Thursday, 17 July 2014

hungry-minded anxiety and other animals

I'm sometimes a little taken aback when I get feedback on these ruminations on creative process that suggest that I seem to have some kind of a problem. It takes me aback, I think, because, while I recognise that these days I'm certainly struggling with a lot of difficulties, my understanding is that these difficulties ARE the creative life. It's from these difficulties that work arises, and somehow, without difficulty, it seems to me that there's unlikely to be work, or at least work that's at all interesting.

I've just started re-reading Eric Maisel. How refreshing it was just now to read the following:

'...If you would like to be creative, you must first come alive.

The greatest block to aliveness is anxiety.... In this book I mean to describe the kinds of anxieties that inevitably attend each stage of the creative process. In large measure these are anxieties that you should experience because, while anxiety is the greatest impediment to aliveness, in order to create you must invite anxieties into your life and live anxiously. You will only earn fine camera angles, lucky brush strokes, and brilliant poetic images by risking anxiety and living with anxiety.

If you are to create, you must invite anxiety in. But then you must manage it. If you can't manage this necessary anxiety, you will block; and we can start right now to call creative blockage the inability to manage the anxiety that attends the creative process, for that is what creative blockage most often is.

Each stage of the creative process is characterised by its own kind of anxiety. The hungry-minded anxiety associated with the original wish to create is different from the chaotic-minded anxiety of working, and both are different from the critical-minded anxiety and attached-minded anxiety that make it so difficult to declare a work of art finished. While there is artifice in naming these anxieties just in this way, there is nothing artificial about pointing the very great role that anxiety plays in the creative process. In its negative aspect it blocks the artist, causes  her to limit her scope or create second-rate work, and more. It its so-to-speak positive aspect is is like the itching that accompanies the healing of a wound: horribly uncomfortable, but proof that creativity is happening.

At the same time, I want to present a basic remedy for the anxiety that presents at each stage.

Stage               Anxiety                    Solution
1. Wishing        hungry mind              appropriate feeding
2. Choosing      confused mind           appropriate clarity
3. Starting       weakened mind          appropriate strength
4. Working       chaotic mind             appropriate order
5. Completing   critical mind              appropriate appraising
6. Showing       attached mind           appropriate detaching

The remedy in each case is not only doing something, but doing it appropriately. When you choose an idea to work on, what is appropriate to know is that you largely do not know what is about to happen. Coming in with too clear an idea at the start of the work is an example of inappropriate knowing.

In order to bind the anxiety that naturally arises when one doesn't know, an artist may determine to know anyway. The landscape before her is not held as  fantastic problem or a great mystery; instead, she knows what to do. She knows that if she lays down a wash like this and twists her brush like that, decent bushes will appear in the foreground. One sure way of binding anxiety is reflected in this knowing.

But the artist who is more interested in creating deeply than in ridding herself of anxiety will refuse to know too soon. She will remain with doubts, worries, questions, and the burning desire to realise herself. She will courageously refuse to bind anxiety by knowing too soon... and will experience, beneath any surface calm, an internal war....

Of course, it would be splendid if the above table accurately reflected the relationship between anxiety and the creative process. But the picture isn't that simple. Anxieties coexist....'

I like this kind of writing, because it offers a way of thinking that helps me to see and understand what's happening, without over-simplifying or prescribing. Here, Maisell breaks it all down into ideas that help me to think differently about what's happening, help me to see something, and then he mixes it all up and says, ah but of course it isn't really so simple...

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