Art or Die

Obligation or opportunity?

Expectation or ecstasy?

Lately I have been examining the way I approach my artistic craft--primarily the written word--and refining the way I come into creative spaces.

Humans are born to create. Whether or not you identify as an artist, the ability to create resides within you. I have no doubt that many of you doodled when you were a child, sang off-key and smiled about it, wiggled with happy and uncoordinated dance moves to music in your head, and generally approached the world as if it were your canvas and you, the painter.

Maybe you still belt out the lyrics to your newest fav song when you drive to work. Maybe you play air guitar with the mop while you do chores (or you choose the broom as your dance partner: a lesser sin of mine). Perhaps you dream in colors that seem more vivid than anything in your waking life. An artist slumbers in us all and yearns for us to awaken that inner precious being with a gentle kiss on the lips, with our arms coming around to embrace that part of ourselves that is still the magical painter of our reality.

Sometimes we go to school for art. We sign up for master classes. We receive grades on our work. We learn about the greats. We learn about rejection. We begin to doubt ourselves and our abilities. As our knowledge of craft grows, our joy in the creative process can wane. We may rush a project, may give our work hard deadlines that do not suit it, surrender to an ever louder inner editor.

I don't know about you, but I can be a perfectionist (to put it mildly). I can edit a sentence into its own grave. I can erase a pencil drawing so many times that the paper is more burned rubber than it is graphite sketching. In all of my years of studying writing, I have learned how to judge and doubt and criticize my work as well as the work of others. Is it marketable? No? Trash! Is it literary? No. Light it on fire! Is it just edgy enough without coming off as bleak or emo? Nope. Delete! 

But this post is not about working as an artist. This is a post about play.

Yesterday, I drew myself sitting criss-cross holding an orb of light. In this drawing, I, too, burned with light. I did not draw a clear likeness of myself. I did not draw, by anyone's standards, well. But the need to portray myself as I'd felt earlier that morning flowed out through my fingers and onto a starchy page of a sketchbook.

I approached that creative space without reservation or judgment. I worried not about the final product. I knew only that I had something inside of me that I needed to get out, and I knew the manner in which I needed to get it out. So there is my drawing, raw and childlike as anything and an imperfectly perfect expression of my inner artist.

This morning (and for many, many previous mornings now), I write. But writing is not the first thing that I do after I wake up. I wait for myself to come to. I enjoy a cup of coffee or steaming tea. Maybe I stretch or work out. I cook breakfast. I touch things that occupy the space around me. I note smells and colors and textures. Often I go into my backyard and watch the world wake up around me--the subtle shifts in the sky's hue, the stars returning to slumber, the birds pecking cedar chips and gobbling down shiny beetles, the sifting fingers of wind through persistent weeds. From there, the writing comes as naturally as breathing or as being does to a lizard in a hasta.

As viscerally as I have just experienced the real world, the scenes of a novel or lines to a poem come to me/through me, alive with the five senses. My characters' voices sing in my head. I can feel their existence as keenly as I can the sweat sliding down my back on a hot summer day. I write first with pen pressed to textured page, smelling the ink, the paper, and my own body as it unfolds out of its own state of rest. Writing, for me, is the only task that I must accomplish every day. It is as vital to me as drinking cool water after a swim or breaking my fast.

So vital, too, I have learned are other expressions of my art: playing the piano, dancing, drawing or painting, gardening, cooking, snapping shots of unassuming subjects. I don't claim to be half as skilled (or perhaps I should say as well educated) in any of those pursuits as I am in writing. But I need them in my life like I need the close comfort of my own heartbeat.

We do not have to be good at art. But we do have to do art. We have to give into those slumbering parts of ourselves, nourish them, encourage them, create safe spaces in which we do them. We do not need to share everything with the larger world. We do not have to share anything before we are ready (or anything at all, ever). And we must understand that any desire we or others have to criticize our art or the art of others can never outweigh the human need to create. Please, remember that!

Today, be moved by the artist inside of you. Paint your world as you did when you were a child. Keep your creations secret and sacred or share them with a close friend or lover or display them to everyone on the internet. It doesn't so much matter what you do after you create so much as choosing the space in which you enter creativity--and the work that happens there. That, my darlings, is where the magic of the universe resides. Go back to that space where there are no rules or limitations. Where art is play.

Today, be endless. Explore. Be everything through your artistic expression because you, too, are a work of art.

Sending you fearlessness, my friends--


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