Friday, October 1, 2010

Working Sabbatical

Above: Origami boxes that I make for no reason, made from old calendars.

I was reading another blog today and the artist admitted to being in a creative slump -- resulting in not going into the studio for several months. The frustration expressed by this artist was palpable. And I can thoroughly empathize with that feeling. I have been there for a good long while, now -- perhaps a couple of years, if I were to really admit it (although a certain amount of that self-awareness is due to hindsight).

I've been doing what I do for about 15 years now, and mostly I still love it. I mean, where else could I be sitting in my pajamas, watching satellite T.V. or listening to books on tape while simultaneously working and earning a living? Most days, my commute is about 15 yards. I never have to be trapped in a conference room in one of those interminable company meetings so loved by most corporations. I don't have to try to get things accomplished by reaching a consensus with my team. All my efforts go toward providing for me and my family. Advantages to my way of earning a living as an artist abound, and while I still feel they outweigh the disadvantages, real challenges also exist.

The first challenge is that artists essentially live off their creativity, and the soulful effort this takes can be daunting and draining, especially over any span of time. Secondly, they must rely solely on their own impetus and discipline, hour after hour, day after day, year after year to not only get into the studio and get the work done, but to also wear the many other hats required to get the work sold to make the living. A third obstacle can be that inner voice constantly nagging, "Why are you doing this?" or "This is no good. Why do you constantly waste your time?" or "Why do you keep on doing this?" A fourth challenge comes with success. Successful artists at some point come to the realization that they can easily become victims of their own success, turning an item they once loved to make into something they almost can't stomach making one more time. I mean, it's great when you make that bracelet worn by the starlet, but not so great in some ways when the famous department store wants 1000 of them.

Balance is a huge issue in living the creative lifestyle. My areas of balance have always been the same -- how to balance "work" and "life", how to balance making tried-and-true successful products with time to play creatively in order to create new successful products, how to balance wearing the artist's hat with the business woman's hat -- to name just a few. Most days I'm convinced that I'm no closer to unlocking the secrets of balance than I was as an unwitting newbie 15 years ago.

So top the challenges and the balancing act with a serious bout of creative block and no wonder the idea of a sabbatical was born. Wouldn't it be nice to take a year off and travel the globe without thinking about "work," for example? While I believe everyone is creative and therefore in need of the occasional sabbatical, for artists, because work and life are so closely intertwined and less easily separated, the sabbatical is often the only way they can keep going in their profession, and is often the reason many artists leave the artistic life. Ironically, most artists are not so successful that they can afford any sort of proper sabbatical, myself included -- no working, no eating either.

To cope over the long haul, I think I have been taking what I refer to in hindsight as a "working sabbatical." I work at the stuff that is successful, just enough of the time, and then I escape as best I can with other things. Lately, I've been reading a lot (pure escapism), crocheting a lot (a somewhat mindless, repetitive soothing activity), bookbinding (don't ask me why other than I love books), and making various origami boxes (another somewhat mindless activity for no good reason). As I look over these other activities, I think I'm trying to achieve some sort of balance and incubation and recuperation time for my brain and creative soul. I think a lot of artists do this and put it into the category of "artists' block."

For myself, I really don't think of it that way. I simply try to remember that these sorts of spells are part of the intense creative process that I've chosen to engage in for my living. I know when I'm in the throes of one of these spells that I'm on the verge of something new and exciting. I try to welcome that "bored with myself" feeling and take advantage of it. I know that no matter how much I must work to earn a living, that when I'm in the thick of the funk I'm where my most potential exists. And most importantly, I know I'll survive as an artist because there's something built into my DNA that will not allow me to work without some sort of creative (not monetory) reward. And so I creep along in the midst of my working sabbatical sure in the knowledge that I'm on a path that I can sustain for the long haul, and deep satisfaction is forthcoming -- again, and again.


Genea said...

Hey Patti,

I HATE "artists' funks" :( They can be so dis-heartening. You never really know how long they will last and then the self-doubt sets in. Then all the sudden they seem to fade like a fog and you can't remember what it was that got you back into the clear again. Strange how this cycle works in the artists life.

I have been super inspired lately and I blame it on some new beads I got with which to design. I would LOVE to share some with you! Maybe they will have the same magical powers to help scare the funkies away. My e-mail is eyedoglass(at) Please send me your mailing info so I can send you a care package :)

Much love,


Jinx Garza said...

Beautifully said, Patti. Balance, the eternal quest.

Louise Mehaffey said...

Maybe you need to review your mission statement. :)

When you have the balance part figured out, let me know.

Anonymous said...

This theme is hauntingly familiar, and look - you wrote this a year and a half ago.