10 June 2013

The Artistic Soul: Finding Sanctuary

He appeared upon the upper platform, still bearing the gipsy in his arms, still running wildly along, still shouting 'Sanctuary!' and the crowd still applauding. At last he made a third appearance on the summit of the tower of the great bell. From thence he seemed to show exultingly to the whole city the fair creature he had saved; and his thundering voice, that voice which was heard so seldom, and which he never heard at all, thrice repeated with frantic vehemence, even in the very clouds, 'Sanctuary! Sanctuary! Sanctuary!
~ Victor Hugo, The Hunchback of Notre Dame


E
very artist needs a sanctuary.

A place of positive energy where imagination and creativity can live and play without fear of judgment or censure.   A cocoon where your ideas can grow and evolve; a room of safety and nourishment.  A greenhouse for ideas.

There is a Season
A good gardener knows that you cannot transplant before the root system is established and the plant has grown strong enough to withstand the changing environment outside.  Put it in the ground too soon, and the sun will scorch the tiny leaves, and excess rain will drown and rot the tender roots.  But transplant at the right time, and the plant will adapt, grow, and thrive despite (or because of) Mother Nature’s volatile personality.

So too with creative ideas.  They need time to grow, and put down roots before being exposed to an outside opinion.

In other words, criticism is a lot like manure: too fresh, and the plants burn to death.  But put on at the right time, and you'll get the sweetest watermelons you've ever tasted!

In How I Wrote My First Book: The Story Behind the Story, author Christine Amsden quotes Orson Scott Card as saying that “before a writer can turn out worthy material, each one will generate at least one million words of pure crap.” 

Yes, there is a time for critiques, edits, ink-filled pages balled up in the trash, painted-over canvases, and discarded notes and lyrics.  But not when the ideas are just beginning to sprout.  You need the time and the space to create your one million words/canvases/music notes of crap. 

And you can’t do that unless you have a sanctuary.

Definition
So just what is a sanctuary?

The Etymology Dictionary defines “sanctuary” as
from Late Latin sanctuarium "a sacred place, shrine,” also "a private room.”  By medieval Church law, fugitives or debtors enjoyed immunity from arrest in churches, hence transferred sense of "immunity from punishment" (late 14c.).

General (non-ecclesiastical) sense of "place of refuge or protection" is attested from 1560s; as "land set aside for wild plants or animals to breed and live" it is recorded from 1879. Under English law, one claiming the right of sanctuary had 40 days to confess and accept permanent banishment.
So not just any greenhouse, but a sacred, private greenhouse, free from punishment.


Ahhh, if only!

Sanctuary. . .from Who or What?
Some artists are blessed enough to have such a room or studio, a place where they can imagine and create undisturbed.  This would be Elysium, and for most artists, it seems just as elusive.  So what if you can’t afford ~ either in time or money ~ such a sacred space?

The key phrase in the definition is free from punishment. 

Even if your sanctuary is a desk in the corner of the living room, or a spot at the kitchen table (some artists actually create better when surrounded by chaos), the most important aspect is that it is designated as an “Artistic Zen Zone.”  While you are imagining and creating, no one is allowed to look at your work in progress.  No one is allowed to criticize, comment, or otherwise offer negative opinions ~ no matter how “helpful” they may seem.

And that “no one” includes you.

Because, let’s be honest.  Our harshest critic is sitting in our chair, looking at the blank page/canvas/etc and saying,  
“You can’t do this.” 
“It’s been done before, and by better artists.” 
“Who wants to read what you think?”
“Your mother/father was right: you should have majored in business.”
Nuh uh.  Not allowed.  As Bob Newhart would say, “Stop It!”

Far from the maddening crowd. . .and nosy family members!
Imagining the Good
Artists are blessed with vivid, very active imaginations.  Mine runs like a film, complete with soundtrack, almost 24/7.  So why do we use this incredible power to imagine what we cannot or should not do!? 

I will be the first to admit my guilt here.  I am very good at imagining all the negative things people will say about anything I write, or wear, or cook, or think.  So good at it in fact, that I feel the negative emotions that comes from the imagined criticisms.  This is not healthy, either for the creative spirit, or the body. 

If the whole point of imagining is to bring that imagined idea, story, character, etc, into existence, then by imagining the negative, we are bringing that idea into existence.  If you imagine that you can’t write that novel, then you won’t.  If you don’t believe in it, it doesn’t have a chance.

So, first rule of the creative sanctuary?  You don’t talk about “I can’t.”  The second rule?  Let go and plant as many imagnative seeds as you want.

There will be plenty of time for weeding and pruning later in the season.

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

Do you have a sanctuary?  What does it look like?
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