Snapshots: On Creative Career Growth

Creative careers are in perpetual evolution.

…So is your creative process. The learning never ends. Many creative professionals encounter stuck points in their creative process. Even the most competent people can become entangled in knots of indecision or worries about their work measuring up. One might ask, measuring up to what? We artists often hold expectations that our visions will materialize perfectly on the page, on the canvas, or in the office. If you don’t already know, let me share a secret. There is no fixed standard. Creativity is in a perpetual state of expansion. Sort of like the universe, according to Steven Hawking. The only true competition is with ourselves, as Martha Graham stated. What matters is that we continue leaning on our own edge. That edge will be unique and like no one else’s. Most masterpieces are achieved over long periods, requiring much trial and error. Their creators spend much time in their “labs,” producing with a mixture of stumbling and brilliance. Like most other meaningful aspects of life, failure is an inherent part of creative growth in an art career.

Art career failures breed solutions and wisdom.

In studies about artists and creative growth, the single-most unifying element found among all artists was the ability to continue re-creating. Artists execute a form, and they then re-form the form. They re-create, over and over, until the original inspiration develops to fruition. Those who actualize themselves as artists and succeed in their art careers, all have this ability in common. This is the only consistent linking aspect. No demographic or sociological factor–family history, genetics, habits, personality, or ethnicity–links all artists. This conclusion is a helpful guide, not just for professional artists, but for anyone committed to creative growth. It indicates that to focus on quick, end results is misguided. We are meant to stay present in a creative process: to make lots of mistakes, to evaluate, revise and change. This involves letting go of perfectionism while, at the same time, holding onto standards. In creative career coaching, I encounter many clients who don’t quite understand they are entitled to a learning curve. They make demands upon themselves to spill perfection in miraculous bursts. Not only is this an unrealistic expectation, it is actually antithetical to creativity growth itself. The next time you feel reluctant to “spill” in messy experimentation, try to behold the impending mess as the road map to creative genius. The next time you feel down on yourself or notice you are holding impossibly high standards for your art career, try reading this snapshot on creative growth again.

Creative growth is a standard of checks and balances.

Fine art and quality journalism in a free society provide checks and balances to the state’s power. Likewise, the process of creative growth provides checks and balances to our inner lives. Our creations provide mirrors for us to look into. In essence they are similar to dreams, because they contain fragments of our truth. Who and what we are, what we think, how we feel, are reflected there. What we observe can console us and inspire us. It can also disconcert us. Seeing who we are more clearly is wholly good, no matter what we see. Because it provides opportunity–to appreciate what we like about ourselves and our creative process and to build upon it. The mirrors reveal our blind spots and broaden our awareness–we hear our troublesome attitudes and shift what is possible to shift. Creative growth delivers gifts, to ourselves and to others. As we create and re-create our projects, we re-create ourselves at the same time.

Do not underestimate the “inch-by-inch.”

Yes, the cliche is still alive and true: Rome was not built in a day. It was built inch by inch. Each sentence written, each frame shot, each inquiry made, each gallery visited, each online search conducted, each phone call sent, each lecture attended, each film seen, each brushstroke made, each aesthetic conversation held, each bit of research conducted, each creativity coaching session–(and the list goes on)–will bring us one inch closer to fruition–to an output we will finally call finished. Every inch counts. No inch can be dismissed, even when you feel it was a step backward—-because backward steps also provide more clarity. Each time you yawn while moving another tiny inch, try to stay in the moment with that inch, honoring it for the essential link in the chain that it is. Pretty soon you will notice the your inches are gelling into a unique creation. Moral of the story? Enjoy your inches.

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*Essay by Barbara Bowen of - the definitive source for artists and creative careers in transition. Contact Barbara to empower your creative process and for help with your career goals. She would love to hear from you.*