I close my eyes and fade into the darkness. Vaguely formed shapes melt into my field of vision, and I sink into myself. Images rise up all on their own and my excitement peaks. I live for this moment, for this feeling. A creative idea is forming. It rises up from formless colors and pure, unbridled emotion. But it has no form yet, no medium even.
It is this that I cherish, that which I chase and seek to preserve.
The image of a butterfly emerges from the depths. Yes, this moment, this emotion is like a butterfly. I am caught in the moment of first discovering it and enjoying its majestic beauty, its utter simplicity before watching it float away. Will I try to catch it? When I was five years old, I used to go to my school’s backyard as I waited to be picked up to look at all the yellow butterflies and try to catch them. I almost never did, but one time, I remember catching one. I held its wings between two fingers and, realizing how fragile it looked, let it go. I had heard somewhere that merely touching their wings could kill them. I felt remorse.
These dreams of creation are like that butterfly, arresting in their simplicity, heartbreaking in their vulnerability. I almost don’t want to touch them. I want to preserve the memory of them, their purity, forever and ever. I know my touch will only sully them.
In any case, it is time to stop dreaming. I cannot remain in this state for very long. The “real” world calls. It comes barging in with its work projects, its piles of dishes and bills to pay. Its demands do not wait. I chase completion, attainment. I have my entire life ahead of me, I think. There is time for the ideas to flourish later.
This is the compromise, the dance. Comply and you shall be free to create. Comply and you shall be free to dream.
I have complied for almost 40 years, paid my bills and done thousands of dishes. I have delivered many projects, collected payment, then turned around to pay my rent. My head has its own resident right-wing conservative. “That’s what you’re supposed to do,” it says. “Do you expect handouts from the government just to sit on your ass all day?”
Deep inside the dreamer sleeps. There will be time to write that novel, my brain’s resident taskmaster confirms. There will be time to choreograph that dance. This is more important. Finish this first and you will be free to create. I count the money I will make on this project. Is it enough for rent, for a payment on the credit card?
Don’t let anything stop you. Messages everywhere, willing me to push forth, to come into the world like a meteor, all momentum, hard rock and fire. I will crash into the earth and shake it to its core. But so often I come in like a feather, floating from breeze to breeze, delighting in the view, delaying contact with the ground.
Is there a place in this world for simple, beautiful, fragile things? The masters of industry advise us to work harder, to push forth and to never relent. Yet in order for the soft, fragile things to exist there must also be countless moments of dreamlike reflection, long afternoon naps, walks under the shady trees, pure, unadulterated silence. There must be stillness and a slowing down. There must be slow reading on the sand, there must be dreamlike reflection, a softening of the will. There must be an abandonment of structure and the slavery of the clock and calendar.
This is the conundrum: in order to create art, the world must slow down. One zooms in on the self and the surrounding world. Making meaning out of apparent chaos takes a soft type of focus that cannot be rushed or imposed upon the will. One must forget ALL about fame and money, about society’s dictates in terms of success.
And yet the world demands its cut. One must pay the price of admittance. One must work hard to accumulate wealth and influence in order to skate by. For the artist, the process itself is the path. For the entrepreneur, business plans and sales funnels are the path. There are those who specialize in these things, but one must have money first in order to pay them. If you have no money, then you must do it yourself. Doing it yourself consumes a lot of time and mental energy that are siphoned away from making art.
When it comes time to create a work, the pressure is almost unbearable. The work must be acceptable as art, but commercial enough to justify its creation for the struggling artist. Art exists in the process; sales in the results.
Perhaps the only response is to opt out. When I stopped believing that my work was only as good as the attention and validation it garnered, or how much money I was able to make with it, I felt freer to create. I decided a long time ago I would not rely fully on my art to make a living. I don’t have the stomach for it. It would have shattered my soul. And yet, I still care about being a “successful artist”, whatever that means, as if the only thing that justifies me taking time away from improving my material conditions is to receive market validation.
I want to return to a purity of creation. Making art for art’s sake. In the end, artmaking fuels me, gives me the strength and desire to go on. If there’s nothing else, that can be enough.