How To Get Naked: Conditions for Artistic Liberation

CC image courtesy of rachel a. k. on Flickr

Not too long after I wrote my post about Creative Productivity, I saw this Tim Ferriss blog post titled: “Productivity” Tips for the Neurotic, Manic-Depressive, and Crazy (Like Me).
The post itself is interesting and pointed, and I recommend it. But it’s the quote that Ferriss leads off with, from the incomparable Neil Gaiman, that has my noodle noodling today.

“The moment that you feel that, just possibly, you’re walking down the street naked, exposing too much of your heart and your mind and what exists on the inside, showing too much of yourself. That’s the moment you may be starting to get it right.”
– Neil Gaiman
University of the Arts Commencement Speech

Reading that again — I’m pretty sure I read or heard it already, but it was wonderful to re-encounter the words — struck me as appropriate, in terms of where I’m currently at in my development as an artist. In short, I’ve spent most of this past year “struggling” with and against a feeling of nakedness.

That being said, I’m the one who took all my clothes off.

I’ve written plenty about how things began to change for me, when I decided to make Multiverse and especially after it was in the can. I’ve been even more up front recently, here and in person during various conversations with friends old and new, about the struggles I was going through before deciding to make the film. I’ve also discussed some of the process of continuing the work of watching my own back as I go about seeking to sustain several significant changes I’ve made in my life over the past year or more.

But I haven’t talked much about how I’ve been feeling about this turn towards sharing more of myself, and/or the prospects of eventually introducing Multiverse to all of you and the world at large (which I’m eventually going to do).

In a word, it’s been scary.

Like so many (if not all) other artists, I believe I turned to storytelling, at a young age, as a means of introducing a safe arena of artificially-constructed order into a world that I found to be at least incrementally dangerous and chaotic. What evolved naturally over time into a “career” (quotes to be removed at time of financial solvency) began from these simple, delicate origins. To get to where I am today, where I can (somewhat) comfortably introduce my work en masse (to anyone who cares to see it) and sometimes even seek out attention for it (which I’ll likely be doing to an even greater extent in the future) several conditions had to be met.

These conditions, taken together, helped me get naked. Getting naked has helped liberate me, for the most part, from the constraints of doubt. It’s what’s allowed me to embrace productivity as a new norm in my creative life.

Time

Many of us have donned many layers, of clothing or armor made out of a mix of materials permeable and impermeable, over the course of our lives. This is normal and even necessary — to a point. Artist and creators, due to individualized compulsions similar to what I just discussed, are driven by the creative process to remove these layers. It can’t be done at once, and it can’t be done quickly. Getting naked is delicate work, as it should be. It takes time and patience. I say this in the hopes that it might help anyone who is not like me. I’ve been very impatient over the years. It didn’t help anything.

Work

This may seem like an obvious choice as a condition for artistic “success,” but it becomes less obvious when considered on its own, outside the realm of its symbiotic nature with the other items on this list. I’ve always worked hard. I’ve often worked too hard. I’ve sometimes worked hard to keep myself away from the real work of getting naked and being myself. Work must be a constant element of any journey towards long-term, authentic artistic expression.

Courage

I spent a good two or three years (arguably, many more) metaphorically thrashing my brain against a series of metaphorical walls, before I started breaking through with my work to the point where I could write and make Multiverse and begin developing subsequent projects that are similarly “more naked.” I worked a lot, and I put in time, but courage — real courage, to dive deep and go after what I really needed to go after, in order to reconcile my work with my realistic needs as a person — was hard to come by, for a long time. Somehow (perhaps due to the next item) I managed to build up enough of it, in fits and starts, to break through and accept what needed to be done. It was messy and the process got dark at many points, for long stretches. In so many words, meeting with real progress took throwing myself into the void. It took many painful, lonely nights. Me against the page, me against myself. It wasn’t pretty. Often, it was sad. I’m sharing these details because a lot of that behavior probably wasn’t necessary. The methods sprinkled throughout the aforementioned post on creative productivity are healthier ones — they take more courage to embrace and implement than those that are more in line with a standard “tortured artist” approach.

Support

Peer support engenders courage and helps strengthen work ethics and “pressures” us to put in the time. This has been proven, so I’m not going to go much further into it. Asking for and leaning on peer support is how we test the waters. We get naked in front of our friends — or like-minded strangers that share the interests and passions that drive us to create — and we see what happens. Maybe we react by rushing back into our clothes. Maybe, on certain occasions, this is necessary for the moment, until we return to try again. Alternatively, maybe we decide we’re okay to show more people our goodies.

Focus

I don’t think I ever would have reached an inner layer of creative expression without a consistent dedication towards focus. At times, I have perhaps been too focused. Sometimes, it’s important to lay back and let the eyes go hazy. For the most part, though, focus is an essential condition for gaining the perspective needed to find your voice over time. It can be a challenge, here and now, to maintain focus. There’s frequently a lot going on around us, and there’s more available to use in terms of distraction or procrastination than there has perhaps ever been before. That only makes dedicating ourselves to The Pursuit all the more crucial. Testing and developing systems is what’s working for me at the moment. I’m not always perfect about sticking to them but I’m starting to get good and always coming back to them as a penitent after I’ve strayed.

Conclusion: It’s Simpler Than We Think

I know this is a very simple list. That’s intentional. My own progress has historically suffered from a bit of ping-ponging between advancement and retreat over the past several years. More often than not, this happened because I was complicating the artistic process, and/or refusing to accept how simple all this really can be, if we have courage, put in the time, seek help and remain steadfast. As simple as it all is, it’s not easy. It’s not supposed to be.

Life often wars with art. In the rush to survive to keep on creating, we can become bogged down by necessity, smothered by doubt. But the beauty of true creativity is that it does not return life’s blows. Creation, in all of the above terms, is a regenerative process. That is the most important lesson I’ve learned in recent months.

Once all the clothing and the armor has been stripped away, once we are naked and vulnerable to whatever may come — it is then when we find our power. Because there’s little left to fear, no where else to hide.

At this point, we can’t help be anything but ourselves and no one can truly touch us who hasn’t brought himself or herself to a similar state.

If we become hurt in our exposure, there’s always the option of re-covering and re-armoring ourselves. But, in doing this after reaching a vulnerable state, we gain an immense advantage of knowing that can lead to remarkable accomplishment. We also always have the option of mobility — we can not only strip but we can also run naked through the streets if we are chased.

This, at the very least, should draw some attention.

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