The Artist’s Path: An Exploration into Consistency as the Middle Way
As a nurse, I care for people of every race, religion, sexual orientation, attitude, and family dynamic. Care does not discriminate, nor do I. In taking care of such a wide range of individuals, I’m often surprised and intrigued by what I uncover about the humans I care for.
One of my patients had a secret talent. After three days of caring for him, I learned from the doctor that the patient was a phenomenal artist. The doctor heard from the patient’s friend. Curious, I approached my patient, “Tell me about being an artist?” He said, “Well, what do you want to know?” I said, “What’s your art? Your medium? What art do you go about arting?”
He explained that he’s a painter. He’s been painting since the age of four. He can render any image into an exact replica on canvas. He’s so good that he’s had people approach him about creating counterfeit art. They offered good money, but after some thought, he said, “I told them no.”
It’s no coincidence that as we’re talking I’m thinking about my writing. I’ve been wrestling with my art the last several weeks. I’ve explored many avenues with my writing in the last couple of years but I hit a wall again and again. My writing has slowed to the pace of a blooming flower. I journal with vigor about the need, want, and desire to write. I write words on a blank page. But then never return to them. My publishing rate has dropped to a low level. And I’m turning in circles, wearing holes in my shoes.
The artist went on to explain that he’d get a build up of energy like, “I just had to paint.” An image would enter his mind and stay. A pressure built in his head. Any new thoughts or ideas stifled in the presence of the one idea that wouldn’t go. Painting was the only answer. “I’d paint for hours or days. I’d get it all out of me. And then it would be gone,” he said. He paints by pressure alone unless someone specifically asks him to make a painting.
I asked if he could draw me something, since we don’t have paint, but he said he didn’t know what to do. He didn’t feel like it. “No pressure,” I said.
I walked out of the room and returned to the nurse’s station. Pressure. And no pressure. Inspiration. And no inspiration. The game of the artist.
The pressure builds to a point that you can’t sit back anymore. You must take action. No matter the quality, you must at least take action. Relieve the pressure. And go on your merry way. But know that the pressure will build again, and you’ll be called back to your art, again and again. Maybe you like the back and forth, the tug-o-war between your logic and your art. But maybe you don’t. The cycle can be broken by adhering to the middle way.
The Buddha suggests that enlightenment can be found between the extremes. And while I don’t need enlightenment, I desire a path that centers my being, keeps me focused on the heart, and allows me to endure, experience, and explore life in a way that satisfies, heals, and integrates. The philosophy of the middle way can be a source of continual inspiration for any artist, myself included.
What fruit can blossom from consistency?
Consistency, or practice, centers the soul. Consistency is a guide, ever returning your attention to the heart of the matter, the why, the work, the play, the life. There’s a quietness in consistency and commitment that allows the flow to keep flowing and life to keep giving.
The artist explained that his friends and even strangers would praise his work and encourage him to do something about it. The quality of his art is worthy of great galleries and great money. But he reservedly shook his head and said, “No,” time and time again. Despite the urges of the Universe, the sirens calling to him from as close as they could possibly get, he turned away. He engaged in the cycle of extreme creation and extreme stagnation until he reached a point where he no longer created.
Where could he have been if he had heeded the call? Where would his art be today? What homes and people would proudly boast the art on the walls? What beauty would be dispersed in the world? What inspiration would fill hearts and move souls?
When you engage in the cycle of extreme creation and extreme stagnation you open yourself to the struggle of the return and the possibility of never returning. It’s harder to sculpt, mold, and transform the puddy of inspiration as it rebuilds itself within you each successive cycle. Inspiration will only call so many times before it leaves you empty handed as the artist who wouldn’t commit.
I’ve never been a gambler. Why should I gamble with my art? And why should I deprive the world of the beauty and inspiration that could arise by sharing my work? Who am I to think that the world doesn’t need it? Who am I to believe that it’s too hard or not worth it? Who am I to turn down the call to heal the planet at a time when we so desperately need it?
Answer me this:
What art are you not creating today that could serve humanity in profound ways?