Making art is like sex: context matters
I’ve been reading Emily Nagowski’s book Come As You Are, which is about women’s sexuality. (I recommend it – it’s well worth a read for people of all genders. I’m quite a fan of hers, and I’ve written before about her book Burnout).
In Come As You Are, Nagaowski explains how each person has a sexual “accelerator”, which responds to sex-related stimulation and gets us in the mood for sex. We all also have a sexual inhibitor, or “brakes”, which responds to potential threats and tells us that sex isn’t a good idea right now.
People vary in how responsive their sexual “accelerator” and “brakes” are. Some people have a very responsive accelerator, so it doesn’t take much to get them in the mood. Other people tend to need things to be “just right” before they get turned on. Same with brakes: some people are more sensitive to “turn offs” than others (like the possibility that you might be seen or heard, having judgments about your own body, or past trauma).
Sometimes one pedal is more sensitive than the other. And just like when you are driving a car, it doesn’t matter how hard you press on your accelerator (with crotchless panties and rainbow unicorn butt-plugs, if that's your thing... no, I'm not putting in the link), if your brakes are on, then you won’t go anywhere fast. (There is a lot more to this, and it’s seriously useful to understand these things about yourself, so go get the book.)
Because I’m obsessed with creative practice, I’ve been thinking about the way a similar mechanism might work for making art. How might the sensitivity of our creative “accelerator” and “brakes” affect our ability to slip into creative flow? What are the equivalents of rose petals and bad breath for making art?
A lot of writing advice goes along the lines of ‘Just write’, meaning, if you wait for inspiration to strike, you will be waiting all your life. This kind of advice says there are no excuses – if you want to write (or create) something, just do it, and if you don’t – it’s your own damn fault.
While I agree with the sentiment that sitting down and creating is key to making art, this kind of advice misses two important things:
1. Obviously, for some people, having the time and space to sit down and create can be challenging for reasons of circumstance. Not everyone has the liberty of waltzing off to a cabin in the woods (hello parents of young children, caregivers of all types, people who need to work long hours and multiple jobs, people with health issues, etc).
2. Some people are more sensitive to context than others, i.e. they have more sensitive creative “accelerators” and “brakes”.
While some people might find themselves inspired amid the smell of cat vomit and children screaming in the morning, others might have more specific things that activate their creative accelerator: like reading delicious poetry, going to a show, drinking strong coffee or cacao, or being in an explicitly “creative” context, like an art gallery or dance class.
And while some people might easily fly into creative flow and stay there, other people get turned off easily: maybe they worry that someone might be looking over their shoulder (this used to be me), they worry that what is coming out isn't any good, they feel looming responsibilities, or get easily distracted.
For me, being in the presence of other people who I trust helps me to get in creative flow. Having deadlines and time limits helps to stop me from getting distracted. Feeling desired, i.e., knowing that there is someone there who wants to witness my creation, can help it to take form. My biggest creative turn off is feeling stressed in other areas of my life.
What about you? What contexts turn you on and off as an artist? Reply and tell me! Acknowledging and understanding the things that help us to get in the mood for creating can be key to being able to take action towards our creative dreams: whether it’s writing a book, creating a series of artworks or simply feeling more connected to our creative selves.
May all beings know their power, and feel supported to bring their unique creative dreams into reality.
With so much love,
P.S. Next year I really want you to make your art and I am offering a new programme to support you to do it.
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