creative energy and hard work

February 18th, 2013

It’s funny how creative energy concentrates itself into bursts of powerful inspiration and accomplishment. Even more interesting is how it often follows long periods of uninspired or unsuccessful art work. Recently, I found myself teaching, being a mom and wife, juggling other professional and civic obligations and somehow managing to finish a long overdue ceramic and mixed media teapot, a Louise Nevelson-inspired assemblage, a series of lampwork bead pairs for earrings, and some much needed jewelry restringing, refurbishing, and new design creation. Still, I am itching to finish a couple more projects. I’m excited because after much uninspired sketching, mulling, and planning, I’ve at long last come upon inventive and original ways to get the work done.

Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work. All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself.
  Chuck Close

Process is a primary source of inspiration for me. A sense of inventive play while folding, cutting, and assembling clay slabs provides a stream of new information with which to work.
  Margaret Bohls

Like lightning, these sage words from two accomplished artists have struck me in a serendipitous way. Close’s sentiment is a quote I’ve long held dear. Bohls’ statement was part of an article I recently read aloud to my ceramics classes. Both quotes affirm the importance of consistent work and I feel rewarded for thinking and believing them, even when my work had hit a bit of a rough patch. This is a concept that is difficult to get most young art students to accept and implement: The act of daily work, the creative process, and the ethic required to persist in these efforts is where inspiration lives. Of course, I have students who work every day. I have students who pay attention to detail, who get on with the act of working on projects, and who adapt and change as new creative problems arise. These are the students who create work admired by others. These are the students that other students hold in awe. Nonetheless, there’s a cognitive disconnect that occurs between understanding that Amazing Art Student is amazing simply (most of the time) because he or she does. The. Work. Every. Day.

I had a student remark on my recent flurry of work, “Mrs. Watson, why are you so good at everything? How do you do so much?” My reply was honest and short, “Well, I just keep at it every day. Most of these projects have been in my creative pipeline for months. One, for years.”

I think a lot of well-meaning people glorify the work of artists without really understanding the unbelievable lifetime of hard work that accompanies successful art. People look at the work of Chuck Close, throw their hands in the air, lament they can’t draw, and package the life and work and sacrifice of artists like him into a mystical, unattainable, instantaneous act of inspiration. If instead, we legitimized the creative process as daily work, as the result of a strong work ethic then I think we would lead more realistic and artful lives and place greater importance on the teaching and learning of art. Certainly, it would lend more credibility to the pursuit of art as a professional endeavor.

Indeed, inspiration still strikes, but almost always after a period of work or struggle. To help my students understand, I liken the experience to the work that an athlete does: Can you imagine a professional athlete who only shows up for the game? No practice, no training, no self-discipline? They can’t imagine it. Only then, do they begin to understand what I mean when an artist must show up and work, if not every day, consistently over time.

So today, I rest, reflect, and prepare for the work that lies ahead.