Monday, November 17, 2008

The Prison of Your Voice

I know, I know. I have told you how important it is to develop your own, distinctive voice. It is your trademark, and your brand. But,.....I can't help but wonder if all this emphasis on voice can be a prison or a poison to our creative muse.

Let's say you do what everyone says. You come up with something that is "yours"! No one else has anything quite like it out there. And, joy oh joy!!....people like it! They are buying it! Talk about gratification. There is truly joy in the creative process itself. It can be the best drug on earth for anything that ails you. But, when others see your work and "oooh" and "ahhhh!" over it, that is a very heady moment.

And, even artists are human. What happens when we get this wonderful rush of excitement over how much people liked what we did? We want to hold onto it, to preserve it, nurture it, baby absolutely anything to keep it going. Am I right?

The problem is, this very act is what might kill us as artists. As soon as we try to stay right in that moment of being surrounded by "oohhh's" and "aaahhh's"....better yet, accompanied by hands outstretched with credit cards or soon as we try to capture that moment, we may have hammered a nail in the coffin for our creativity.

As soon as we say to ourselves, "this is what is working, so I will do more of this," we have begun to build the prison walls. It will not be immediately apparent. Because it will take time for the light to dim, and the crowds to disappear. But, they will. Human nature, it seems, craves a certain degree of novelty. And if we do not continue to create, we risk losing our audience, and that excitement about our work.

Yes, we want, and need, to develop a line, and explore it fully. But, we don't want to kill the creative urge in the process. We must trust that if we had one good idea, there are more where that came from. Doing work to satisfy the market is not what this is about. It is more about letting the reaction of the market guide,....or misguide,...your muse.

What is the creative urge? For me it is the voice that says, "I wonder", or "Hunhh." It is that place where a question pops into my mind. Or a shape or form, or a new surface. This is the place we must nurture and protect. This is the place that needs care and feeding. If instead, we say, "Oh no, I can't do that. This is what my work looks like, what people expect from me....not that." We firmly turn our back, close that door, and put that nose on that grindstone, and grind away. And pretty soon, we will find that the ideas to explore have disappeared.

Another risk of closing off to new ideas that might pop up, is that we might become very, very protective of "our" work. When we get to that place of intense ownership, and protection of our work or our expression, we can start to see threats where there are none. People who are copying us. People who are stealing from us. Fear and paranoia are not conducive to creativity. They send us looking over our shoulder and around the corner, when where we really need to be looking is inside. Inside our heads and our hearts. Letting the voice that can't be too still for too long have it's say.

Fear of being copied can be a huge distraction. It drains our energy, and distracts our attention. It keeps us from moving forward. We always have one eye open for that dirty, rotten scoundrel who is ready to rip us off.

What if instead, we say, "Copying happens." Because it does. It is the place where many people begin. It is borne from admiration and enthusiasm, as much as any other place. When an individual copies you, it is unlikely to do much harm. They cannot copy your name, or your maker's mark....the very energy you infuse into each piece in the process of creation. They will most likely get bored and move along, or find their own muse and move along. And that is the essential ingredient for all of us, movement.

Movement is rushing, bubbling, flowing. It may have fits and starts at times, but the general idea is motion. Momentum. Seldom in a straight line. Our creative voice must move. It must stretch it's legs. Peek around the corner, veer off down that path. It is endlessly curious. Sitting still is not what this is about. Building an artistic legacy on one thought, one idea, one expression will not happen. Letting yourself grow as an artist means going with the flow more than discipline. I will explore that in a bit more depth in my next post. But for now, let me know what you think. How does your creativity bubble up? Does it move in fits and starts? Or does all this seem like a foreign language. I would love to hear your thoughts.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving to all my American readers. And, any and all, please feel free to share a thought of thanks for the day, the week, or the year.

I personally, am thankful for the gift of watching my daughters grow up and begin to emerge as two incredibly unique and wonderful people.


Kathi said...

what a great post Judy. So pertinent to where I am right now. I am experimenting with some stuff that I normally wouldn't of ever played with because I am a *caner*. But I can't cane right now but I NEED to create so...the experimenting. I am liking where it is going. Seems like I get bonked with ideas when I am not able to do what I usually do. Hmm, should I have more arm fixings done so the creativity keeps on? rofl.

my creativity is more like a 2x4 then a nice gentle bubble. dang it.

I hope your thanksgiving is full of fun, laughter, lots of food and love!

Elaine said...

The prison of your voice, as a title, got me in another vein of thought. You see, I have a physical handicap. It's minor, really, I'm healthy. But my voice is broken and has been since I was born. I'm 31 but sound like whiskey drinking, life-long smoking person with laryngitis. It makes any verbal communication slow and uncertain which is too bad.

It's less difficult now than when I was 12 though lol.

Perhaps because I was already the odd one out, I never had the problem with finding my artistic voice and never worried much about the people who used mine to help themselves find theirs. I was always a tinkerer, borrowing a bit of the look of this, the blends from here, the construction techniques there.

At some point I did set down an approach to how I would deal with people who borrowed too much - used my pictures without permission, directly copied my work without even a nod - and that helped make me feel better. It's a struggle, sometimes, to just trot out the lines I came up with to deal but at least I have the base there to fall back on.

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Jess said...

What a thought-provoking post! As someone who is relatively new to her artistic/crafty journey, I'm certainly not yet stuck 'in a rut'. It's helpful to read this sage advice :)

Cat said...

Wow, another very thought-provoking post, Judy. Alot of complicated issues, too. Copying, and finding what stirs our creativity. I think they aren't mutually exclusive. It's an attitude shift -- and for me, I have to work at it -- but I want to be the kind of person who lets copying spur me on toward new creativity. To explore new ways to do something, to look at the same picture upside-down.

It's a different picture for people like myself, Kathi, Elaine, you-- people who do need to have an income from their creativity. I agree about not getting so locked into something that you lose the enthusiasm for what you make. If you can't wake up in the morning and be excited about the day's work (okay, maybe it takes a few cups of coffee to get the brain cells to function first)... then I think the voice of your work has become stifled by the money and that means getting a little distance; a little perspective. Trying an entirely unrelated creative activity sometimes jump starts the creativity and wonder in our chosen medium, because artists make those connections between wallpapering the bathroom and making a cane from one of the designs in the wallpaper. Stuff like that. Then the "I wonder..." kicks in, and your creativity is back in action!

Judy said...

I love it when a conversation begins to develop in the comments. I knew the idea of letting the copying go would be a hard one for many people to take on easily. It is hard. No question. But, I think we need to be conscious of where our energy goes. And I have never seen anyone's career blossom by being overly protective of their work. Nor have I seen anyone had their career damaged by someones attempt to copy their style.
But I have seen people get stuck. And I sometimes think that the act of being overly protective can cause us to get fixed too firmly in one place. That is where I see the potential destructive force for our creativity. And that is the thing that should be protected at all costs.
Thanks everyone for your opinions and insights....feel free to keep the dialogue going.

Tina T. said...

I always find your post stimulating to my brain... you always make me think about things in a new perspective- or allow me to see things that I never even considered before...

But I don't rely on my sells like you all do - that would put a whole new perspective on things completely.... and I could see where it would be frustrating..... especially if that person was a selling in my area..... and copying my work.... I may find it extremely hard to be NICE!!

Taking the high road is not easy, but it makes you a better person in the end, even a better artist. It makes you focus more on your work and making it "more special"...

I guess it is the way your perceive it.... I say "Let them copy me, they can try, but in the end, it's MINE! and MINE is way better then theirs!" :0) I also tell myself that buyers may go else where, but in the end they will be back for mine... I put a lot of time and thought into my beads, I want them to be perfect. I remember someone stating that as an artist you should always be putting your best out there, and if it's your best, you can hold your head high and know that you did YOUR BEST! I get that now, and most of my seconds are trashed - mushed up and used for a base for making a new bead. My customers know that the work I am putting out there is my best, and if it's not, I let them know that too.... I state it before they buy it and they know that is why it's discounted, because I DON'T like it and it is a set of SECONDS!

Again Judy, thanks for your thought provoking post.....