Keeping A Head Above Water: The Artistic Life

Sometimes I get really bogged down in the minutia of life. I worry so much about money that I spend 90% of my creative energy in weird little schemes to get $1 here and $5 there. The other day I realized that I’d get a lot farther if I’d really focus and dig into one vision, one passion.

I’m spreading myself so thin and feel constantly like I’m kicking frantically in the water. But I’m beginning to suspect that the truth is I could relax a little bit and tread water with more calm and graceful strokes.

I think this is the real definition of an artistic sell out: spending my creative time and energy fretting over getting an extra $3; it’s becoming so worried and obsessed over ways to squeeze money from your life that you have no time or energy left for the big, grand, passionate projects that (if you dedicated yourself to them) would probably carry you.

I’m so busy trying to squeeze money from a rock that I’m letting life sail past me. I think when people talk about following your heart, they mean that if you can leg go of the fear and throw yourself into something with all your heart and total dedication, it will carry you. I haven’t experienced that but I think it’s true. Just have to let go of the fear of failing and the fear of not having enough. Have to dig deep into that passion and dedication until I hit water in the desert (apologies for the mixed metaphor!)

It’s always inspiring to watch people who completely dedicate themselves to something and give it all their heart. Watching successful Kickstarter campaigns reminds me that that kind of passion and vision brings out support in people. I love to watch YouTube videos of people who are so dedicated to a craft or a dance or an art form that what they are demonstrating seems not even humanly possible. Like Felicia Day who built a whole Internet TV channel around her geeky life.

I’ve finally set up my life in a way that I have the time and space to devote to my art, but I’m doing a lot more scrambling for pennies here and there than I am dedicating myself to that art.

I want to try to streamline my life a little and cut back on the extra bits, but then I’m not sure I really can. I might be the kind of person who derives inspiration from having a million different kinds of projects going on at once! I blog, I write novels, I knit, I paint, I decorate, I cook…the list goes on. I can’t seem to stop adding new creative pursuits!

We’ll see how this insight effects my life, but it’s been an interesting thing to notice. One thing is certain: I want to find ways to cut back on the frantic feeling I so often have!

I think a big part of what holds me back is guilt. I feel guilty that I have a life with the space to pursue art when others don’t. But me sitting around in my privileged life and feeling guilty for it isn’t helping either of us! It’s time for me to take the gifts and the situation I was born with and make my life into something that will make me proud.

Great cartoon on this subject: (click the link to read the whole thing)

Bill Watterson cartoon about following your passion
Bill Watterson cartoon about following your passion
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  • happygoth

    I got this advice a long time ago, and I happily share it with others (pay it forward, I guess): If you’re an artist, your primary goal is to do what fuels your passions. Do what makes you happy. Do what makes the art you’re proudest of. If you’re focused on the outcome of the art (the fame, the money, whatever), your art will suffer. Don’t lose sight of the reasons you enjoy making art, because if you keep those in focus, you will find satisfaction in your work.

    I realize that means that sometimes other things in life (bills, etc) are difficult, but if you keep reminding yourself that you’re making art because you love to make art, it won’t start to feel like a job or something you *have* to do.

    I have a friend who makes music and he became really upset because he had a prestigious award in sight as his goal, and he wasn’t achieving the goal. His music reflected how frustrated he was, and he confided in me that he was becoming quite upset that he didn’t get the award. I asked him why he was making his music — was he making it to get the award, or because he truly loved making music and sharing it with other people? He said because of the award, and I suggested he take a break until he re-discovered the passion that drove his music when he didn’t care about the award. He did, and now makes beautiful music again.

    Anyway, that was a long, rambly comment, but I’ve been an artist always, and this is a constant struggle for me, so I thought it might be helpful to share some wisdom I’ve gained through my own personal journey making art. I hope this helps!

    • Ambaa

      That is SO true!

      I’ve had a hard time with my writing ever since I had some modest success with my first book. It’s so hard to focus on the magic of the writing because now that I have an audience, there’s part of my brain always distracted by them.

  • Some rather interesting cartoons there. Samskaras. Like you are doing perfectly alright when one day you begin to think that all your misery is coming from the killing of bugs. The pesticide man. Oh, shit, I just realized I’m getting karma from that. That’s really what Hinduism is all about you say to yourself, ignoring the mantras and hymns you do regularly. So, forget about them and obsess yourself with the slow moving flies in your room this long hot summer. It’s that sort of thing, Amba.

  • I don’t think you need to feel guilty at all – we need art like we need air to breathe – and you are just smart enough to realize it 😉