Tuesday, November 19, 2013

be uncomfortable

I received a timely email the other day:

Hi, I'm a 15-year old thrower, I've been throwing for 2 or 3 years now. I think your work is *perfect* but lately I have felt like what is the point of this.  I truly enjoy throwing, but I can't get out of this rut. Have you ever had these feelings? How did you conquer them?

Dear CL,
I wish I could say I have no idea what you are going through. Unfortunately, I know your feelings all too well.

Your first question-- what is the point of this-- is a larger existential question that I can't answer for you, you have to answer it for yourself. My answer for me is that the point is to bring beautiful, artful objects into this crazy world, and that's pretty much it. I would like to think that creating beautiful things changes the world, so I'm doing what I can to change the world. I don't know how far I'm getting there.

So, you're in a rut, maybe your first. Being a creative type means that you will not always be inspired and have ideas.  It's great that you have the opportunity to experience a creative rut, recognize you are in a rut, and ask for help at the age of 15. When I was your age I would go through creative ruts too, but I just saw that as a sign that I hopelessly sucked as an artist.  Then I would smoke a bunch of pot, write in my diary about how the world did not understand me, and cry. You may do all of those things too, but I never thought to ask for help. It's very brave of you to do so.

You are in a rut because you are bored. Maybe you are bored with your forms, your processes, your self-imposed limitations on the wheel. The opposite of creative is not un-creative, it's boredom. Boredom will smother everything creative within you with its droning, relentless voice about how you're not good enough, that idea sucks, other people are better than you could ever be, and eating a big giant bowl of ice cream is easier than going through the trouble of making that thing you thought you wanted to make.

You can't "conquer" boredom, because it's part of the process, the ebb and flow of being a creative person. Boredom is a message from your internal self that you need to grow. What that means is completely up to you to figure out, but here is a hint: We often resist growth because it makes us uncomfortable. To grow we have to start from a place of not-knowing, and it's much nicer to be in a place of knowing.  But being uncomfortable is not boring, so in my book uncomfortableness is okay for an artist. Maybe you should think about what makes you uncomfortable, and head toward that.

I'm uncomfortable with being less than perfect in my work, which means I don't experiment enough because I'm afraid of making ugly, imperfect work. I'm uncomfortable when my sales are slow, which means I'm constantly pushing myself in production, another creativity killer. I'm uncomfortable with ease, which means I don't value my work unless I struggle. I'm uncomfortable with pursuing other artistic interests for fear of depleting my creative reserves, which means my creative self usually survives on a plain clay diet.

My advice to you is to think about what makes you uncomfortable, and adjust your approach so that your creativity can incorporate those things. I've had to address my issues in order to have a better creative life. For me this means taking the time to try new things and make crappy work, make work that is not production-oriented and and may never sell, not immediately dismiss work that seems too "easy",  and work in other mediums I love such as drawing, painting, and paper cutting.

My dear, I hope that helps.


  1. I love this. :)It's true, trying something different can feel like a terrifying risk. When I first got started I was so afraid that I would make things and nobody would like them that at first my hands would shake and I would ruin piece after piece. But when I started just letting go and enjoying the clay, trying a few new things, amazing things happened. I really need to apply your advice to throwing on the wheel, I've only tried it twice and made some very symmetrical lumps and gave up because I hate not being good at something. So I've stayed with the "safe" things, the guaranteed results, and it's really limiting me.

  2. Spot on!

    Linda Collins Chapman


  3. Oh, how well I know that little devil sitting on my shoulder, whispering, "why? - what's it worth? - why do it?"

    He's a constant, living in my studio, popping up from time to time.

    How I get rid of him, I don't know. Sometimes it helps seeking inspiration on Pinterest or other visuel places.

    But I also let my self limit myself, staying in the 'safe-zone'. Especially now, when I'm thinking about trying to make a living of my pottery. This puts a lot of pressure on me, and I struggle to hold on to my creativity.

  4. These are things I know. Deep down. But it's really nice to have someone else voice them.

  5. " Boredom is a message from your internal self that you need to grow. "


    Nice post!

  6. Perfectly expressed!

  7. Good advice Whitney.
    I'd also recommend reading Art and Fear. That always helps me with these sort of issues. It agrees with what you say as well.

  8. When can I make an appointment? $150/hour Please. I need help.

  9. For you Judy, it will only be $100 an hour ;-).