Acceptance, Success, Exercise, and Altars

Week 11 of The Artist’s Way impresses upon us the importance of “recovering a sense of autonomy”. I’m not entirely sure that the word “autonomy” is the right one to use in this sense, but we’ll ignore that and simply move forward.

There are a few steps, according to this chapter, that help us to recover our “autonomy”. The first is to accept that we are artists. That may seem a little redundant at this point of the game, but I do understand what the author is getting at. The thing is that artists tend to be a little different; we’re odd, we value different things, we prefer to use our time differently, we see beauty where others do not. The result of this is often a lack of support from those around us. People think we’re weird for wasting our time on our art, they see us as immature or socially awkward. These reactions can encourage us to “straighten up and fly right”, to change ourselves to suit the image that those around us want to see. We teach our kids to be themselves, but as adults we expect everyone to adhere to a certain set of rules. Artists have to accept that this is the way people will be, but that we don’t have to put up with it. Put simply, if I want to paint murals on my bedroom walls, or wear ridiculously flamboyant clothes, or spend all my time sitting in the park and scribbling in a notebook, that’s my choice as an artist. Other people will think that there’s something wrong with me, but if I want to be an artist I have to accept that others aren’t always going to be accepting.

The second step is understanding what “success” truly means. First things first, not all artists will ever attain what the outside world sees as success (namely, making good money). It’s a sad but simple fact that all artists have to deal with…they may never make a good living with their art. There are simply too many factors. For instance, I may write the greatest novel the world has ever seen, but if it happens to be on a topic that people are not currently interested in reading about, it simply won’t sell. Understanding that, we have to look at success in different terms. Success for one may simply be achieving publication. For another it may be selling a certain number of books. The end game isn’t important, because there is no end game. Art isn’t something that comes to a finish because you achieved what you set out to achieve. I may publish a book and call that success, but the moment that happens it doesn’t mean that I’ve succeeded in becoming a real artist; it just means that I hit a goal. There will always be more to do. I can’t just write one book, publish it, sell a million copies. That would be great, but if I want to continue to be an artist, I have to write another book, reach new goals. In other words, enjoy life’s little successes, but know that there will always be more to strive for.

The third step, apparently, is exercise. I have to admit, I was a little surprised to see this topic pop up in this particular book, but the author is not enforcing a physically fit lifestyle. Rather, she is letting us know that exercise can be a helpful tool toward creativity. We live in a fairly sedentary world, and we find every possible reason not to engage in regular exercise (how many of us “don’t have time” for exercise, but seem to find plenty of time to spend on Facebook every day?), but regular exercise can be a great way to de-stress, clear the mind, and bring creativity to the forefront. Even a ten minute walk in the sun can make us feel calmer, happier, and ready to get to work.

And the forth step, another surprise, is to build an “artist’s altar”. That seems terribly religious, I know, but it’s really not at all. An “artist’s altar” is simply a special place that makes you feel happy and productive. As an example, a painter might have a special room that is only for painting, that is filled with tons of supplies and fun stuff. The painter may even splash random colors of paint on the walls if it suits her fancy and makes her feel more creative. A photographer, alternatively, might have a particular wall in their house on which they display their favorite photos in lovely frames. Or a web designer might have a large corner desk with multiple screens and some interesting designs pinned to a cork board above it.

These four steps, apparently, are the key to “autonomy”. I don’t know if that’s true, but I know myself.

Myself, I accepted a long time ago that I’m an artist and a lot of people aren’t going to “get” that. It doesn’t matter. Writing makes me happy, and I don’t need other people to understand that.

Myself, I’ve made peace with the fact that I may never be conventionally “successful” as a writer. It’s enough for me to work toward one goal at a time and see where the wind takes me.

Myself, I don’t always get as physical as I should, but I do what I can and I can vouch for the fact that exercise makes a lot of other parts of my life come together in a god way.

Myself, I don’t currently have an “artist’s altar”, but I’ve been working toward one because it’s something I’ve craved for a long time, so hopefully I’ll have one in the near future.

I don’t know if these steps make me “autonomous”, but they’re definitely all things that I can agree are important parts of being an artist, so I guess that’s what matters in the end.

Have you “accepted” yourself as an artist? What is your version of “success”? Does exercise help you to create? Do you have an “artist’s altar”? Please share!

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