The challenges of being an artist are different for women than men.
We especially lack the entitlement men are (more often) born with.
So, to begin with…
Congratulations! Herein this sentence lies your entitlement. With a few taps of this magical keyboard, I redress eight thousand years of female servitude and give us all permission to do all the things we need to do to make our art happen.
Well done! Hooray! Glad we got that sorted out.
Okay, so now that’s out of the way, what do we need to do?
We need to draw all the strands of creativity we are putting out there in the world and plug them into our art.
As women, we give over our creativity to so many other aspects of life. Friends, family, clothes, homes, men—we are so very creative! We make art all the time, it’s just that it’s in that outfit we plan on wearing, or in the document we wrote for work, or the gift we bought for our mom. It’s just a matter of drawing back all that creativity that’s been spread out so far and wide, and pointing it at that one thing that really matters to us—art.
Sounds selfish, doesn’t it? That’s ‘cause it is! Art is by definition the discovery of self. All that creativity needs to be plugged back into you.
Here are some things we can safely give up to make space for art. They may not apply to you specifically, but you’ll get the idea. Your task is to find out where your creativity flows, so you can reroute it back into your art.
Nooo! I hear you cry. Women are such social creatures. We network, network, network. It feels good, and it feels essential.
It’s not. The endless “oh, we must catch up!’” scenarios are good for the soul every now and then, but we can cut a whole lot out of our social calendar without experiencing any true distress. Many of us will feel guilty. That’s our female conditioning.
We are programmed to counsel each other, but we do it to excess.
So the next time you’re having that conversation where you’re silently wondering why she won’t do the thing that she clearly needs to do to end her current drama…stop. Back up.
Time sink alert!
She is sucking a whole lot of your attention for no good reason. All your precious creativity is going into showing her different ways of solving a problem that she clearly is not willing to let go of yet. She will work it out in her own time.
Or not. In any case, you need that time for your art.
Take it back! If not for you, for us! We need your art more than she needs your ear.
Our time and attention is so precious. There’s a telling “note to self” in Susan Sontag’s diary from 1977…
“Starting tomorrow—if not today:
I will get up every morning no later than eight. (Can break this rule once a week.)
I will have lunch only with Roger [Straus]. (‘No, I don’t go out for lunch.’ Can break this rule once every two weeks.)
I will write in the Notebook every day. (Model: Lichtenberg’s Waste Books.)
I will tell people not to call in the morning, or not answer the phone.
I will try to confine my reading to the evening. (I read too much—as an escape from writing.)
I will answer letters once a week. (Friday?—I have to go to the hospital anyway.)”
Notice how a full half of her resolutions are about reducing social activity? I mean, of course, people thought she was eccentric. But that’s okay! She wrote great books.
Give yourself permission to veer from the norm.
And she didn’t have facebook to deal with. Turn off your “chat” feature. Never answer a text or a private message straight away. That way, you don’t get locked into a ten minute back-and-forth that you’re both maintaining just out of politeness. Get good at phrases like “I have to run, talk to you later.”
Get into the habit of calling your art work. “I’m sorry, I’m working this afternoon” is a legitimate excuse. It is your work. It’s your most important work! And no one is going to make it important for you, only you can do that.
You have to elevate it above everything else, shamelessly.
How much time and energy and you putting into your physical appearance? Not just time for shopping for clothes or putting on make-up, but consider the effort that goes into diet and exercise too. For example, how much of your thinking goes towards what you’re going to eat today and what you’ve already eaten?
This is a huge creative sinkhole for a lot of us, and it’s one that men don’t have to deal with. They would be shocked to find out how much of our thinking time goes towards obsessively working out what to eat, and what to wear, when to work out, and everything around that. Trying to motivate ourselves to try a new workout regimen.
Wondering whether we should go on that cleanse everyone is talking about. So much creativity gets sucked up here for women.
I’m here to tell you—you’re perfect and you’re beautiful, just as you are, right now. You are eminently f**kable. You can love and be loved, just as you are. We gotta let that stuff go, man! At this perilous point in the planet’s history, pushing out the envelope of consciousness is far more important than whether we lose a few pounds.
And anyway, art feels good. Obsessing about appearance does not. It should be a no-brainer switch!
Do it for yourself.
Plus—artists are sexy. Someone who is truly plugged in to their creativity is very very hot indeed. You know it, I know it. Rock your inner artist, baby.
That’s scorchingly hot, from the inside, out.
Ugh, it’s horrendous that this even needs to be mentioned in the twenty-first century, but it has to be said—cleaning continues to enslave women.
Our ideals for how a house should be run are based on houses at the turn of last century that had maids and butlers and stable boys and all that stuff. Somehow, aspiration conspired with feminism, and we now have all these unrealistic ideas in our heads about how spotless a place needs to be to be liveable.
This is not Downton Abbey. There is no white glove test. And if there is, show that white gloved asshole the door!
My rule of thumb: if my kids aren’t in danger of dysentery, I’m doing okay. And I try to arrange my house so it suits me, not how it suits what I want other people to think about me.
I do the basics, try to be happy in the house as it is (no day-dreaming about renovations ‘I wonder what this room would be like if it was blue?), and I keep the cooking simple. Don’t waste creative thinking on what to make for dinner. One female novelist only made bacon and egg sandwiches!
That’s one way of keeping your tummy full, and your guests at a minimum.
And, for the love of goddess, never ever ever give up art time to clean. That is a terrible tragedy.
We need your art, not your vacuumed floor!
(Or women, obviously, but whoever is your relationship focus.)
From finding a man, to dating a man, to getting a house, marriage, kids, the whole thing—men take up a huge chunk of our creativity. Always looking for little ways to make them happy, always listening hard to find out what they want so we can provide it.
God, what saps, huh? But we know it happens.
We gotta take that back. If he really wants us, he’ll come along for the ride. We don’t have to mold ourselves into a shape that pleases him. Be your own shape. He’ll love it. If he doesn’t, then phew, let him go, ‘cause putting all that energy into maintaining an unnatural shape for the rest of our lives is obviously going to require a lot of creative focus.
And we need that for art.
Whoa, this is a rough one. Pushing out enough space for you to do your thing while having kids is a tricky dance indeed, and I’m not sure it’s one I’ve mastered.
Indeed, it can be breaking point for many female artists. They either give up or go mad.
The Divided Heart: Art and Motherhood by Rachel Power, is a wonderfully depressing read. Rachel interviews many mother/artists in depth, and you come out the other side none the wiser about how to navigate this challenge, but with a whole lotta love for your artist sisters.
One consistent theme is this: stop trying to do art around them. Their little voices are biologically programmed to draw your attention straight to them. You ever notice in the hospital when they were born that you could sleep happily through anyone else’s newborns mews, but as soon as your kid whimpered, you were wide awake and fussing over him like crazy?
Yeah, that. That’s still going on. We’re intimately tuned-in to their moods and their needs. There’s no way you can stay in the zone while your kids are anywhere near you. Not to any true depth, anyway.
We are worth going deep. We want that for you.
You want that for you.
The world desperately needs women to go deep and find all the pieces of our lost wisdom.
I’m currently writing this at 4am while my little poppets sleep. Sylvia Plath did her writing at night, after she’d put her sweeties to bed. My temptation right now is to just quickly get a load of laundry on, but I shall not, sisters, I shall not! In all other areas of my life, I am easygoing, but this is where I bring my discipline.
I know that all I have to do is sit down quietly for long enough, and art will happen.
Only I can give myself that permission.
Naps. We run ourselves ragged trying to do everything for everyone. You can’t do art with a to-do list in your head a mile long. Try a Salvador Dali and lie down for ten minutes and truly relax. Do that a couple of times a day if you can.
Most of us operate on our “nerves”—that is, we are usually in a stressful, cortisol-soaked panic.
Our thinking activity is permanently lighting up our amygdala. But that’s not the space where art comes from. We need to find ways to bring ourselves into the loose-hipped and lazy state where the quiet murmurings of inspiration can seep up through the ground.
Showers are good too. Massages if you can afford them.
Baths! Baths are wonderful. Agatha Christie spent a lot of time in the bath, munching on apples while she mused on murder plots.
Anything that gets you relaxed and back in touch with your body is great.
If you don’t have time to do that before arting, you can bring yourself into your body in a simple way by feeling your feet on the floor, and then feeling the energy in your hands. Feet, hands, feet, hands, feet, hands. After a few minutes of feeling into your body, you should be out of the babbling talky brain, and in the right space to make art.
Make that demand on art’s behalf, please.
Women have been so guilted into thinking they must be active all the time, we’ve mistakenly called stillness “procrastination.”
Tellingly, Virgina Woolf made herself a stand-up desk to write at, not because of any artistic concerns, but because her sister was a painter and stood up all the time. Get this: Virgina was concerned “that her own pursuit might appear less arduous than that of her sister unless she set matters on a footing of equality.”
Wha’? Why does our work need to be arduous to be considered important? I’m pretty sure no bloke suffers from this preoccupation.
We’re so hard-wired to work our guts out, we feel guilty for taking time out.
We’ve gotta stop that right now. As artists, we need to be still sometimes. We need to relax. We need to open to the world with curiosity and wonder and awe. Art doesn’t smoosh itself in between spin class and dinner at Mom’s. It would be nice if it did! Then we would get a lot more art done. But it doesn’t. Art springs from space, luxurious space.
That’s why they call it “a-muse-ing yourself.” That’s when the muse visits! When you’re relaxed and playful.
It’s okay to amuse yourself for no reason. That’s all a part of the process.
So, let’s stop calling it procrastination. Let’s start saying “I made some space for myself today.”
Or, even better, “I amused myself today.”
Forget about making money with art. Art doesn’t need to justify its existence or pay its way, and neither do you. Making art to make money means making art to please other people, and that’s not where our true art comes from.
Our true art comes from that playful space where we are just enjoying ourselves.
Making things we love for the sheer sake of it. Making it just so it’s a thing.
Consider this: so many things inside of you will never see the light of day if you don’t value them enough to create them. No one is going to make your art for you.
Only you can make your art. And that’s your legacy!
At the end of your life, how much scratch you made will be immaterial. What you leave behind will be your essence in the things you created.
Make sure it’s your essence.
In the end, becoming an artist is not so much about the art. That is a by-product. In order for a female artist to truly art, she must take back what was hers. She must go and find all the ways that she has been diminished, enslaved, and corralled into creating comfort and beauty for everyone but herself.
It’s reclaiming our birthright to create as we see fit. We owe it to our gender to garner our full creativity and use it for the purpose it was intended—not to make men’s lives more comfortable, but to bring to shore the wisdom long hidden within the oceanic caves of the feminine.
We need this wisdom, now more than ever. Mother Earth needs her voice back.
And she can only come through you.
Author: Caity Johnstone
Editor: Renee Picard
Photo: Courtesy of Author