The Gap Between Creativity and Making Art


This week, I realized the time is now. The time is now to stop being anti-racist and start acting anti-racist. The time is now to care for our neighbors. The time is now to put the love you have, in whatever form and however imperfect, out into the world.

I’ve been struggling with the-gap-between-creativity-and-making-art since I graduated from Hampshire College six years ago. My job as a student and artist back then was to create, so I did. However, procrastination and perfectionism have since become major barriers to getting work done, or even starting it.

My friend Sarah recently mentioned the Ira Glass quote about producing work, finding momentum, and eventually overcoming the doubt, even if the work is terrible for a while. Evelyn From The Internets has a great reflection on this:

Here’s the quote:

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you.

A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work.

Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take a while. It’s normal to take a while. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.” –Ira Glass

The effort I put into the space between my desire to create and actually putting the brush to the canvas (or any variety of creative endeavors) is not serving me. My career is in higher education, not art, so I’ve been putting off this art thing that I love and am not terribly confident in anymore. The urge to create doesn’t disappear, though; it gets buried further and further down where it’s more difficult to find. And this week, given the circumstances, these excuses that were so good before don’t hold up anymore.

So what’s your thing and what are you doing about it? I would love for us to keep each other accountable. The time is now.

Interdisciplinary Learning: What pottery taught me about commitment and my creative process


Bisque fired bowls

Interdisciplinary study in any subject has the potential to provide new perspectives, inform processes, and adjust priorities.

I love art, but as a mixed media painter who is also a full-time higher education administrator, I sometimes struggle to prioritize creativity; painting doesn’t pay the bills, it requires time to set-up, space where I can be messy, and dedication to consistently return to the work.

When I began my first pottery class in January 2015, I learned that throwing on the wheel was more technical than I anticipated and the clay much more temperamental. In my first four classes, I made two very small and very heavy bowls. I also decided to never try pottery again; it was too hard and not very enjoyable.

A full year later, in February 2016, I signed up for a semester-long class in the same studio with a different teacher. I attended my weekly 2 ½-hour class, learned new techniques, and scheduled independent studio time outside class. Sometimes I would eat lunch at my desk, run over to the studio, and spend a quick 30 minutes of lunch trimming a pot or glazing a cup. In other words, I put in the hours. The consistency and dedication began to pay off. Five months into the process, I’m consistently surprising myself.

Floating Blue Bowls

For those who are unfamiliar with the process of creating a wheel-thrown piece, here are the basics. In my studio where the kiln runs every few days, the above process can take 3-6 weeks:

  • Throw something on the wheel
  • Allow to dry for a few days
  • Trim
  • Bisque fire in kiln
  • Glaze
  • Final fire in kiln

So what does pottery teach me about painting? Pottery reminds me that it takes time to become even slightly skilled at a new activity. On the surface this is an obvious lesson, but think back to the last time you tried something completely new: learning a new language, trying a new physical activity, or making a new friend. It’s easy to rely on activities in our comfort zones. For me, 2D art is comfortable; 3D art is in stretch territory. By embracing that I knew nothing about pottery, I allowed myself to fail, put in the hours to get better, and celebrate small wins. Imagine the possibilities if we apply these principles and techniques with something that’s already comfortable? If I embraced failure, commitment, and recognizing success at work, for example, I would be a much more effective leader and team member.

Furthermore, throwing on the wheel reminds me how crucial space and time are to my creative process:

  • Space = the physical place where I create and the mental space to focus on it
  • Time = consistent times in my schedule devoted solely to art

I paint with acrylics, often using a watercolor-like application, and incorporate materials such as graphite, paper, or thread. As the paint requires time to dry between layers (just as the stages of clay work require time) I paint three or four pieces simultaneously. By committing to this process, I am eager to see what I create and how my painting experience may change.

Preparing for Failure on the Path to Success

life path
(Liz Looker)

Success, however we define it for ourselves, can appear out of reach when we only see the “end product” or major achievements of others’ journeys. Most people (especially fantastically famous ones) fail somewhat regularly. EVERYONE fails. It took me over 25 years to realize that if I’m not occasionally failing, I’m living with so much safety and hesitancy that I’m destined for mediocrity. Some people are content with maintaining the status quo, but I’d rather do something big. So I’m learning to embrace failure, and I’ll share a story that involuntarily launched me into this mindset:

In Fall 2014 I applied to seven competitive sociology PhD programs. Whenever someone asked me what I was up to, from catching up with old friends to meeting completely new people, I shared that I applied to grad school and would be starting next fall. At least I was confident!

Up to that point, I was a high-honors student in a large New York State public high school, graduated with a research-focused liberal arts degree in Western Massachusetts, served in AmeriCorps for a year, worked in nonprofit development and marketing, and was two years into managing curriculum and course materials at the MIT Sloan School of Management. While I was working I completed four graduate-level courses through Wheelock and Harvard; just because I love the classroom and learning new skills. Life wasn’t without challenges, but when it came to academics and intellectual curiosity, I was positive a PhD in sociology was my next step.

I’m sure you can see where this is going: I didn’t get in. Not a single school wanted me that year. It hadn’t occurred to me that I might not get in. When the seventh rejection email arrived, even after the first six, I wasn’t prepared.

It took me a while to manage the overwhelming feeling of failure. Not only because I was rejected, but because education is extremely important to me and it’s a big part of my identity. It was frustrating to quantify how many hours of effort I put into the application process – from taking the GREs to researching faculty to writing essays – which amounted to nothing.

Failure is fascinating. We need to prepare for it, because if we challenge ourselves, we should fail. However, we must not dwell in the possibility of failure, because we will eventually succeed. Maybe it’s not the path we originally planned, but something good will happen by working toward different variations of what we want with persistence.

After my experience of failing without preparation, I now try to pause during times of uncertainty and reflect on the possibility of multiple outcomes. By working toward peacefulness and acceptance of myself, right now as I am, regardless of other people’s decisions or even my own achievements, I am building a strong foundation of resilience.

I didn’t apply for PhD programs again this fall. Instead I decided to continue progressing in my higher education work and slowly earn my masters degree part-time, then apply again when the time feels right. It’s not as exciting as throwing myself into the sociological research and classes I love; but I made a decision to not allow an admissions committee to dictate my self-worth. And that’s a step toward success.