The Creative Journey

I was fed up. I placed two paintings I’d just removed from a gallery up against my studio wall. Small scratches were visible on one of the frames and the other painting hadn’t sold because “it had too much red,” according to the gallery owner.

I sat down with a discouraged sigh. Was I in a rut, bored with the painting process, just plain tired or all of the above? During my years of painting, I’d grown used to uplifting, fertile periods interspersed with seasons of drought. But suddenly it seemed impossible to rekindle any flames of creative desire.

I started to take an inventory of my life. Something was missing. I realized that the most fulfilling times of my life were those in which I’d been learning something new, like when I began painting. I needed to take on a new challenge.

I scanned the bookshelves in my studio and among the painting titles I noticed several like Is there a Book Inside You?, Writer’s Block and How to Use It and various other writing guides. I couldn’t remember when or why I’d purchased them. I must have had a desire to write at some point, but all of my creative energy had gone into painting.

My interest in writing was piqued again, but soon my censor took over. It’s too late. You’re too old. You can’t give up painting to chase a new interest and on and on. I decided to sign up for a correspondence writing course in spite of my doubts. I told myself I could continue painting.

After only a few writing lessons, I began to see my paintings in a new light. It was obvious I hadn’t been doing my best work. Somewhere along the way I’d lost that sense of joy and spontaneity. Along with my newfound creative outlet, the excitement and desire to paint returned full force. Now I approach new ideas and new paintings with enthusiasm. The quality of my work has improved dramatically.

A gallery owner once told me, “You have to be happy to be a good artist.” How true that proved to be. Trying a different medium, a new location or improving your workspace can help recharge your creativity, but for me it meant exploring a completely different creative endeavor. One creative field supplies nourishment for another; no wonder so many actors and singers also paint or sculpt. We need not paint ourselves into a corner. We must be open to the possibilities. I may never write a bestseller or paint a masterpiece, but the creative journey is reward enough.

Mark Gottsegen is an associate professor of art at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and chair of the ASTM subcommittee on artist’s materials.

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