Last, but not least, week 12 of The Artist’s Way focuses on “recovering a sense of faith”. On this topic the author speaks about trust, mystery, imagination at play, and escape velocity.
The “trust” part speaks for itself, I think. In order to be an artist of any kind you have to put a lot of faith in yourself and trust that things will fall into place. This can be especially difficult because of the nature of the world we live in…there is a formula to life in this century, and part of that formula is getting a “real” job where you work regular hours and receive a nearly identical paycheck every so many days. Trusting yourself to be an artist is trusting that you’ll be able to survive without that piece of the formula. Sure, at first you might follow the formula to a tee and worry about the artist stuff in your spare time, but if some level of success should roll up to meet you, if you make that leap to becoming a full-time, professional artist, a lot of things are going to change and you have to be able to trust that it will all work out somehow.
“Mystery” refers to the strange, slow, creeping nature of creativity. It refers to the fact that ideas (for a story, painting, screenplay, etc) rarely appear fully formed in the artist’s mind. Ideas are slow to build, elusive, ever hiding in the shadows. An artist has to be willing to let these little hints and glimpses come to them without rushing to flip on all of the floodlights. Forcing an idea can be the thing that murders it violently. You have to start with that little taste, allow it to simmer in the pot for a while until the flavors begin to emerge. If the idea is truly great, the details will come to you as they are required. Forcing the idea out before it is ready is akin to forcing a smile in a photo; everyone who looks can see that something is not quite right.
The concept of “imagination at play” is quite simple: imaginations want to play! Artists – though they may deal with all the same stresses and daily frustrations as everyone else – are naturally playful people. We don’t just write a novel or sculpt a statue; we sing in the shower, and scribble in children’s coloring books, and collect pretty rocks, and plant flowers around our houses, and bake immaculate-looking treats, and build lovely websites for ourselves, and use our craftiness to make gifts for others. Everything that we do simply because we enjoy it is part of our playful imagination. We are not “wake up at the crack of dawn, eat a bowl of flax seed cereal before going to my 9-5 job, come home and do the chores, get a shower and crawl into bed” people. We may have to do all those things, but we also need to be playful, to do silly things that other people may find strange. We need to be creative and imaginative and weird. Imaginations must play; you do know what happens when there’s “all work and no play”, right?
“Escape velocity” is a final, interesting topic. Relating to physics, “escape velocity” is when the kinetic energy from, say, a rocket ship, becomes equal to (and therefore cancels out) the energy from the gravitational pull of the Earth. Until these two forces balance, there is no way for the rocket ship to move forward and “escape” the Earth. Concerning artists, the book suggests that the “escape velocity” for an artist is a Test…test with a capital “T”. As the artist builds up their kinetic energy and aims for escape, inevitably a Test will arise to meet them…the Test that they have to overcome in order to pull away from the Earth. For example, a very talented artist may finally have built up the courage to quit their day job in order to work full time on their art…and the moment they do their boss offers them the first raise they’ve ever received. Do they stay or do they go? It depends, of course. This is a Test of dedication to the artist’s dreams versus dedication to the “formula”. That extra money could help you pay off your bills faster, get further ahead, build up some savings…but you might be miserable the entire time because you’re not doing what you really want to be doing. Do you hit escape velocity and pull away into the stars, or do you let yourself fall back down to Earth?
In the end, the “sense of faith” that you’re meant to be recovering is the type of faith that very few people seem to have these days: a faith that things will work out if you want it badly enough. It is very difficult to allow oneself this kind of faith because there are so many outside factors shouting, “NO! That’s NOT the way the world works!” And yet we must, at least in some way, have this kind of faith if we are to reach for the dreams we hold dearest.