The Laws of Nature

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Dance of Avoidance

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!

Your thoughts??


Celeste Bergin said...

I very much agree with your last paragraph! The less I ponder and the more I act--the less angst I have. Funny how that works! "do--don't stew" is what my Mom used to say.
I love the Luna moth! You were right to put work on the back burner while he visited. There is a time and a place for everything and when you have such a rare visit you HAVE to pay attention to THAT.

Mark Sheeky said...

All I can say is ditto! Apart from the fact that I prefer total silence while working.

M said...

When I am in working mode )I've accepted my fits and starts approach) I find music calms me and gets me focused on work. You will not find any Red Hot Chili Peppers though. I have a whole collection of restful music. I find having a calm, free mind is the most helpful thing I can do for myself.

hw (hallie) farber said...

Uh oh--I always listen to NPR in the workshop. A block of time is essential--I actually look at a calendar and mentally draw a rectangle around the days (I need at least three).

I think the moth was a gift.

Unknown said...

Hi Celeste - What a great expression! Your mother is wise. Yes, I needed to spend the afternoon pondering that moth. It was incredible. I didn't realize how big they are and it just hung around all day and was gone by morning.

Hi Mark - "silence is golden" :)

Hi Margaret - restful music is nice, too. I have a wide range of music that I listen to: classical to acid rock.

Hi Hallie - NPR is great, too. I like "Car Talk." And, I like your perspective about the moth - it was a gift.

Four Seasons in a Life said...

I like what Celeste has written and I feel my words would only pale in comparison.

Though I have not been regularly following this series, I did wish to stop off and express my thoughts about the Luna moth.

As a teenager I did some serious insect collecting, focusing on butterflies and moths. I even raised many and to this day I try my best to save as many as I can.

Though I have always desired to add a Luna moth to my collection or a few others, I no longer do so.

The environment has not been friendly to these beautiful creatures. I have seen their numbers decline dramatically in our neighborhood and this house we live in for the last eleven years.

So when the moth graced your presence, I feel that a special message was sent to you from the gods . . .

Thank you for sharing.

-Don said...

Kathy, I'm the same way about needing music in my studio, but I don't think I could listen to 100 hours of the same CD without wanting to take it out and run it thru the paper shredder. I must have variety. I have anything from quiet meditative to angst-laden pounding rock. And I may cover the whole gamut in one painting. I don't find that it influences my style of painting or the content of the painting, but it can make an impact on the energy I expel as I create. The only time I put specific music on for painting is during the Christmas season. I am an admitted Christmas-aholic and have about 150 Christmas CDs to choose from... I refuse to get help for this addiction, much to the consternation of my two boys...


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Anonymous said...

Hi Kathy, The luna moth is beautiful; I haven't seen one since we lived on the East Coast in the early 80s. You posting spiked a linkage in my brain to Twyla Tharp's book on the Creative Habit. You have a routine and it helps you get into the groove. And, the last statement is particularly appropriate: the more you paint, the more you want to paint!

Happy holidays and thanks for the wonderful, supportive, exploratory atmosphere you generate on your blog!

Unknown said...

Hi Egmont - You have many layers, my friend! How interesting. This was the first and only Luna moth I've seen and I was astonished not only at its size but by its beauty. Special, indeed!

Hi Don - Hmmmmm ... how did I guess that you're a Christmas fanatic?? Gee, I didn't know there were 150 Christmas CD's!

Hi Pam - you've made a very important comment about doing something .... anything to overcome avoidance. It's so true. Even the smallest thing related to your creativity will propel you forward. Thanks!

Hi Peggy - thanks so much for bringing up Twyla Tharp's philosophy. Great advice from someone who lived it and succeeded! And, you mention something that's really important to me ... the quality and quantity of the discussion on this blog. This is all due to YOU FOLKS. Thank you so much! I've learned a lot from you.