February 11, 2008

more artists pose questions to Eric Maisel

As Eric promotes his book, many artists are sending him questions that are relevant to us all. I'm posting excerpts, with Eric's permission, from those interviews:

You note in the book that "Most creators feel miserable if few or none of their creative efforts succeed." How do you counsel artists to make meaning, when they seem to depend so much on public awareness and acceptance of their creative work?

A lack of success and a lack of recognition are profound meaning crises that must be addressed just as any meaning crisis must be addressed, with all of our heart and all of our energy. We have the following options. We reinvest meaning in our art and reinvest meaning in our marketing efforts and make a new go at doing excellent work and also at becoming an excellent advocate for our work, in the hope that this time recognition and success will follow. That is, we try again, only harder and smarter. In addition, we invest meaning elsewhere, in other meaning avenues and other meaning containers, and especially in intimate relationships (Van Gogh was happy for one year, when he was in such an intimate relationship). There are no other existential answers: we try again (perhaps differently and hopefully with a better payoff) and/or we try something new.

How do you counsel an artist facing stage fright or fear of the blank page?

When we fear that we do not matter or that our efforts do not matter, we get depressed. Similarly, the places where we make large investments of meaning, for instance in our performances, paintings, or books, are places of great anxiety, because there is more than
our ego on the line, there is our very sense of the meaningfulness of our life. If the world is not interested in our paintings, for instance, we will be hard-pressed to maintain meaning there; so, when we come to the blank canvas, we can already be a little (or a lot) frightened that a negative reaction to this as-yet-unborn painting will precipitate a meaning crisis. There is a remarkable dance that is necessary to perform in order to deal with this precise dynamic: we must invest meaning in our effort while at the same time detaching (or divesting meaning) from the outcome. That is, we say to ourselves, "I will show up that is what I demand of myself" and at the same time we say, "I have no way to control the creative process, so I have no way to guarantee an excellent outcome here; all I can do is try." We make the meaning investment in the effort, not in the outcome; and in that way we reduce our experience of anxiety.

Artist Caroline Bertorelli is quoted in the book: "I get depressed quite regularly and often. It used to distress and frustrate me that I have such a tendency. But as I grow older, I see my depression as a valuable time for introspection and deep thinking about life." Do you find that others are able to experience depression or anxiety as something with positive meaning and value?

Many artists try. I believe that it serves us best to learn how to reduce or eliminate both depression and anxiety from our lives, as I do not hold them as useful in any way. I think that pain is overrated. That isn?t to say that the following might not happen: you work honorably and well on a creative project, you finish it, you are depleted and no new project wants to come forward, and after a certain amount of time the blues strike, since you aren?t making sufficient meaning and don?t feel quite up to making new meaning. This sort of depression can creep up on any working artist. The depression is not useful in and of itself but it is a clear signal that the time has come to see if new meaning can be made. It is the time to get back on the horse and back into the studio. Maybe there is nothing there yet and maybe you will experience days or weeks of nothing particularly generative happening. Be that as it may, the depression was not a gift; it was merely the warning sign that a meaning crisis was brewing or had erupted?and that action, even if futile at first, was now required.

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