I’m sorry, that’s a bit vague. Let me back up.
I don’t intend to wax poetic about a relationship that died an unglamorous death. I’m not even talking about romantic love, really. I mean to invoke the love of passion, drive, and ambition; the kind that fuels great art and learning.
I love to write and draw and make music. These passions can overlap in glorious harmony through animated filmmaking; a dogged independent pursuit that runs me ragged in the wee hours between sleep and my day job. But I also love each of these mediums in their own right, and attempt to pursue them in their own contexts, not just as a means to the end of a film.
I’ve attended conferences and seminars, earned a bachelor’s degree, and now teach alongside other wonderful pedagogues who espouse artistic best practices freely and generously. Chief among them is the notion that to become truly great, you must make something every day. Draw every day, write every day, play every day; all in the same 24 contested hours allotted to each of us.
For many years now, I have careened from periods of intense activity in one field to the next. I feel a surge in my love of music, and so I pursue it, until the love dissipates and the tedium sets in, and I feel the enigmatic pull to another form of expression.
Sometimes it’s simply a lack of inspiration that drives me to the next phase. Sometimes it’s that my work suffers as a result of fatigue or attempting to utilize an underdeveloped skill set. But when I falter in one medium, the allure of another is never far away.
I am proficient in my chosen mediums, but I have glaring shortcomings in each as well. My phases of activity have kept me sharp, but have not pushed me to new heights or uncharted territory. The activity is easy to maintain when the love and passion are strong in my mind, but when I begin to settle into the familiar ruts and start to push against the boundaries of my ability, the love dissipates and I retreat.
I retreat to another medium where the passion has redoubled in my absence. Or I retreat to a period of inactivity and claim Writer’s/Artist’s Block like so many of us do when the Muses abandon us. In doing so, I rob myself of the growth that can only come from pushing past the wall.
Perhaps I am too hard on myself, but I find it cowardly to carry on this way. Despite the fact that I rarely find myself artistically inactive, I’m prone to taking the path of least resistance.
And if I’m not suffering, is it really art?
I kid, of course, but the kernel of truth is that if I’m not struggling at least a bit, then I’m not learning as much as I could be. And this is why yesterday felt like such a landmark to me.
It was an unremarkable Monday, a return to the grind of the workweek that so rarely breeds creative energy. On top of that, I was coming off a high from a period of intense creative output amidst a bevy of obligations and responsibilities.
I was supremely tired. I would have been content to go home, take a nap and let dinner be the most creative endeavor of the evening.
But I didn’t do that.
Instead, I sat for a few moments and followed the first flash of curiosity that popped into my brain.
I wanted to resist the urge to abandon ship, and I wanted to push past my lack of inspiration to create something in spite of myself. I’m sure it’s not the first time I’ve ever done it. I’ve certainly worked when the drive wasn’t there, when the work didn’t come easy.
But last night was notable because it paid off in such abundance. I found myself drawing outside my comfort zone and experimenting in rewarding ways. The love that made it so easy to produce days prior was noticeably absent, but my willpower and curiosity filled the gaps. It never reached the ease or flow that passion can provide, but it felt good.
I made some small breakthroughs in technique, found synergy between some disparate concepts in my studies, and decoded some confounding stylistic anomalies in my own work and in others’ work I admire. Each line I put down was a battle, and most of the work I did was middling, but there was progress in those lines. It is certainly worth pushing past the lack of motivation and love to make those strides.
When the love and passion are so conditional, subject to your mood and energy levels, a change of course can tempt the strongest-willed among us. It can offer the illusion of progress and a reprieve from the looming shadows of inadequacy, all fuel for the fire of an artist’s neuroses. But pushing past that temptation offers a brave new world; one without the ease of comfortable habits, but with the excitement of new discoveries and breaking boundaries.
Today, I am still tired. I have not yet rekindled the fires of my love for drawing. I would love nothing more than to take a break because it’s not coming easy and I’ve been very busy and I deserve a nap.
But I will continue to the second day after the love is gone. I may not have the fortune of great progress, and it may be a while yet before the passion rouses me into flow and ease of work once again, but I can keep pushing and attacking uncomfortable areas. Maybe it will make my work that much better in my next passionate phase and spur me to the next tier of mastery. Or maybe it won’t; but I won’t get anywhere by taking the easy route.
I will probably take that nap, though.