Can you feel it? [artist series]

INTRODUCTION::  Sometimes, my blog posts are to everyone. Sometimes, more specifically, they are addressed to those artists among you.

 I love artists. I know how hard it can be to think like one and try to make a living as one… so I like to share things to help on that journey, as I learn a few lessons myself. Most often, I’m not posting so much from the ‘been there, done that’ perspective (after all, I’m only 30)… more from the AM there, DOING that perspective. I like hearing from others going through the same things I am, so I’m hoping you feel the same.

If you’re not a creative person, I hope you get something out of these posts anyway… especially this one, because I think the main point applies to everyone.
And if you aren’t an artist and rambling posts like this don’t do anything for you… (certainly don’t blame you), more regular photo posts are coming soon, and I’ll try and at least warn you from here on out by putting this at the beginning of the artist posts:

[ARTIST SERIES]

So here goes today. I posted some of these thoughts in the facebook page of a small artist group I’m really close to. We’re pretty honest with each-other. Sometimes that can be hard. But it’s (almost) always a good thing when someone can bring truth to your life, real truth- as long as you’re ready to hear it. My biggest lesson lately (I notice in others, but worst in myself):

emotion is not a truth just because you feel it strongly.

I first started thinking about this while reading ‘the Screwtape letters‘, a creative and playful work of fiction by CS Lewis in which one demon writes to another on how to keep a human from truth. “There is nothing like suspense and anxiety for barricading a human’s mind against the Enemy,’ writes the elder uncle to the less experienced nephew, ‘the enemy’ referring to God. Regardless of your beliefs, you can take that quote and easily apply it toward inspiration, or productivity.

That book keeps on as a sort of instruction manual on how to get a mind so wrapped up in itself that it can’t see the bigger picture for what it is anymore. ““Tortured fear and stupid confidence are both desirable states of mind,” says the uncle.

How much of our life- the ‘creating art’ part, the day-to-day part, the spiritual part (if you take that into account)- is ruled by emotion?

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As artists, we are more susceptible to this issue than any other group. Because no other group can claim emotion as an excuse  so easily… others even hand us this excuse, ALL. THE. TIME.

‘well, they’re an artist, aren’t artists supposed to be emotional?’

‘artists just FEEL so much more.’

‘I know he’s an a**, but he’s a creative type, you know? He can’t help it…’

…and then we hand that same excuse to ourselves. 

inside Llewyn 1

My favorite example of this, is the movie, ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’. It’s a very quiet, unassuming little film from the Coen brothers, a director duo who typically tell crime stories (Fargo, No Country For Old Men). They ventured out of their usual genre to tell a quirky story about a 1960s folk singer. It’s a film that I personally believe to be a love letter/slap-in-the-face to artists everywhere. And we all kinda need it.

Take a look at the picture of the guy with the cat. That’s LLewyn. Kinda just looks like a lazy, mopey, loser that hates people, right?

Ah! But wait… now he has a guitar…. and suddenly our perception shifts… he’s a tired soul, full of pain and suffering and emotion and creativity. He’s a guy you want to love, for both his talent and for his pain.

inside Llewyn 2

OH THE FEELING!

So he’s a little troubled. Part of his charm? Yeah, moody… Doesn’t always think about how he’s treating others. Ok, sometimes he’s downright selfish and mean and ridiculous. But it’s ok. You know why? He’s an ARTIST. He’s down on his luck. The world is against him. He’s not getting anywhere in his career.  That’s hard, and none of it his fault, and he’s perfectly ok to sit and revel in each troubled emotion that pops up, right?

You get so far into the movie and realize… no, not really. It’s not ok. Everything that’s wrong in his life… in terms of both his success as an artist and his proficiency in relationships… whoops, it’s all actually kinda his fault.

That’s a hard realization. It’d be different if, oh, he suffered from severe clinical depression… but no, that’s not the issue, (or at least, that’s not ALL that’s going on)… in the end, he’s just kind of a jerk. The perfect example of a person that got wrapped up in his own feelings for so long, he can’t feel anyone else’s anymore… nor can he even see how he’s sacrificing his own opportunities for the sake of keeping his bad attitude.

I am Llewyn. Not all the time, but more of the time than I should be. He’s all of us, as artists. We get down on our luck, things don’t go the way we want, we get scared of going any further, and then we succumb to the feelings that come as a result. It’s not that those feelings are wrong in themselves… there’s no stopping them from happening. But if we keep going the direction of actually believing those feelings and letting them control our actions, we stop making the work we should be making, we treat others poorly, and we become too overwhelmed with fear to take the opportunities we should be taking.

Because we live off our emotions, and our emotions tell us we’re failing far more often than we actually are. 

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Obviously, creating is emotional and we can’t just shut that off. Artists are made to feel things more strongly than some others. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t create. And I’m not dismissing issues with actual depression that many artists face… my dad was a woodcarver with severe bipolar depression, so I know those issues well.
What I’m talking about is letting the funk that you’re in, control the actions you take, because you’ve accepted the feelings that led to it as truth.  To paraphrase a quote I heard yesterday- what you’re feeling is real, but it doesn’t mean it’s reality.

The problem is, we mistake emotion as truth. It’s not. Even if it stems from a truth or leads us to a deeper exploration of one, or runs parallel to a real, concrete, truth. But our emotion, in itself, is not a fact just because it feels so much like one.

Which then leads us to my final question… what IS our actual source of truth?

For me personally, that source is God. I have to look to him throughout my day to re-establish what is truth, because I believe real truth can only originate from the one who set all this up to begin with, not those who live within this small portion of creation and can only base truth off the very little they can see and feel on their own.

That may not be what you believe in. But even if it’s not, I’d encourage you to still take this thought and run with it. How can you continually refresh your day with REAL truth, every time an emotion threatens to take over? Maybe you can do it with the help of loved ones or friends that you know that aren’t afraid to be blunt with you.

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Maybe you need to refer to a basic list of truths about your life, or even about what you’re working on this week, that you wrote down when you had more clarity. Lists like that can help a lot. If you’re feeling ‘stuck’, clear a significant amount of time to sit down and look at the big picture and write down some facts that you need to be keeping in front of you.

I’m in the middle of a huge, overwhelming project myself right now, and I’ve had to frequently rely on my wife and close friends and prayer to remind me that, just because I feel anxiety right now… doesn’t mean that I’m failing. Doesn’t mean the project is failing. Doesn’t mean it won’t get done. Doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing. No matter how much it FEELS that way. In fact, those feelings of fear and self-doubt probably mean the opposite of failure.

As Steven Pressfield says in ‘the War Of Art‘,

“If you find yourself asking yourself (and your friends), “Am I really a writer? Am I really an artist?” chances are you are. The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.”
So I’m going to go in a corner and cry now.

But then… I’m going to make my list. And I’m going to get back to work.

Cheers.

-Mark

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