Songs for the Struggling Artist

Why Going Away for Inspiration is a Good Idea
April 16, 2016, 11:09 pm
Filed under: advice, art, Creative Process | Tags: , , , ,

My trip to Greece last fall lit me up like a mega watt Christmas tree. Ideas streamed through me. I collected images for shows I hadn’t imagined. The world once again seemed like one of possibility. It was nourishing and uplifting.

When I got back to NYC, I started to think about how to follow the thread of those ideas and I quite quickly ran into the obstacles that generally prevent me from making things.

Here are some details from the artistic committee meeting in my head:

“Sure, this idea about a theatrical immersive Oracle of Delphi is a fun one – but where are you going to get funding for that? It’s a very expensive idea, you know.”

“Alright fine – that one’s for later, I know. But – how about a Minoan puppet show inspired by all those clay figures?”

“You should! The aesthetic is full of potential! Snake goddesses!”

“Great! Let’s see. How will we get a puppet show going? Do the puppet lab at St. Ann’s Warehouse again?”

“You could. But really you’d need a really skilled puppet maker.  You’re just the writer/story/director girl. And applications went in months ago. Also, they’ve never taken anyone on story alone. And last time you did it, your project went pretty pear shaped. You want to go through that again?”

“Alright, alright. We’ll save that for later. Let it percolate a little bit.”

“How about your Messenger show about messengers? Can we do that one?”

“Sure. That shouldn’t be too hard. Just put it together – and then . . .uh. . .well, maybe a reading somewhere?”

“Somewhere not too expensive? Because no one’s going to fund you doing R & D for a show like that. You know that, right?”

“Alright, alright. Let’s think about this backwards then – Where IS there some funding and what could we do that fits into those models?”

“There’s the LMCC Creative Communities grant that you got a couple of years ago.”

“Sure – but the only thing that even vaguely fits that criteria is the project you applied with last year and that was roundly rejected by pretty much every funding body. You could TRY to apply again but you don’t have the resources to even bullshit your way to showing additional support that. That ship has pretty much sailed.”

And so it went.
None of it was particularly negative. I generally don’t really have voices telling me I’m shit and that I’ll never amount to anything. So many books on creativity are about how to deal with those hypercritical voices and those are valuable. But in my case, the voices aren’t so much critical as they are experienced and practical, which, if you’re going to make something, is all very necessary. When I began years ago, I had no idea what I was up against so I could push through the practical challenges on pure positivity and the inspirational high. I no longer have the beautiful freedom of innocence so my creative well can sometimes be hard to draw from.

What traveling can do is replenish the Creative Well – even if none of my ideas are actually possible or practical. The sheer act of having them, or dreaming them, is like priming the pump. I throw some water down there and when I go to my creative pump – the one that will give me some of that practical water – there will be something there.

Through a workshop with Improbable Theatre Company, I learned about something called The Disney Strategy. It’s apparently a system that Walt Disney used with his staff. You have three areas – The Dreamer, The Critic and The Realist and you go and hang out in each place and let yourself go there. You start in the Dreamer corner and let yourself dream. In the Realist corner, you deal with reality for a while. Then you move to the Critic’s corner and let fly with all the reasons it’s a terrible idea.

Getting away was like sitting in that dream corner for a while, letting ideas flow unencumbered by any practical concerns. I need the impractical dreams to keep me in the habit of dreaming. I need to sit in a stream of unproduce-able ideas to be able to pull out the occasional achievable one. It makes me think about the way that you can train yourself to remember your actual dreams – the ones you have at night and lose upon waking. If you write them down, you convince your brain that they are important to you. The idea being that your brain learns to remember them because it is in the habit of remembering them.  So if you acknowledge those ideas as they float past you, the odds of catching an achievable one are a lot better. You can then take one back to the practical corner and fold it into something that fits into the world you live in.

I could feel myself trying very hard to make it okay that the world I live in is so hard to make anything in. My ambitions are large and my resources small and in recent years, I have attempted to make things smaller, so as to not to experience too much despair. But I missed the thrill of dreaming big. Dreaming big feels good. It feels like a returning to myself. So I am very grateful to see that I still have the ability to sit in the dreaming corner, dreaming big dreams.

I just had to work out how to sit in the practical corner without feeling as though I’ve been made to sit in the CORNER, nose to the wall, like little Jack Horner or something. That is the dilemma.

And now, many months after I returned from the land of dreaming, I am diving back into a practical process, made possible by an unpredictable series of events, the sort I couldn’t have planned for when I first began sitting in the realist corner. It makes me especially glad I had the opportunity to prime my creative pump with a journey away. The dreaming may have planted a seed I couldn’t even see.


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