Feb 13 2010

How far will you go, artist?

Published by Reesa at 10:23 am under Writing, callie, falling down, momentum, transitions

The question of how far down the rabbit hole to fall, when working on a creative project, is rather an interesting one. The possibilities are legion for hacking, warping, and weirding the mental processes to create art. However, an artist of whatever stripe often runs up against their own self-boundaries, in such explorations. Sometimes they’re self-imposed limits that should probably be pushed against; other times they might be coping mechanisms for biochemicals that really need to remain at certain levels, thankyouverymuch. Finding the line between what to give to yourself and what to give to that art can be difficult; even for how many artists have gone before, there just aren’t universal roadmaps for making good, deep, provocative art and staying “sane”.

So where do the compromises come in? There’s a wide range of individual choices. We’ve all heard stories of the people who ultimately lost themselves — either the qualities that made their work stand out or their life itself — to the imbalance between care of self and creation of art. And if you aren’t willing to take at least some risks with your own psyche, you’re likely to have a shallow or surface-level artistic end-result.

For me, it’s usually about finding the balance point that allows me to push forward. If I’m going to be doing some crazy internal meanderings, delving into the Shadow self, finding the locked-box memories that are still raw with emotion and creative potential and dragging them out for a look…then if at all possible, other areas in my life should be as stable and least-disruptive as can be. If everything else in my life is chaos, or my own internal landscape is unstable, and I’ve already considered and rejected taking a creative break for whatever reason, then it might be better to steer toward the more “brain candy” level projects. I can keep creating but not get so locked up into my work that I lose myself in the rest of the instabilities. It’s why I don’t believe in the myth that every work must be a Masterpiece For the Ages. Heck, even the master painters of the Renaissance and other eras still took portrait commissions to pay the bills, it wasn’t all frescos and finery.

Sure, they were Really Good portraits, and taking a brain candy creation path during stressful times isn’t license to avoid doing the best work you can, either. But hey, if all you get written during a rough time is a silly zombie story (to pick an Entirely Random Example), you still maintained the creative drive so that it’s available for “more serious” work later. That is definitely good work done.

And when you do give yourself the opportunities and stability to peer into the abyss…how far will you look? How deep can you go and still come back to yourself, or at least a version of you that creates and with whom you can live?

12 Responses to “How far will you go, artist?”

  1. Andreaon 13 Feb 2010 at 3:10 pm

    I have no concrete idea of how to answer this at the moment (other than when my desire to create art starts causing strain in my household I can’t help but question the sanity of continuing at that level) but I am deeply intrigued by the question.

  2. Caseyon 13 Feb 2010 at 9:16 pm

    This one has got me thinking, for sure.

    While I am noodling, what is your experience in terms of controlling how deep you go while hacking your creative process? Is it fully voluntary, or is there a point of no return (and is that point visible before you cross it or not)?

    I do like the balance notion. A whole lot of creative folk seem to ignore the notion of balance…

  3. Reesaon 14 Feb 2010 at 4:01 pm

    @Andrea - And at which points does your art start causing strain in your household? What are your markers for identifying the danger zones?

    @Casey - I know we tried to talk some about this last night, but I’m still interested in exploring it further since I didn’t get very far in English-phrased concepts. I’ll try more and see where we go.

    I don’t think that I can pass a “point of no return” in losing myself in my art unless on my deepest levels I have consented to not come back. I don’t truly think my art can hold me captive indefinitely without my fundamental consent. I also, personally, don’t believe I would consent to not come back from those places, at least on my deepest levels, though I concede the thought might be quite tempting in certain instances.

    All of this kinda leads to, for me, the idea that it actually isn’t about maintaining control. The knowledge that at any point I *can* assert control, I can wake up or come back or safeword or make the key appear in my hand, that I AM the architect of my own mind even if other folk constructed some of the buildings…means that for a time I can lose myself in or sub to or fall into the story-dreaming or whatever your metaphor, and let the creative force take control. And it’s OK. Even when it isn’t.

    Based on my experiences the most recent time everything fell apart beyond my ability to manage in the meatspace-world, I’d say it’s very rare that the point of everything-going-boom is visible before you cross it…assuming you’ve already let things get unstable to the point of losing your balance, which is common. If you’re maintaining your creative balance, then there might be some points of I dunno-how-I’m-getting-back-from-here crossed, but that’s subtly-yet-powerfully different from points-of-NO-return.

    Hmm, don’t think I achieved coherency yet, but does this inspire more thoughts from anyone else?

  4. Andreaon 15 Feb 2010 at 3:33 pm

    There may be others, but at this point the only points of stress re: household are to do with money and to do with space. Not having enough money to pay our bills is an obvious difficulty and no matter how supportive house mates may be about my art/business, bills not being paid is always going to be a problem. Its pretty easy to see when we’re hitting that especially since I’m the one that keeps track of the bills. Heh.

    Space is more nebulous problem. Living in such a small house there is a whole lot of compromise involved regardless, and if I remember to keep it in mind much of the stress from that is avoided (ie. remembering NOT to get started rinsing fiber in the kitchen sink 30 minutes before Robert’s wanting to start dinner). I try to take responsiblity for not leaving stuff in peoples way and segregating it all as much as possible. Of course, folks are a lot more understanding of the space I take up, when its making money. *grins*

  5. Reesaon 16 Feb 2010 at 3:08 pm

    @Casey - Oh, here’s a link I found yesterday where someone else tries to answer some of the same questions from a different angle.

    http://storytellersunplugged.com/blog/2010/02/16/thomas-sullivan-how-to-love-a-villain-riding-dragons-on-pandora-avatar/

  6. Lynnon 17 Feb 2010 at 3:28 am

    Two separate paths came to mind for this question: when I’m in a introspective period and I allow my thoughts to go as far as I’m comfortable with, and when I’m thinking about a story idea and allowing my fantasy to go so far that it becomes real and I have to actively tell myself that it’s not.

    Of the latter, the point where I hit the wall in reality vs. fantasy is so blurry that I scare myself into not finishing the writing (if I start it at all) for fear of being found out that I’m crazy. It’s not that the content is particularly controversial or antisocial, but that it feels like I’m baring my soul too much. I wish I had better words to describe the feeling, but it feels painful. I would associate it with someone confessing to the object of their affection that they’ve fallen in love and having no clue if the other will think they’re batshit or brave. I suppose this is my id having complete reign over me to the point of either brilliance or ruin. Because that’s how Id rolls. :) My Id is annoyed by safewords.

    During introspection, I ask myself how deep I want to examine myself that day, how far can I go without bruising my ego. The driving questioning process is the Socratic method. At that point I stop. Here, my safephrase is ‘no negative cascade in the unreasonable.’

  7. Lynnon 17 Feb 2010 at 3:45 am

    A third path of creative express that I know most people don’t consider: dreaming, specifically active dreaming.

    In my lucid dreams, where I can occasionally control some of the key moments, if I am headed towards a risky situation with a do or die outcome, I will go for it to see where it leads and how far i can go, even if I see certain death in it. I create a world where I’m testing my perceived invincibility. I’m writing my destiny. I often come close to dying in dreams, or killing someone. I have fallen from great heights and hit ground with a thud, the ground bowing down flexibly and then gradually bringing me up. Sometimes I do safeword out of it by saying ‘no.’ Sometimes I don’t.

  8. Lynnon 17 Feb 2010 at 3:46 am

    A third path of creative expression that I know most people don’t consider: dreaming, specifically active dreaming.

    In my lucid dreams, where I can occasionally control some of the key moments, if I am headed towards a risky situation with a do or die outcome, I will go for it to see where it leads and how far i can go, even if I see certain death in it. I create a world where I’m testing my perceived invincibility. I’m writing my destiny. I often come close to dying in dreams, or killing someone. I have fallen from great heights and hit ground with a thud, the ground bowing down flexibly and then gradually bringing me up. Sometimes I do safeword out of it by saying ‘no.’ Sometimes I don’t.

  9. Reesaon 18 Feb 2010 at 3:08 pm

    @Lynn - Ooh, define “baring the soul too much”. I’m sure by whatever definition my current project will qualify, but I also suspect you and I have different perspectives on either “baring the soul” or “too much” (or both).

    If you only introspect far enough not to bruise the ego (another phrase I’d love more discussion on), by what mechanism(s) do you further your knowledge and understanding? Can you elaborate on what you mean by your safephrase here?

    The dreaming stuff is fascinating. I have a rather weird relationship with my dreams so don’t really do that sort of lucid dreaming. How do you feel the dreaming helps with your confronting fears and creative expression in the waking world?

  10. Lynnon 20 Feb 2010 at 12:17 am

    Baring the soul too much - expressing a desire that, if ever found out, would leave me completely (that’s the ‘too much’ part) vulnerable to being hurt - as in someone using this against me.

    Bruising the ego - it’s not that I never do it, just that I have to be in a really brave headspace to do it; right now is one of those times. They last for months.

    My safephrases:
    - I’m not ready to face this.
    - Are you ready for the possibility of change?

    How I further knowledge and understanding if I don’t want to allow my ego to be bruised? Questioning until I am ready. If I’m too afraid to go for it, I ask peoplewho have. I think about how their situation may parallel mine. I assess risk and decide if I want to do it.

  11. Lynnon 20 Feb 2010 at 12:34 am

    Dreams: I don’t die or get hurt. I sometimes dream of situations that I’ve had in the past and my lucidity enables me to play out the scene differently and examine the outcome and how I feel about it. Or I see someone who’s dead and get to ask them a question I never had a chance to before. I once faced someone who had a gun pointed at me and confronted them about how stupid the situation was, instead of freezing up like I probably would in real life (understandably so).

    Lucid dreams allow me to express more options that put me in danger physically and emotionally when I write. They allow me to examine deeper parts of my self when I’m introspective.

    [My lucid dreams are not common. They happen once or twice a year and occur in clusters - once or twice a week for two weeks, usually when I'm sick and feverish. I've only been able to force them out once or twice by taking valarian root about an hour before bed.]

  12. Reesaon 20 Feb 2010 at 2:57 am

    @Lynn - Thanks for sharing your techniques! They certainly sound like good examples of balances one can strike in protecting oneself versus pushing growth and change forward.

    Interesting observation upon reading : I don’t myself tend to directly correlate “someone using this against me” with “vulnerable to being hurt”. Information used against me is an external act; being hurt is an internal experience. They often overlap, but aren’t required to always show up together, IMO.

    I seem to have some fairly odd agreements/understanding between my conscious and subconscious over the dream realms. I don’t tend to get conscious control over my dreams; on the other hand, my subconscious tends to create alt-realities (very completely at times) where I can live out some of the paths-not-taken in waking life. We should chat about it sometime, I have at least one or two interesting anecdotes.