Today I'm engaged in repetitive work, putting together packaging, assembling necklaces, stitching beads on baskets, and sitting at the computer for hours to work on graphics. I enjoy all this, up to a point. I have to use distraction and bribery to get myself through this last phase of the creative process when it requires assembly line work or being chained to a computer for hours.
This last phase of the creative process* is called proliferation. It involves reproduction, packaging, and marketing a creative work.
This last phase of the creative process is the most neglected among artist and musicians. We create because we like to make something new out of ideas and raw materials. Many of us also create because we hope the things we make will be meaningful or at least entertaining to others. But no one will encounter our work unless it's given legs of its own to venture beyond the confines of the artist's studio.
As an artist/musician/writer/educator, I work for myself, by myself, most of the day. I'm learning to be sensitive to the needs of my creative process, while running a small business.
I'm the business manager, but I'm also the art department, marketing consultant, accountant, admin support, public relations, product development, travel agent, computer tech, database manager, licensing/legal, print shop, mail room, purchasing agent, inventory control, and cafeteria chef, all rolled into one. As business manager I'm required to be financially responsible, organized, plan ahead and follow through even when it isn't any fun.
Managing my creative side, really allowing time for it to manage me, requires a completely different set of skills.
Creative work in it's earliest stages has to be play or it just doesn't happen. When I sit down at the piano to write or slice off a fresh slab of clay to sculpt, I don't know what I'm going to end up with, if anything. Results are far from guaranteed. It's all about enjoying the process, following it where it leads. I start with raw materials, a stretch of time and an image or a concept or a feeling or nothing at all. Things progress spontaneously rather than sequentially.
Sometimes, after several hours of intense effort, all I have is a better idea of where I might be going and a pile of pages covered with scribbled words, or used up materials that have to be tossed out. Sometimes the results are so unexpected that I feel as if they've arrived by divine providence.
Creative play/work doesn't follow a typical business model.
A good boss for a creative person plans for spontaneity by not packing the schedule too tightly. A good boss for a creative person arranges for abundant materials to be on hand and easy to find. A good boss for a creative person shields the artist from concerns about finances and marketability while the artist is developing something new.
A good boss for a creative person actually realizes that the artist is the employer, not the other way around.
Am I the kind of boss I enjoy working for? A Beneficent Boss?
I try to be a good boss. When I'm working intently, I try to remember to give myself breaks to get up and stretch, get some food and take care of other necessities. I try to see that I work in a studio, not an office. I try to stay focused on deeper motivations: to be happy, to make a difference in the world, and hopefully have something for paying the bills.
Unfortunately, there are times when I'm a slave driver. The slave driver insists on doing one more thing, then another and another, before I'm allowed to stop for lunch. The slave driver forgets about the artist's need for unscheduled time and makes too many commitments. The slave driver is all about practical applications and marketability, all the time. The slave driver demands that the work space is perfectly picked up and the To-Do List is completely crossed off before the artist is allowed to play.
The slave driver boss threatens to take possession of the artist's successful creations by setting expectations for the artist to produce the same work over and over.
The artist is not a factory worker.
Today, I'm an artist working the assembly line of proliferation. I'm bridging the gap between creating in seclusion and putting a tiny piece of art into the hands of someone who will enjoy it.
I'm pretending not to be doing something repetitious. I'm distracting myself by writing this little essay while the box inserts for Sacred Shards necklaces come out of the printer by the dozens.
Is this efficient? For me it is.
In a little while, I'll rent a couple of sappy movies and pile a plate with snacks, then sit down to cut the box inserts to size, hand stamp 50 or 60 box lids, assemble necklaces, and sew beads on baskets. There'll be a break to teach a couple of voice lessons early in the evening. Then it's back to the assembly shop for a couple hours to meet a deadline coming up this weekend.
If I do this, the good boss has promised me some uninterrupted time to write songs, play with clay and dig in the garden. Just as soon as this big push is all over. I'm trusting the good boss to follow through.
* For more on the phases of the creative process [Creation, Realization, and Proliferation] see Bill Pere's articles at:
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