Coming out of a creative rut is not easy. It takes effort, will and courage. I found that, with time, the rut feels comfortable, and even the most uncomfortable feelings become companions, a sort of comrades during the desert pilgrimage. You walk around feeling out of focus, distracted by anything and everything, unable to move towards a goal, any goal. All you want is to get to the next water-fountain, so you can keep walking, aimless to arrive at….nowhere.
It is not lack of energy, or even a state of depression. In my experience, the rut is a weird transition place. You are shifting weight, the thoughts don’t make much sense and the ideas seem quite disconnected from your own brain, your own senses, or what it used to be like when you were doing something creative. In the rut, nothing is like it used to be and even the very act of getting down to it, holding the brush, or the pencil, or whatever is the instrument of your own creative work, feels a bit strange, more like a fraud, really.
During the weeks in this place, I decided to embrace this state: I would not force it, and I closed the door of my studio. Instead, I would read other stories, other books, find other interests. I organized my house, painted the walls, read different books, took my camera for a walk and watched a lot of documentaries. I studied french and took a short trip to Virginia, to see the family. After weeks of that, I had come across very interesting things, like some books:
A great paper back about the life and work of Pierre Bonnard. When I was in Paris, I visited the exhibition at the D’Orsay and fell in love with his work. I found a great documentary on the french Art channel here: Pierre Bonnard: Les Couleurs de l’intime;
While watching and reading about Bonnard, I came across the incredible photography of Henri Cartier-Bresson;
The Cello Suites – J.B. Bach, Pablo Casals and the search for a Baroque Masterpiece – by Eric Siblin, a well written book about Bach and the famous cellist Casal, who at 80 something said that he still practiced the cello 5 hours a day “because I think I’m making progress“;
Visiting the Phillips Collection Museum in Washington, DC I bought a book about Color – by Victoria Finlay, absolutely fascinating about the origin and making of colours, the same ones I use on my paintings and we use for everything else;
Of course, times in the rut call for a self-awareness help book, and “The Untethered Soul” by Michael A. Singer was an excellent read.
Then it was time to take my chances and, as you do when you enter cold waters, I dipped my toes in the studio “just mark making and trying to listen, giving it a chance to see what comes out”, I said to myself, because in the rut, you doubt your abilities and when you doubt, you don’t really want to risk getting a dreaded confirmation.
After hours of making marks, covering it up, turning the canvas upside down and up again, struggling really, I had enough of the “you don’t know what you’re doing” shit in my head and “She bears the dust of the roads” happened from following a line. A life-line, I should say.
Although I’m not sure if the rut is over, I can well say that I don’t dread it anymore. Rut or no rut, it is important to know, despite all the distractions, blurriness, confusion, frustration and tears, what you are. And I am an artist.
Artistry also comes in culinary. The Chef’s Table – a Netflix series is not just about food, but about artists making food. A must see.
One of the jewels I found, was this quote from the Argentinian Chef Francis Mallman.
When in Paris, he was asked to cook for the big shots of Cartier and after the meal, this is what happens:
[sic] “Mr. Mallmann, this was a really horrible meal. I think you have to think what you’re doing, because it wasn’t quite right. I want to say this in the nice way to you, because I see a lot of effort in what you do, but this was not french food.
I looked at him and I said “Sir, thank you very much“, but in my inside I thought: “this guy doesn’t know what he is talking about, he is not a chef, he is french, he does beautiful watches and jewels, but, you know, what does he know about cooking?” I went home to sleep, with that, and I’ve never forgot it. It was something heavy on me.
In time, I realised that he was right. I wasn’t doing the right thing, i was just trying to copy exactly what I had learned. And I think that, that happens in every craft in life. You’re young, you have a master, you want to emulate and do what he does, but at some point in life, you have to turn around and say, I have to find my own way, my own language.”
I guess that is what the rut is about, after all: finding my own language.