Sharon Burton is writing a book, and posed a series of curious questions to artists. I was privileged to be asked, and so I have posted my answers below.
1. Have you tried micro-movements or something similar to reach your creative goals? How did that work for you?
This is a tough question for me, for some reason. Everything seems like a micro-movement, especially when you are stuck. Sometimes it is just, do something, anything - start anywhere. But I also have a very strong and reliable inner guide - a sense of when a thing is right, and when it is wrong. There is no doubt what is "yes" and what is "no". Many times there has seemed to be no way forward, but I am very persistent - to a fault - and adaptable. I have had to be.
2. Have you ever had to confront feelings of fear in completing a creative project? How did you get past it?
Yes, quite often! And it is the closest projects, the ones that are most important to me, the most central, that intimidate me the most. It's like Kafka's story of the gate that is open but guarded, and one is told to wait for permission, which never comes, and it turns out the gate was meant only for you. I somehow confuse the importance to me of a project with an impression of its impossibility. I have put off projects for years, just because they mean so much to me that they seem forbidden. I still have such projects, in boxes in the basement. Alas! Nevertheless, I have overcome these feelings (I guess through a kind of grace) in individual instances, and reached my goals. I think of the fairy tale in which the hero is so blinded by love that he does not even see the distractions along the road to his beloved.
3. How do you make time for your creativity with all of the demands on your time? Do you use any tricks or strategies to do this?
I was a musician until the age of 26, when I went back to school to get marketable professional training in another field. Within a couple of years, partly to my surprise, I found that I could not shake or tame my first love, music. I managed with considerable difficulty to fan the flames little by little until I was able to shape a life that included both work and music. It was a drive, a compulsion, not tricks or strategy. At age 56 I took early retirement and became once again a full-time musician.
4. When was the first time you considered yourself an artist? Was this a natural process or did you have to work on yourself to identify yourself as a creative?
Despite my inner drive to play music all my life, strangely enough I did not consider myself an artist until quite recently. Partly this is because I am married to a visual artist, and in that world only composers, but not performers, are considered artists. At some point, there was the "Duh, I am an artist", moment, that explained much about my life. But this probably only happened in my 60's.
5. What has your experience been with setting goals and intentions in the past and how has that affected your creative practice?
Goals and dreams need to be constantly refined. One says "fame and fortune", when what you really mean is just three colleagues who respect your work, and enough resources to get by. I have become better at consulting my inner driver, who is often quite loud and clear. Sometimes I frame it as, "Just the swoony stuff", of which there is a great deal. Nevertheless, I am full of plans, grandiose and small - I list them every day in my notebook, and see some of the same ones appear year after year. But the small goals are like shopping lists - they get done. My wife used to say my big dreams take 3-5 years to materialize, but they usually do eventually materialize - I would say, about 60% of the time.
6. What steps did you take to get the courage to share your work? What would you do differently?
I have always had a very strong drive to be heard. At the age of 21, I realized that there was nothing to fear, and I had nothing to lose. Don't imagine that this made things easy for me! Regrets are impossible and meaningless. This is the life that I had, and it is truly wonderful. I would have been kinder to myself if that had been possible.
7. Who supports your creativity? How do you find support for your creativity?
My marriage has always been based on mutual support of our creativity, and it has served us both for almost 50 years. Psychotherapy has also been essential. Successful accomplishment of my work requires compatible colleagues, loyal audiences, supportive allies, public venues, and funding. Each of these has been a challenge in its own way.
8. Is self-care important as a creative? How does it affect your creative output?
Absolutely! Eating, sleeping, walking, seeing family and friends, travel, household chores, reading, listening to the birds … having a real life. I make use of amazingly wonderful health professionals to keep my body and especially my hands and arms functioning at age 70. But equally important at this age is a backward look at what this life was all about, and for this I am assisted by two wonderful psychotherapists.
9. How do you handle disappointments with your creative work? For example, share a time when your work was not accepted or received a lot of critical comments. What did this situation teach you about handling disappointments?
I have said, only half joking, that disappointments are my bread and butter. Rejections, negative reviews, hostility and sabotage from competitors, and a host of other unpleasant types of interaction between the world and my art have been constant for my entire career. I am learning not to take these things (exclusively) personally - rather, they reflect the human situation and specifically the situation of the artist in these obviously difficult times. A reviewer once described my piano-playing as "overly insistent sound", and I fretted over this comment for years. Eventually I came to a couple of insights: one, he was expressing a covert anti-semitism; and two, I was trying too hard to be heard. I took this to heart and have lightened up a little.