Getting Stuck

"Creative" work--that is, making something, out of nothing, by yourself--may seem like relaxing fun to folks who have never tried it.

In reality, the nature of doing anything creative is to be engaged in an act that is essentially about uncertainty. And uncertainty, as we all know, can be stressful.

Any honest artist will tell that they really don't know what they are going to do until they do it, and even then, they aren't sure what they are doing until they finish, and even then, they often don't know what they just did.


That level of uncertainty takes a lot of faith to get through--faith that you'll come out the other side with something to show for your uncertain work.

Creativity also takes the ability to stay in the moment, without too much worry or regret.

Plus creativity calls for plain old work habits, developed over many years of practicing one's craft.



Take my Johnson Farm project as an example:

I have the faith that standing out in a field in Canaan, Vermont, just looking at colors in the landscape for hours at a time, is a worthwhile activity.

I have the training as a painter to stay in the moment, and coordinate my brush to my eye.

And I have the work habits of a professional artist, propelling me up here with my easel  at regular times throughout the year.

But I could easily get stuck if I examined my faith too closely. Why should I believe that my many hours of standing here alone, looking at the fields and wetlands of the Johnson Farm, will "amount" to anything?

Farmers and biologists, economists and environmentalists, even the bear and duck hunters I meet out here, have a clear and defined relationship with this land.

They have a reason to be here that's easy to understand.


But what role does an artist, working only with her subjective reactions to light, shape, and hue, play here?

"Johnson Farm Study 10", 12" x 12", oil on linen panel

Maybe an artist's contribution is the very act of attempting to say something in spite of uncertainty, for no motive other than paying careful attention.

Sensitive and honest looking by a painter can add value to a place for all who view it afterwards. Think how Winslow Homer has changed how we see Maine, or Monet's impact on how we see the French countryside.

That's where an artist's faith comes in, that hope that others will experience a place a bit differently, will care more, because of the way we saw, and recorded, that place.

But truthfully, creative work isn't done just for others. It's also selfish work.

Landscape painters love being left alone to stand in a field, undisturbed by anything other than themselves.



Alone...but not alone. When I am painting outside at the Johnson Farm, my head is a very crowded place.

There's me saying, "It's hot out here!", or "that red is all wrong..."

I hear are my old painter friends Cezanne or Corot, dead for a hundred years, telling me how they would tackle that tree and sky.

A contemporary artist pushes into the conversation to taunt me--"I could do better than fact, I wouldn't even be wasting my time out here painting a dumb landscape!"

I keep painting, trying to ignore everyone's voice, including my own.

This struggle to get something, anything, down on canvas is between just three of us: nature, my eye, and my heart.

The last time I was up at the Johnson Farm, I had hours of false starts, then finally a painting held together enough for me to feel like I had something to show for my hours of uncertainty.

I packed up, looking forward to a long, peaceful, twilight drive home--and discovered that, down a long farm track and in the middle of a hidden hay field--my battery was dead.

I trudged up to Farmer Cy Nelson's barn, where a kindly worker offered to come down and give me a jump after chores.

I walked back to the car, waited, did one more drawing, and wondered if my battery would revive.

More uncertainty, and that's ok.