A few weeks ago I exchanged emails with another artist. Our conversation began when she wrote:
“Many years ago I was in an interior design program (loved it but didn't complete the program). I was the oldest student by far. One of the instructors, speaking on individuality and the business and future of the interior design profession said, "...and there is room for every one of you."
That statement has always haunted me. First, how did she know I doubted just that thing. Second, how can that be true? The more I thought about it, I thought it must apply to artists, too.
I have just finished a quilt which took over my life for about a month. While working, I listened to sewing-related podcasts and came upon some really excellent content. But, the more I listened, the more I learned about what wonderful resources, unique artists, processes, possibilities, and on and on and on...I stopped listening because there was just so much I wasn't doing! It was easy to feel inadequate.
Back to the question. How can there be room for all of us? Is there room for all of us? Why? Does the planet really need another person making quilts?”
Deborah’s questions tapped a universal issue. Sort of a sewer’s version of the age old existential query: “Why am I here?”
It’s easy to feel inadequate and then let that feeling allow you to give up. Quit going to the studio. What’s the use?
To tell you the truth, I suffer from feelings of inadequacy all the time. Despite the many successes I’ve had, I still worry about what will be next, will I be outrun by younger, smarter, more Internet savvy artists and/or teachers? Just last week someone in a class handed me a new book on creativity and raved about it. Of course I’ve written a book on creative process that’s being released next May. I didn’t want to hear about the other book. I was too fearful that it would undermine my confidence about my own contribution to the field.
I laughed at the question of whether the planet needs another quilt! For awhile I resolved to only use Spoonflower.com to get my artist fix. I could design online and never actually order anything. It seemed like the perfect resolution to wanting to “make” without adding more “stuff” to the already overloaded planet. But that didn’t last very long. I missed the hands-on part of mucking around with dyes and paints. Plus I know a lot about dyes and paints and why shouldn’t I enjoy what took me so long to master? :)
Anyway, I don’t know that there’s a satisfactory answer. We could do a hierarchy of what people spend their extra income on - is sewing/quilting “better” than a gas guzzling sports car or an expensive boat or a gun collection? OR designer clothes and shoes? OR $200. haircuts? That’s all subjective and in my world falls under the category of “refrain from judging” because it never does any good.
I DO know that what does good - the process. Human beings benefit from being engaged in creative efforts no matter what they are. It turns on endorphins in our brains and makes us feel good. It keeps our minds sharp when we analyze and learn new skills. What we make isn’t as important as the making itself. And that’s why there’s room for everyone.
Just as there are many paths to the same spiritual source, there are many paths to engaging in a creative life. And we need every single teacher, and every single book, that encourages us to seek it, because different approaches resonate with different people.
Now that doesn’t mean everyone will achieve the same level of success - whether in making art or in writing books - and that’s definitely disappointing. Which is why I think it’s so important to do the kind of deep thinking my new book encourages. People are happier, and more satisfied when they are in touch with WHY they work and WHAT they want to achieve. It’s all about alignment - which is what I call it when what you love to do and what you’re good at doing are the same thing. When that’s the focus, the process can slow down - you’re willing to spend more time on whatever it is you do because it’s about the quality not the quantity. And then there’s less stuff on the planet and the “stuff” that’s been made is higher quality. It’s a win-win!