saying - "the sports page is man's accomplishments and the front page is man's defeats", also seeing where you referred to "my foot hurts" - when that happens, and trust me, it happens more (to all body parts) as you get older, I have a little (motivating) conversation with my foot (yes, I talk to my body parts!) - "everybody else wants to work and I expect you to do the same, it's a team effort, you know!" - hey, it works for me!
I noticed you used the phrase "A good night's sleep" - I keep hearing that word "sleep", but rarely experienced it - mostly because I'm innovatively 'Driven' (there's that word again!) to Create Art (not enough hours in the day)!
Thanks again for the good 'Read', it's always great to see others with the same frame of mind!
Robert / RSVPalmer

Luann Udell
Interesting thoughts, Robert, love the newspaper quote--very useful! Glad you enjoyed the article.

Walter Paul Bebirian
to answer your question about what restores me to my happy and creative mind - is just about anything that I set out to do - walking - eating watching TV series - creating my images - photographing - handing out my cards - meeting strangers in the streets - seeing old friends - seeing family members - talking with my wife - going places with my wife - going to the Museums in Manhattan - Long Island and wherever else I might find one - driving my car - going to Arboretums - reading books and books and more books - imagining things - organizing things - working for clients - all of these things and so many many more activities that I come across to take part in every single day - life - :-)

I want to thank you for your words. You have managed to express exactly how I feel. I go up, I go down. I journal, I get stuck and sometimes just paint to put miles on my brush. I tend to spend a lot of alone time in my studio and have to make a focused effort to get out and have some fun and be with people. You helped me remember I am not alone in this creative endeavor and all of the things that do keep me going. Thank you

Luann Udell
Mary, SO GLAD this was helpful!
Remember--The RIGHT people. Protect yourself from the people who nibble:
The Nibble Theory by Kaleel Jamison is a quick read, but an incredibly deep one.
It saved my sanity, and my life.

Luann Udell
Walter, thank you for both your kind word (!!) and your suggestions.


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