Here’s what I already know. I know that when I’m working on a sculpture, getting ready for an exhibition or pursuing an idea I’m all-in. I eat, breath and sleep art…my art. The ideas come fast and furious, the days are too short and I live in one space, the studio. It feels like it will last forever, this all-encompassing arena of creativity. I warn myself about burn-out and mentally caution about asking too much of myself physically, emotionally and spiritually. But when you’re ‘on’, you’re ‘on’ and when the valve is open all the way the flow is seemingly never-ending.
Here’s the thing though, once the deadlines are met, the exhibitions have come (and gone) and goals are realized, then what?
Typically, I allow myself to pause just long enough to say “way to go” before taking an expectant step back into the studio and on to the next project. This time that step was followed by, well…nothing. Sure, the ideas were still there but something was definitely off. Things were hazy, a little vague and where on earth was that stomach-clenching excitement I had grown used to.
No one told me about this!
I never expected to feel a lack of something. Particularly the lack of intense emotion that always comes with studio work. But hey, I tell myself that I’ve got this, that I’m prepared. After all I have read loads of information about what to do when the creative muse is absent and how important studio routine is to creativity. Heck, I even own a couple of books about being a full-time artist. You know the kind, the must-have handbook for every artist.
But this, this sensation is something else.
Ok, so I’m fairly certain that this isn’t a new phenomenon, that others have experienced it and even have a name for it. A label that makes sense to them and helps to establish perspective. Me? I’m looking for two things: first, what is this sensation and second, how do I prevent it from ever happening again.
Turns out what I’ve been experiencing does have a name and a friend was kind enough to point out to me, “Oh you’re in the mean-time”. What?! She says something along the lines of “You know, that place after you’ve accomplished what you set out to do but haven’t quite determined what you’re doing next. In the mean-time you sort of ride things out until you figure out what does come next.” Oh…well that sounds about right. Check mark, sensation identified!
As far as it goes for the second thing, prevention, I’m approaching that one from a little different angle. Rather than figuring out how to make certain this never happens again (which I suspect is wishful thinking) I’m going to focus on a strategy I already understand, sustainability.
The way I see it, pursuing a sustainably creative life is something just a little bit different from avoiding burn-out or chasing an absent muse. I think it’s about the flow. About giving back at the same rate at which I take so that the creative flow is there every time I open the valve. If I am going to take from myself then I must also give back to myself, at an equal or larger volume. Idea for idea, emotion for emotion and an experience had for every story I tell.
That is sustainable creativity.