This is the fourth in a series on how to balance the ups and downs of art making as culled from advice from the Buddhist, Pema Chödrön. You can read the other parts here:
Lesson 4: Give Up Control
We tend to make things much harder than they need to be, and this often happens because we want total control over everything. I am completely guilty of this. But we can’t control everything, especially abstract and serendipitous things like creativity and art. We have to let go—let things come together, and let things fall apart. Because they’re gonna fall apart anyways, whether we think we have control or not.
“The most difficult times for many of us are the ones we give ourselves.” ―Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice For Difficult Times
One way to give up control is to remember that artmaking is a journey. We’re not at the beginning or the end, and we never will be. Our art is a work in progress. We’re a work in progress—and we always will be. Success comes and goes and failure comes and goes. Good art comes and goes and bad art comes and goes. But we’re always in the process. We’re always on the journey.
The art we made yesterday is yesterday’s, and the art we’ll make tomorrow is tomorrow’s. But we can’t focus on those things because we’re not in yesterday or tomorrow. We’re right here, in this moment, on this day. We’re always making THIS drawing, and that’s all that matters.
Thinking this way helps reduce the importance of each drawing and take the pressure of our urge to control everything. We can approach the drawing we’re making today with curiosity. This one drawing will not make or break anything. This drawing is just one out of hundreds—thousands!—we will make over the course of our journey.
So when it starts to fall apart, as it will, we can relax because we already knew it would happen. And we know it will come back together again eventually. We know some will be good, and some will be… not so good. And that that is ok and normal, and in itself good.
We can approach today’s drawing with curiosity instead of frustration. We can meet it where it is in this moment of the journey, instead of trying to force creative control. We can see it clearly, without judgment, and search for what it could mean. What is it saying? What could it teach us? Where could it take us from here? The drawing will often lead us somewhere way more original and exciting if we would just let down our guard, loosen up, and hand over control. If we would only allow the drawing to take charge and show us the way.
We can’t control our overall artistic journey, and we can’t control the creative process. But we can control one thing: whether or not we allow ourselves to give up control. Whether or not we draw today.