234: How to succeed in art

GhostWoodcut, 1.5″ x 1″

Due to factors beyond my control I’ve recently experienced a creative low ebb. To use the time productively I’ve embraced this fallow season to reflect on accomplishments of past years and discover possible paths forward. As I ruminate on what has helped in my journey and what has slowed my progress I confess that my mental state has been the main factor accelerating or diminishing growth.

It is with regret that I look back and see how I allowed negative individuals and events in my life to become obstacles to growth. Some of these obstacles have taken considerable discipline and force of character to counteract. Above all there is my own innate weakness that has come into play. In earlier entries I have mentioned my anxiety disorder as a key factor in slowing my progress.

Early in my career I felt I could use moodiness to good artistic effect especially as a writer because I could harness that brooding spirit to create profound artistic creations. But recently I’ve found such moods to be less productive and am less willing to submit to them. There are romantic notions surrounding the life of the artist that encourage a dramatic, if negative, mindset. So why should we challenge this tradition?

One reason is that negative thoughts inhibit flow. In the groundbreaking book by the same name author Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi describes the optimal state for maximum creativity. It is a book well worth reading and more complex than I can cover here but negative self-talk, moodiness, depression, and anxiety are all impediments to flow.

In my illustration career I frequently have to deliver illustrations on deadline regardless of my state of mind. If I’m depressed or anxious the illustrations suffer and are artless, inanimate shadows of what they could have been had I been in a better mood. The reason is the state of flow is inhibited by such negativity. Positive mental states provide direct access to deep emotions that allow for nearly effortless and profoundly authentic creation.

Paradoxically, in a state of flow one can access the dramatic and tragic more easily than in a negative state. In a state of flow it is easier to express empathy and respond with authenticity to deeply moving events and states of mind. Focus shifts from the self outward and communicates a more universally meaningful experience.

Painter Robert Henri wrote that the artist’s chief goal is to achieve a state of mind where great art becomes inevitable. I agree–and embrace that challenge.

Brad Teare–May 2015

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Updated: 24th September 2023
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