How to Preserve Artistic Identity When Life Gets in the Way; Finding Peace Amid Day to Day Interruptions

Cover Art for first Album

Here in Southwold, we have a strong artistic community. And, we enjoy strong art patronage. Whether one’s art is geared for personal satisfaction or commercial production it can be a monumental challenge to balance real life interruptions. There are many things that can interfere with our sculpting/writing/painting/composing.  In my own case it took a while longer to develop and collate the works chosen for my debut album than I’d planned. The challenges on my time to accomplish the first release were great. My own perspective as a composer, coupled with a degree of personal awareness of the general creative process, may provide assistance whatever your art medium happens to be.

The challenge lies in finding a way to recapture the mindset you had when you began your work of art before it was interrupted. If you’re retired, possessing bags of time to make progress, or a confirmed professional in your sphere of the art world, you might already have all of the time  resource you need.  Even then, life still chucks distractions at you which may interrupt your creative flow. As I write this, there are interruptions, family needs, pressing matters. *gentle sigh* Life, like music, vibrates. As I squeeze a tiny bit of artistic sensibility out of the crevices of a busy day I actually feel more at peace than hassled and hustled. Life is for living…you can always dedicate a little time later to resuscitate your art or music. Finding a measure of peace in coping with outside pressures is a choice you must make. Here are a few strategies which may help.

We all want to maintain our sense of self but must sometimes tuck our artistic identity (hastily) into a back pocket!  The good news is, you can still preserve your artistic identity throughout the day. Many artists have to hold a so-called day job. That job, which keeps you fed I remind you, may require patience…a great deal of it, in fact. Keep your self-definition as an artist close by. But, try also not to allow the knowledge that you’re capable of so much more taint your efforts at a more mundane sort of work. Your identity and pride in your art can elevate you throughout the day. People around you (co-workers) cannot be expected to reach out to you. Be the first to extend some understanding toward them. Remember to yourself, when you’re feeling pressed upon and indignant, that to be able to relate to those around you will inform your art style and composition to reach a broader audience. It is possible that your colleagues know nothing of your artistic pursuits/talents. Fine, if you prefer to keep a professional distance from them. You may even find the thought of having that little secret about yourself adds some mystique to your work personae. A small change of paradigm can bolster your inner strength. Make efforts to convert a negative into a neutrality…or if you’re pretty good at engaging optimism convert to the positive. The little bit of work you put into this will pay big dividends.

Even if a little tongue-in-cheek, ‘keep your friends close…keep your enemies even closer.’ The truth is there are no enemies at all. And, we all need a personal method for defusing daily tension and stress. Much of that stress is self-inflicted. The moment you realise this, the pressure subsides! We all contribute to each other’s quality of life, even in carrying out small and humble tasks. 

I often start a new piece, drop it mid-flight for some sort of real life ‘urgency,’ and then come back later to renew my engagement of the idea(s). Naturally, if I have a commissioned work I commit to its completion within the given time frame. In that case I have a job to do and I ‘remove myself from other runnings.’ That’s an eloquent way of saying I’ve made myself a temporary recluse to complete a commissioned work. When it comes to my own inventions (pieces written for my own pleasure/leisure) I am able to put them aside and return with no loss of depth to the work. If the circumstance requires me to drop what I was doing, I make mental or hastily written notes. A memory prompt like that takes me straight back to my moment of departure. In writing down a few words I have marked the thought I had at that moment. Sometimes I come back to my quick jot and find it utterly inappropriate…but it always helped to reorient my original idea. Albert Einstein preserved his conceptual brain space by writing notes and said famously (and I paraphrase), ‘why commit to memory [something] which one can look up.’ Lord knows I’m no Einstein. However, using memory prompts serve like a book-mark so that I can pick up on the page where I left off. You’d be surprised how few people use this simple tool.

I have discovered that being made to break from composing can impose an extremely helpful distance from my own works. If I were to remain too fully ‘in love’ with my own ideas I would lose the ability to edit or even abandon a poorly constructed phrase or melody. Take a moment to imagine this paradigm shift for yourself: Tell yourself that you are grateful for the thing/person interrupting your art; Say that you welcome the gap-time from your art (as it lets you view or hear your art from further away); Let yourself be pulled away from that particular project…if it has enough pull it will draw you back like a magnet. The compass will point in the right direction, and sometimes taking a circuitous route proves the more successful path. The map will still be there to read. What you are becoming is a better navigator, able to cope with the occasional/frequent detour! Even if you are playing devil’s advocate, applying this tip will help you to accept the whole process. It will also help to make you easier to live with…provided you care to address the concept of quality of life for those around you…as you may being to demonstrate some measure of good humour. In any case, you are becoming less a victim of life’s little inconveniences and interpositions.

My next secret to share is to place trust in unconscious storage. That means that your artistic ideas sometimes take flight in amazing ways if you allow yourself to sleep/dream on it. Modern man has to cope with many different levels of cognitive performance and absorption. The onslaught of information in this day and age means that our minds aren’t given any ‘processing time.’ In order to come to terms with the barrage of tasks, needs, duties, and all manner of outside interference which forces breaks in my creative endeavours I choose to view such distractions as a helpful part of the journey. I’ve had dreams which provided solutions to problem areas of form or mood in my music. Such moments are rare, it is true. However, I can better make conscious use of problem-solving efforts if I am not wound-up about the last hiatus within my work. [see also; adaptive-reasoning] When I place trust in the physiological process that takes place overnight, i.e. sleep and the ordering/organisation of experience, I know that my ideas and creativity are something still ‘at work’ in my mind.

Granting myself permission to let the music I’d put on hold play out overnight is like a pressure release valve. If my given productive time has run its course, and I still haven’t come up with a solution to a problem area in a new piece of music, the resolution often comes when I’ve allowed myself to let go of it. Or, if I’ve simply run out of time and am too tired to continue I feel better about letting go. Giving oneself permission to rest on an idea eliminates negative conditioning. You will begin to grant yourself rights and freedoms which can unlock the creative process. In this way the artist may better balance the active-and-passive elements to unlock the evolving work of art. This is not to confused with procrastination, nor a lack of work ethic. That condition is beyond the scope of this article! What I’m suggesting here is a way or method of applying a holistic methodology. The human mind at ‘rest’ can be a powerful instrument and unravel problems that had been blocked by various elements during conscious/waking hours.

Actually, for being sidelined for a while, I’ve had a few of my pieces over the years turn into something much bigger than they would have been. There was a measurable increase in quality for the pause. It has taken some time for experience to recommend me this. Thus, I  have shared these suggestions with you so you might recognise it sooner. Conscious or unconscious, isn’t it good to be able to let go rather than struggle to hold a thing too tightly. Life and art doesn’t have to be a constrictive and white-knuckled ride. If you have a new tool, use it for the right reason. Learn not only how to cope with life’s interruptions to your art process, learn to be at peace with them. In these ways you can convert those interruptions into welcome and useful tools!

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