Blocked! I'm Blocked!

A painting in progress that caused me to scream and tantrum.

A painting in progress that caused me to scream and tantrum.

Oh ha ha!  For the past few years I have felt so proud that I could work past my blocks! I had my little bag o' tricks that could get me into the flow and productive pretty reliably. I had a mild resistance, really just laziness, and I knew how to deal with it.

Unfortunately,  I recently uncovered the long hidden, and huge, BLOCK ME button. What a horrible feeling.

Maybe blocked is not really the right word. Because I did paint this week, for one angry hour, which ended with me declaring "This is stupid! I hate this crap! Why in the hell am I doing this?"

I haven't felt that way in a while. 

So what got me into this state? Deciding to make a shift from focusing on teaching and supporting others in exploring expressive arts to going deeper into my own journey as an artist.

I do this thing. It is hard for me to allow myself to do what I want, so I trick myself by saying I'm doing it for (air quotes) "professional development." In order to even begin to approach my own artistic ambitions, I have to put it in a container that makes it practical. I do that by going to school. I do that by teaching. Gifting myself the time and resources to create art because, dammit, I am an artist, seems selfish and scary. 

It is exciting to make discoveries that are meaningful both artistically and in terms of personal growth. I not only want to share the art, but also to invite others into the process, the creative adventure. I like doing that. But I've been holding myself back on my own persoanl journey because I know the next stage is one I need to make in a more solitary way, to be able to be chaotic and inarticulate, and to go somewhere I haven't gone yet. Exciting! And hard to walk into.

I've always really loved creating with others. I loved that about college. I loved that about my expressive arts training, and getting my masters. I love the moments in my classroom when I can paint or draw with my young students.

It isn't just my cohorts that make education so thoroughly enjoyable. It is having a mentor that is ahead of me, with a flashlight and sense of direction and adventure. And belief in me. Artists like Helen Klebesadel, one of my college professors, whose meaningful, mythic and beautiful art opens up such a world of possibilities.

It's hard to create that community of peers on your own. I don't know how to do it.  But I do feel supported, and I am very grateful for that.

I recently read an interview with Barbara Kingsolver in The Sun magazine where she talked about the experience of sending her children to Montessori school. They emphasized the idea that "you can do hard things."  That has been resonating for me as a teacher. Dare I allow it to resonate for me as an artist?

Putting myself out there as an artist, not only an educator, requires skills I don't have right now. Ones that I avoided learning, like, vehemently. It opens up the big scary thing - the possibility of selling my art. 

Is this just another container? Another type of "professional development" that I will use to justify my art making urges? It brings up new and unsettling concerns and questions. It doesn't feel safe at all. It feels like the type of questions that caused me to totally stop making art for a long time. Some of those questions I have answered. But the deeper, lingering questions about my ultimate role as an artist become distorted when I think about selling my art. Valuing it. Finding my place in the world of visual art. I get scared, and I run back to my classroom and the safety of creating in the context of art education or expressive arts therapy. 

I'm ready now to push into that fear. When I was younger, before I had kids and a career, I deeply doubted that art was really all that important to me. I thought the urge would go away, like the urges to be a dancer, an actor, musician and writer had. I am still scared the way I was back then, it feels so familiar, that fear tinged with anger. But now I am curious what is on the other side.  

And I can do hard things.