Spiritual Creativity: You're Working On the Wrong Painting


You're working on the wrong painting. You're playing the wrong music. You're writing the wrong story. The same spiritual understandings (or lack of) which affect our life, also effects our art. We too often focus on the external things instead of looking within. Anyone seeking to become an artist, of any kind, will benefit from a little Zen perspective. The real painting isn't on the canvas, the true work of art is yourself. Please stay tuned, this is not just about esoteric platitudes. These methods will help any artist put fresh energy into their journey.

The Only True Canvas is YOU

All artists know, and have experienced, that creativity is a struggle against fear, self doubt, shame, and false perfectionism. Putting pen to paper or brush to canvas can feel like going to battle. Those who put an expectation on themselves to produce great work with every effort suffer the most. Our culture of performance and competition has created an oppressive illusion of success and failure. It is all a lie.

You never start a work of art you continue it. You never end, you pause. This is because there is no canvas, no paper, no piece of music, there is only you. What the outside world may see as one painting or one song, you should see as breaths. If your focus is one continuing your journey as an artists, always laboring upon yourself, then you will lose many of the distractions and obstacles of "creative block."

Drawing in Sand

While Western institutions excel at teaching us to imitate others, Zen practices help us discover ourselves. Drawing in sand is one of the best examples of this practice. To draw just for the sake of drawing, with no intent to produce anything, is like a massage for the creative spirit. Sand is just the right amount of transient, solid enough to form shape but impossible to keep it. To the immature spirit, it looks like a "waste of time" with nothing gained. But spiritually minded know that it is their own selves they are gaining ownership of.

The World Will Not Help You

Sure, the world can acknowledge a master at the peak of their journey (or often far past). But the world does not do well at recognizing passion and potential. The only who knows your true capabilities is you. If you invest your value into your external work, then you are exposing your very soul to be ridiculed and trampled by others. If you value is within, then no one can touch it. Do not allow your present journey to stain your future potential. If there are those in your life who encourage you, as you are, cherish them. Not all will have such a blessing.

The World Will Not Understand You

What comes to mind when I mention the composer, Tchaikovsky? You probably think of The Nutcracker ballad. Did you know he hated that piece? At some point the world will appreciate something which came from your journey, and it will probably shock you. None of us can understand the journey you are on, the mountaintops you are reaching for, they are visible only to you. If you can make a living on your work, there is nothing wrong with that. Just beware to not let the validation of the world distract you from your greater goals. Sometimes creative block is little more than pressure to make something according to the expectations of others, while your soul has its own needs.

Don't Paint Yourself a Prison

For a chef or a musician, who's work is inherently fleeting, much of this comes easier. For a painter, a sculptor, or a writer this can be more difficult. Take no more possession, pride, or value in your art than you do the air as it comes out of your lungs. If you place your value into your production, you will create a prison of expectations. It is gone, in the past, nothing more than a journal entry. Your next breath is what matters most. Breath in, breath out, not too fast, not too slow, and never stop.