Creativity and The Artist Dilemma, Part 1 – Why is Making Art So Hard?

Having been in the creativity coaching business over the years, I’ve noticed a lot of creative people tend to put their stock in a rational approach to success. They take all these marketing and art business classes and ultimately end up stressed out and unhappy because they have no time or energy left to do their creative work.


A lot of people go to art school and learn techniques from masters, and create massive projects and bodies of work, and try to get the culture to like them and pay for them. They find success for a while, and then it drops off and life goes on – the struggle remains. And that struggle persists because they’re coming from the same broken paradigm that doesn’t really work, and will never work, to boost our creativity and bring us happiness and ultimate success.


Our Problem As Artists and Creative People


One of the problems we artists and creatives have inherited from our culture is that we’ve swallowed the idea that it’s too difficult to follow our joy, because we need to spend our time making a living so we can buy food, pay the rent, and become productive and responsible law abiding citizens — the ‘important’ things in life. We’ve taken the blue pill because it seemed an easier way to go.


Creativity as Creative Desire 


But if we are in fact the creators of our reality, as many of the major spiritual traditions teach – if we humans have in fact been given the tools of creation, or co-creation, to do what we desire on this earthly plane, then we may as well spit out the blue pill because it’s not serving us. It’s not helping us fulfill our ultimate desires as creative beings.

It’s interesting to me that this word ‘desire’ has taken on a bad rap in a lot of spiritual communities, especially in the many, highly misunderstood traditions of Buddhism (I cite Buddhism here because it’s what I have the most experience with, not because I think it’s a better paradigm than other forms of spirituality — all roads lead to Rome, as they say), because of the way it’s talked about, and because of the often quoted Four Noble Truths of the Buddha, which say that life is suffering and that suffering is caused by desire. But as the Buddha pointed out, suffering is caused by a type of desire – selfish desire – that is based in ignorance – ignorance, therefore being at the root of the problem, not desire. 


Given this, it appears the main problem we humans have, at least from many Eastern spiritual points of view, is our ignorance. We are ignorant of what desire is really. We don’t know how to desire, and we don’t know what to desire, because we share a kind of perceptive myopia unique to humans – we’re only able to see a small slice of our reality. We cannot see the bigger picture.


Desire is Part of Our Creativity Mechanism


In fact, desire is just part of our creation mechanism, a necessary component to our creativity. It is our power, and only our detriment if used in the wrong way. According to the teachings of Buddhism, when, possibly after many years or lifetimes of trial and error, we finally come to the realization that obtaining possessions doesn’t make us happy – that buying a car, or a house, or finding the perfect partner – are not the cause of our happiness, then we can learn to use the mechanism of desire to find our bliss and live out our purpose.

At that point, we might find a higher desire – a desire for wholeness, or completeness. This kind of desire is the one that comes from a place of wisdom, and it leads to real happiness. It is the desire of the greater Self. It is not a selfish desire, but quite the opposite. It’s a desire to give, and to give up, our smaller, limited selves to the greater good.


It’s a desire that enables us to let go of our mental attachments to petty, worldly things, so that we can let go into the blissful Ground of Being, which is our real home base, and which is the basis of real creativity.


Personally I’ve found that this is not such an easy task. But when I find my way to this home base – when I’m able to center and deepen into it, I find that what I formally desired, the things and people in life, automatically begin to appear. The seeming irony is that once I let go of the importance of getting what I wanted in life, the things I wanted would tend to come to me. And they would come quite effortlessly.


Letting Go…


This may be the common lesson for those of us who want to be super creative and make a living as an artist – that we have to learn to let go instead of struggling so hard – that we will find our authentic, reliable creativity when we let go of the rock in the river, when we drop worrying about all the things we thought we had to tend to, problems we thought we had to solve in order to live out our creative purpose.


Maybe the lesson is to just live out our purpose as best we can, and let the world support us the way it wants to, without trying to control how things pan out — trusting the universe, as they say. That, to me, is the best way to approach creativity.


For more on this topic, see Creativity and The Artist Dilemma, Part 2. 


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