Being an artist takes courage. To really get into the deep muck of being an artist you have to conquer your fears and allow yourself to be put out there—by your own doing. You have to grapple with challenging the conventions of normalcy. The creative process might involve the sometimes brutal slamming together of unknowing, wallowing, passion, apathy, indolence, depression, confusion, genius, inspiration, method, fear, nausea, light-headedness, and this insistent pounding from within to create something.
When you feel this drive in your belly to create something it pushes, pushes, pushes. Sometimes the process is less obnoxious—your muse might pop into your head with a quiet little ray of sunshine—it’s quieter, but not necessarily less insistent.
Once you acquiesce and give in to the insistence of this drive, you can be sucked into discussions you don’t want to have with yourself, and crammed into rooms in your head you don’t want to visit. And yet, there you are. It can pull you down a staircase and through a crowd of ideas that seem oh-so-easy-to-solve and past those off-the-shelf solutions and onto the bare stage of confronting the reality that you have no idea how you are going to solve this creative dilemma.
Confidence and lack of confidence show themselves with wild abandon in your work. Independent of your intentions, they flaunt themselves. It doesn’t work to fake it. There have been occasions in my painting career when I thought; Hmmm…I’ll stop here. I don’t know how to solve this now, but maybe in a year, I will. I knew I couldn’t fake it. I just had to wait it out.
It is weird, outrageous and courageous to stop; to pull the brush off the paper and step away. But when I did, a year later, the solution came to me, and I finished the piece.
Photo by Jason Chalmers
Along those same lines, they say, the Leaning Tower of Pisa had a couple of “holding” patterns while artists and engineers (and city finances) determined how to solve the lean. During the construction in 1173, they figured they could just sort of straighten it out as they went, but it didn’t solve the problem.
(There’s sort of a weird subtle kind of curve to the outside edge of the tower as you can see where they attempted to accommodate the leaning).
They waited hundreds of years, until a new idea came along. Benito Mussolini wanted it straight and yet that effort actually made it worse. so again they waited to allow more engineering and more scholarship to devise a solution, The tower was closed in the 1990s with a precipitous lean; the risk was accelerating. They waited knowing that a better idea to solve it would eventually come along. An intricate plan was crafted in 1998 and was fussed with until almost a decade later. In 2007, the Tower was straightened to its 1838 position—a lean they feel comfortable with… for now.
Yet it is “problem solving,” patience, battles over disciplines and ideas, along with the courage to try something that produces the art. It may involve jumping the chasms of fear and managing the clashing of ideas to distill a solution—that’s how the creative process sometimes works. It is a process though, which I often find confuses people. It’s not just a random serious of sparks until a flames ignites. It’s more like childbirth. It may be painful and chaotic, but there is a journey through a tunnel and then you see daylight.
Another example of courageous problem solving is depicted in this video of Boston artist and sculpture, Janet Echelman giving a TED talk on her journey with her art. Her work is breathtakingly beautiful and almost stupefyingly astonishing.
Janet Echelman's sculpture
Museum of the Center of Europe, Vilnius, Lithuania
"Trying to hide with your tail in the air."
She was confronted with a challenge to create art with unfamiliar materials, then her brain took her to places she had never intended to go, and she continued to problem solve until she created airy, ephemeral, gossamer mists of art—more like floating music than actual 3-dimensional art.