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Which came first: the struggle or the art?


I have been loving Scoutie Girl (the blog with the penchant for the passionately handmade – how’s that for a great byline?) lately – Tara, the editor/blogstress extraordinaire, is modelling (fantastically) how to tell your story.

She posted this morning about fear (telling her own story) and put out a call for others to share how they’ve struggled creatively. This is something I think about quite a bit (I’m sure you do as well!).

I sometimes tell people I was born with two skills: the ability to draw and the ability to write. However, I think I was born with one skill and passion: the ability to create.

Which is a little funny when you think of the roads my life took. I studied science and premed for years, working in patient care, healthcare administration, medical academic administration.

For me, science, management and leadership are extensions of creation:

  • Creating numerical systems and algorithms that make sense of complex biological or physical systems (Oh, how I loved calculus! Seriously!).
  • Creating work flow processes and administrative systems that continually improved efficiency and effectiveness.
  • Creating clarity for faculty and staff with whom I worked.
  • Creating teams.
  • Creating relationships.

The list is endless.

In my previous life, the less time I spent creating due to sheer drudgery of work production (when volume exceeded available time, over time), I would start to burn out. As soon as I could refocus, I was happier, more engaged, more fulfilled, and increased my value to the workplace.

But always longed to create fulltime, on a more artistic level. After all, I spent years training myself in the arts, as well as in art of the written word. When I think of “eternity,” I see myself painting, drawing, designing, writing. I don’t see myself recruiting, giving feedback, creating a new system.

Fast forward to today. For the last six months, I’ve been living the creative life, without a heck of a lot of creative time.

What?!?

So here’s a fact not that well accepted by those who dream of “quitting their day job.”

Running a creative business involves a lot of … business running.

And not so much of … creative time.

Paperwork, taxes, financial projections, budgeting, negotiation, collaboration, marketing, promoting, wholesaling, consignment, website building, market testing, research, sourcing supplies, strategic planning … these are things that take time.

I spent the first few months of fulltime self employment focusing on big, huge deadlines (Renegade, Stitches West). I spent a chunk of this time in poor health (ER visit, toe). My photography equipment has not behaved (on multiple occasions). I’ve questioned myself on a regular basis.

I’ve recently spent time updating my resume (keeping things real here).

Trust me, I’m sufficiently experienced to know that self employment is a huge struggle. I also knew that with increasing success would come decreasing time for creativity.

But oh how I miss my creative zone.

That said, I’ve developed entirely new product lines (buttons, photos!). I always have a new idea at the ready, for those times when I need to work on something entirely new. I have several collaborations in the works what are fun, exciting and fulfilling.

And one of these days, I’ll bring home that printer I’ve been longing for in order to make my own archival prints.

Art is a struggle. Design is a struggle. Craft is a struggle. For me, less the act of doing, than the TIME to do. (Seriously, how do those of you with kids, partners and other familial obligations do it?)

All the things that go into the business of creating can be a struggle. The first few times I shipped internationally – good grief, what a horrendous struggle (and now I don’t even blink)! Handcoding websites and blogs – struggle! Deciding which platform or software program or shopping cart or (fill in the blank) to use for your site. Refining your branding. Junking your branding and starting all over. Refocusing your message/market/product offerings/raison d’etre. Researching and learning a new process or technique. Sourcing materials. Testing new materials. Creating new packaging.

Oy!

It’s all part of creating and making … but it’s the technical part. It’s fun. It’s essential. It adds new skills to your tool belt.

But it doesn’t necessarily feed that part of my soul that needs to create.

Kind of interesting (to me, anyway) that this falls in line with my previous post(s). This is all part of learning who I am (a never ending journey!), what I’m capable of, and who I want to be. Which is always a good thing.

I think the creativity is made better, in the end, by the struggle. I think I am better, in the end, for struggle. Without struggle, I wouldn’t question myself. There’s no challenge. I wouldn’t grow.

Growth requires the death of a part of yourself, according to some philosophies. Put more simply, you often have to give up something in order to embrace something new. Struggle is inherent to growth. You don’t give up parts of yourself very easily – after all, it’s YOU, darn it! Sometimes the struggle is the giving up.

If you firmly believe the earth is flat, accepting and embracing that the earth is round requires giving up your former belief.

If you won’t ship internationally because you don’t know how, the fear of learning how to do so will be your struggle, and then the learning will be the struggle: giving up your fear and embracing international shipping (so easy once you learn! so terrifying before you do so!).

If you only knit one style of scarf because it’s the only one you’ve designed and don’t know how to design more … learning how to knit new stitches and to use new techniques will be a struggle! As will knitting swatches! As will trying new types of fiber! In new colors! And sometimes the struggle involves letting go of a design that isn’t working. Or a line that isn’t succeeding.

I approach the creative side of my business as an artist, because it’s the talent I was born with (yeah, yeah, knitting is a craft). I don’t think of myself as a crafter (that’s a WHOLE other topic for another day). And I struggle.

Life is a struggle: my health, making time for my fuzzy kids, coming up with new ideas, giving up on bad ideas, running a business, running out of diet pepsi. 🙂 Losing loved ones. Leaving a job. Looking for a job. Moving. Failure. Success.

To me, struggle doesn’t define you. It makes you.

I am the Brenda sitting her on her sofa with a Molly kitty curled up beside her (and diet pepsi at hand) thanks to the many many struggles in my life.

My art (paintings, drawings, buttons, scarves, etc.) are what they are today also thanks to those struggles. And often get me through the struggle, as a creative outlet as well as a goal.

So which came first? The struggle or the art? For me, probably the art, but I know this for sure: one can’t exist without the other.

What about you? I’d love to hear how you see struggle v. art, or vice versa, in your own life!

{ 5 comments… add one }
  • Summer May 19, 2010, 8:57 PM

    Well, with a family, it's tricky. Yet, I do more now in many ways than before I had a child…it makes you get more done in smaller chunks of time!

    Also, there are some things that I want to do, but I haven't jumped into yet because I want to have the time to do it (Twitter, Facebook…). Even now, I don't update my Flickr as much as I'd like. I just have to say "oh well!" It's just a balance thing. 🙂

    BUT – I don't know if I'd get more done if it were just me…other things would need to be done and I might just get lazier – ha!

    If you really want to get something done, you just do it. In many ways it's just excuses otherwise!

  • wzgirl May 20, 2010, 2:30 AM

    As far as what I'm currently creating – I'd say the struggle. I think.

    I mean, I've been sewing for some time – but mostly using someone else's patterns & ideas. Fulfilling my desire to put forth my own creations to the Etsy shopping community was borne from my struggle to keep busy/be creative & productive while waiting to become a mother. What a surprise! It worked! And, it was a pretty darn excellent process!

    So, yeah, intertwined…struggle and art hold hands in my life, too. xo

  • Brenda May 20, 2010, 3:04 AM

    I agree all around, Summer and Wendy! There's *always* something else vying for attention and time. And I've been giving things up (and have more to give up) in order to refocus on the creativity! xoxo

  • Abby May 20, 2010, 7:05 PM

    fabulous post! I'm not afraid but I am super lazy when it comes to designing well rounded products. I love making new invites but adding the rsvp, envelope, thank you card, program, table number, seating card, UGH! I know I can do it if someone orders so I stop but I think I'm missing clients whole want to see the whole big package. Maybe I'll try to work on that (slowly) before I start picking up new clients in June. UGH! 🙂

  • Brenda May 21, 2010, 2:13 AM

    I run into the same thing, Abby! More of "oh, that sounds like so much work" (and usually … it's not as much work as I though)!!! (Though I suspect it's a LOT of work for what you design!)

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