Principle 7 of Roberts' book is entitled The Dance of Avoidance which is exactly what I did one day last summer when this rare and beautiful Luna moth landed on my screen door in Maine and distracted me from my work for a whole afternoon. OK - so it was my fault and not the moth's.In this chapter, Roberts addresses those who do show up for work (last chapter) but avoid creating art once they get there. Avoidance can take many forms like excessive pencil sharpening, preoccupation with rearranging things, making a few phone calls, and so on. He suggests that the cure is to first recognize that the problem exists and then learn to walk through it. Solutions include creating a permanent workspace , shifting thinking to the "right brain" when you enter your studio, keeping a clean and orderly workspace, and creating a block of time in which to work. If you can't figure out what to paint during that time, at least think about it without distractions. He also suggests taking a ten day painting retreat alone to help regain focus. A retreat can help you gain insight into why you're avoiding something and also help you find direction. And, if you can't go on retreat then just take time at home to think for awhile.
I can identify with that advice. When I was working on a graduate degree at Syracuse University years ago, my advisor suggested that I take time from my stressful schedule to sit in a peaceful place for a few hours each week and just allow my mind to wander. This was excellent advice. Not only did it provide clarity, but it enhanced my ability to arrive at creative solutions. At home in my studio I spend just as much time remaining still and thinking as I do actively painting. It's difficult to produce unique and meaningful art if I don't first have a clear picture in mind.
Roberts makes another great point: Action overcomes fear. This is so true! Doing something empowers us and neutralizes the fears and doubts that lead to avoidance. I have a few tricks that help me to immediately focus on my work when I enter the studio. First, I have only two sets of "work" clothes that I wear in the studio - one for that day and the other is in the laundry. The moment I put on my "work suit" my mind switches into work mode. The second trick is using music for focus. Each painting I create usually takes days to weeks to complete. So, when I leave the studio each day the work is still in progress. The way I get my mind to return to the same place each day is to listen to only one CD for the duration of that painting. This means that if a painting takes me 100 hours, I listen to only one CD for those hundred hours. This is Pavlovian training and might drive other people crazy. But, I really don't hear the CD consciously after awhile. It just keeps me focused on the same task so that a 100-hour painting is unified even though it took several weeks to complete. Now, when I look at one of my completed paintings, I can tell you which CD I was listening to when I painted it. BTW - when I was listening to the Red Hot Chili Peppers I noticed that my energy level significantly increased!
Although Roberts doesn't mention it, I have found that the more I paint the less I feel the urge to avoid it. It's about attitude and conditioning - just like athletic training. And now ... back to the studio!