Chapter 6: Labor
How to Make Your Creative Dreams a Reality:
Strategies to Cultivate Your Talent
The word “labor” has a negative connotation. In fact, the origin of the word is from the Latin for “toil” or “trouble.”
I can’t put artistic creation at the same level of magnitude as childbirth, but I do note that “labor” is involved literally as a part of the birthing process, a part of the ultimate creative act.
There is bliss at the conclusion of labor, both in life and in art. But the process of labor, as the Latin derivative suggests, absorbs one in turmoil.
Most serious artists go through tension and torment working on ways to give expression to their innermost feelings. Once that effort is concluded, often after much contemplation and refinement, there is a relief that is at times euphoric.
At various stages of the creative process, you experience a range of emotions – from despair to elation. I do: Many times, I’m anxious about my labor. Is it advancing my aesthetic? Is it intelligent in ways that take advantage of a personal insight?
Depending on my task, I often arrive at the studio nervous, unsure of how to advance my work or begin a new body of work. Frequently during the process, I am emotionally exhausted and anxious, questioning the artistic value of the work in process.
I fret over whether my work is adding to the visual merit of my efforts.
And it is work. Hard, anxiety-producing work with endless complications of self-doubt, and worry about whether the work is going to be respected by people I respect.
I occasionally meet people who think they are paying me a compliment by implying that being an artist must be a constant joy, that my studio is a place of continual tranquility
In fact, at certain times my studio experience is a nightmare. Myriad decisions at particular times in the process haunt me. Each action can lead to celebration of excellence or lead to despair about failure. Each decision can advance the work or lead me down a dark alley.
They call it work for a reason. Artists work. We labor, and balance beauty with tension. Beauty has tension factored into it. As a creator, you feel the tension. You are supposed to feel it.
The tools that evidence our labor, the hands, are very complex mechanisms that connect our minds to a physical process.
The point of this essay is to reinforce the idea that you will not always – in fact, not usually – be in a state of contentment while laboring.
You will experience the root emotions of the word: toil and trouble.
You are not suffering alone. The result of creative people’s labor is a permanent documentation of time and place, of society’s intellectual and emotional sensibilities.
That is an artist’s reward, the dividend for labor, the artist’s bliss.
A quote on labor:
Before the reward there must be labor. You plant before you harvest. You sow in tears before you reap joy.
- Ralph Ransom