Artists and Writers in Ecstasy

It’s not unusual for artists–painters, sculptors, writers, dancers, musicians–who are at work to be in a state of bliss, a state of ecstasy. Their enjoyment is deep, their focus uncommon, intense, and virtually super-human. Time means nothing at all and self-consciousness and self-awareness disappear. Every thought is solely of the task at hand. They have no attention left to think of anything else. There is only they and the work; all distractions, all worries, all fears, all self-doubts, and all impediments are gone—an extraordinary state of existence.

sunset-100367_640Fully absorbed, there is a rightness about everything they do; their every action is sure. The possibility of failure is of no concern. They need nothing more than the brush in their hand, their fingers on the keyboard, dancing slippers on their feet. There is nothing else—no other pleasure, no other enjoyment–that is more meaningful and brings such rewards. It is as though they are thinking:

This thing that I am doing is essential to my fulfillment and well-being. I will be tenacious; I will persist for long periods of time, not being diverted, and try to make this work I am doing exceptional, applying all the skills I’ve developed. I am finding that my skills are all that I’ve wished for and just right for this work. My mind will be sharp, my energy unstoppable. I will be relaxed and alert too—confident, in balance; in control of all my faculties. I am willing to sacrifice. At times I will forget to eat, forget to sleep. I will block out distractions as best I can. When I reach an impasse, I will ask for help. I will arrange a life-style and personal habits and routines to accommodate my work and will find the time.

 Seeking a Perfect Match of Goals and Skills

Artists begin with a vision of what at last they could become. That is the basis of their goals–a guiding vision. The major factors in achieving creative ecstasy are: being powerfully motivated to succeed, (so powerfully that it is almost impossible to keep you from your work); having the confidence that you will succeed, (if not now, eventually); making decisive choices and pursuing goals that are personally extremely meaningful (few things in your life are as important, possibly nothing is as important); receiving immediate feedback on performance every step of the way (performance feedback and high motivation go hand in hand); and possessing all the skills required to perform the task (no skill is lacking).

Often feedback comes from an external source—a teacher, for example, or mentor, the audience the artist is aiming to please, or in the case of a writer, an editor. But experienced artists have internalized the “rules” of the art and know good work from bad work so well that their most useful feedback comes from themselves. They don’t have to wait for feedback from the outside.

sisters-74069_640Many writers, painters, and dancers—possibly most; possibly most people– don’t give their goals much thought and don’t care if they achieve them. Only a minority do. And if they do care, many aren’t willing to put out the effort to reach them. Research shows that 85% of Americans wait for things to happen. Only 15% are proactive and make things happen. Many people don’t have the first notion of the causes of success or failure or how to achieve their goals—the means that must be involved. But artists in ecstasy are clear and their motivation knows no bounds.

Of special importance to ecstasy and bliss, it seems to me, is the ideal state when the artists’ skills perfectly match the goals the artists aim to achieve. The skills are exactly what’s needed to reach the goals. That means that artists should pursue goals that are not too easy, but not too difficult, based on their assessment of their skills.

 The Alternatives

If your goals are higher than your skills, you won’t achieve the goals and will feel frustration, disappointment, stress, and anxiety.

If the goals are considerably less than your skills and success is guaranteed, you’ll be bored.

Anxiety and boredom alike interfere with work and are signals that your goals need to be changed.

But if you don’t care whether you reach the goal you’ll be indifferent and apathetic.

So if you’re meeting only frustration, disappointment, and worry, you may continually be aiming too high and should lower your sights, not permanently, but until you develop your skills further and are in a better position to reach the goals. Make developing your skills to the highest level your priority, principally through deliberate practice,

And if you’re often bored, set higher goals, you’re aiming too low.

If you’re apathetic, pursue only goals that mean something to you. (I realize this isn’t always possible, such as when you’ve been given an assignment that you dislike but have no choice. But in that case find ways of making the goal more interesting, such as making it a game, as how quickly you can finish the work while still doing a good job).

If you’re often in ecstasy—some artists are every day–the balance between the difficulty of the goal and your skills is perfect.

Things That Are a Little Out of Reach

piano-302122_640The most challenging goals—and those leading to the best benefits–are those that you’re most interested in, are not completely certain you can reach, and will get the greatest satisfaction from when you achieve them. We work harder to get what is a little out of reach—but not too far. When the goals you set are difficult but achievable you’ll have no problem persisting until you achieve them. That happens automatically. If you come up short, all is not lost. Every failure is valuable feedback indicating what needs to be improved.

As your capabilities develop, as they will if you apply yourself, you will have a natural urge to seek increasingly greater challenges, higher performance, and higher achievements. As your skill level rises, so do your ambitions, and a goal that was once powerfully motivating becomes less powerful and needs to be replaced by a more difficult one. You wanted to have your artwork displayed in a gallery. Now it has been, so you want to see it in a more prestigious gallery. Your short story was published and was highly thought of; now you’re aiming for a novel. Your songs are popular, so now you will write a musical.

Setting difficult goals that require considerable work can significantly increase an artist’s motivation and at the same time, his/her performance. Difficult goals are motivating in and of themselves and build a strong sense of self-confidence. You’ll work harder to reach them. Attainable doesn’t in any sense mean easy. To write a good book may take an almost unbelievable amount of effort and persistence. Harder goals will take you to higher levels of performance than easy goals provided you’ve chosen the goals voluntarily and have or can develop the necessary skills.

People put out more effort if they consider the goals difficult, but not so difficult as to be unachievable. Yet, the creative person must also be willing to work hard and long on ambitious projects that verge on the impossible—an epic novel, an opera, a symphony.

The Definition of “Difficulty” All Depends

vincent-van-gogh-85799_640(1)Now the definition of what is a difficult or easy goal depends totally on who you are. For example, a goal that may be impossible for me may be perfectly reasonable for you. Whenever I hear someone say, “The odds of succeeding are one in ten,” I think, What you’re saying is that you think they are one in ten for you. However, they may be one in five for me. I’m going ahead with it because I think one in five is very attainable.

A Little Quiz

A goal is more difficult—and possibly impossible– to reach if you aren’t a hard worker. It’s particularly difficult if you’re lazy. Ask yourself, “How hard a worker am I?” Rate yourself on a scale of one to ten, one being “Not a very hard worker” and ten being “An exceptionally hard worker. I’m inexhaustible.”

Are you a one, a seven, or a ten? It is hard to imagine artists who have reached high levels being anything but tens. They pour tremendous stores of energy into their work. If they are separated from their painting, their writing, their music for more than 24 hours they get nervous; any longer, they get depressed. Artists who are not hard workers are in trouble.

Do you know what the causes are of success or failure in reaching goals?

Do you set artistic goals?

If so, what are they?

Are they clear? Some artists are not any more talented or intelligent than others, but they are far more successful because they have not a single doubt about what specifically they are attempting to accomplish. They are single-minded, with only that supreme goal in mind.

Do your goals match your skills or are they too high or too low?

If they are too high, how will you change them to better match your skills?

Are they a little out of reach? (If yes, that’s good.)

If they are too low, what will you do to make them more ambitious?

How important are they to you?

Not very important

Kind of important

Couldn’t possibly be more important

How do you plan to attain them?

Often when their goals are not properly matched with skills and artists are enduring periods of anxiety, disappointment, or boredom, they try to force themselves, and the work product is usually not up to the artists’ standards. But when in ecstasy and everything is aligned, they are fully functioning and can do no better.

© 2015 David J. Rogers

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14 Comments

Filed under Artists, Becoming an Artist, Creativity Self-Improvement, Developing Talent, Human Potential and Achievement, Goals and Purposes, Motivation, Writers

14 responses to “Artists and Writers in Ecstasy

  1. Wow, we are in sync 🙂 For me, when I started taking my creativity and projects seriously, that’s when I became structured about it – that could just be me, because that happens whenever I take anything seriously, I think :). I write lists, I schedule in time, and now I even set achievable monthly goals omg!
    As for being an inexhaustible worker – well, I’m not that 🙂 I need rest, plus lots of other things require my energy. In fact those other things feed my creativity, so there needs to be a balance, right? But what I am bring more careful about is wasted time.
    Thanks for another thought provoking article, David xo

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    • davidjrogersftw

      Sara, even as I was writing this post, I thought of you and how you seek balance in your life. I could learn from you because my life is very much out of balance, leaning over to the work side rather than the leisure side. My wife continues to remind me to spend more time with my children and grandchildren–time that is never wasted. But quite often, it’s hard for me to pull myself away from work the way you have learned to do. Probably having young children, you have little choice. I admire that balance in you and know that you will benefit greatly from such things as goals and schedules.

      Liked by 1 person

      • You are so right, David. I get so much more of what I want! The thing about being a woman, and a mother, is that we are really forced to spread ourselves out. It’s how society likes us to be, but also I think how we like to be. We need our friends and our family as much as our creativity and our work, and they all feed into one another.

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        • davidjrogersftw

          Well, Sara, very Zen-like–seeking balance in all things. That “spreading out” affected my wife when the children were small and my mother when I was small. You’re right, men have an easier time focusing on a more narrow existence, but I see this changing a bit now with my sons who are part of a generation in which the men are more involved in all aspects of home life. They even get paternity leave when children are born. By the way, minus 30 degrees F windchill again today here in Chicago area.

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        • It can be challenging being a woman, but I would never want to be a man. It seems more difficult somehow, like they are more jammed into their social expectations, with less wiggle room.
          That sounds mighty cold – I have never experienced cold like that before. It is about 20 degrees C here, cool for summer, and raining. A cyclone is hitting the coast north of us, and we are expecting flooding :).

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        • davidjrogersftw

          I’ve always thought it more difficult to be a woman. I’ve found most people would rather be the gender they are. Now I’m turning to your new post. Talk to you there in a few minutes

          Liked by 1 person

  2. David, reading this post and especially your questions at the end, I’m thinking perhaps I should set some goals. But my artistic life thus far has been more like Santiago’s journey in Paulo Coelho’s classic ‘The Alchemist’ where I am on this fantastic pathway and all I have to do is observe the signposts I see along the way to know which way to turn next. And some of those signposts have been more like flashing neon lights and I’m on the ride of my life!

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    • davidjrogersftw

      What a wonderful journey to be on. You are, as the post says, in ecstasy, and I wish you more of the same. Thanks for your comment. Always good to hear from you.

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  3. Ecstasy? Sometimes, perhaps, or more precisely, at different stages in the creative process. And it is not always pleasant. To me, creating my paintings or stories is almost like giving birth. It is a bloody and torturous affair. There is joy in the act of conceiving the project, but not so much of it the painful delivery. It is true, though, that either stage may let me forget time, food and sleep completely.
    I’m glad I found your blog, David. I shall be back. 🙂

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    • davidjrogersftw

      Ruppert,thanks for your comment. I was in Jerusalem a few years ago and while walking along a cobblestone street thought just that–that people from the age of King Solomon walked on these very stones. What a wonderful setting for a book. I’d like to hear more about it. With regard to the pain of delivery, I was just thinking a few minutes ago, after working hard all day on a book I’m writing, that the day was an ordeal, and I was exhausted and sick and tired of words and wanted nothing more to do with them today. But tomorrow morning at 8:00 I’ll be back in my chair by the computer ready to feel ecstasy all over again. I’m glad we found each other too. Let me know what you’re doing and what you’re interested in, so that it might stimulate my thinking.

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  4. Palisade Hills

    I have to agree with Mr. Ruppert that there are a lot of current emotions that the creation process can bring out of you. While the ecstasy element does come in a way that’s hard to find in other avenues of life. I also couldn’t agree more with the notion that it’s not always talent alone that brings success, but the level of drive and ambition of the individual. I’m in the music field abd I’m sure I’ve came across the “next big (you name it)”, but doesn’t see for themselves that in order to network abd make a name for yourself, you must step out of your comfort zone. Anyway, I just wanted to let you know I enjoyed your writing and I look forward to reading more!

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    • davidjrogersftw

      DeRon, success in any field, including the arts, comes about through a combination of talent and effort. Some people believe more in talent and others believe more in effort. Like you, I tend to believe that some degree of talent must be present, but an awful lot can be accomplished through sheer, hard, determined, dogged persistence. And talent can be wasted without it. The marketing of an artist’s work requires a whole different set of skills than the skills needed to produce it. Most artists would be happiest if the work sold itself, but that rarely happens. And I like the way you put it: People have to be prepared to leave their comfort zone. But after doing that a number of times, a person can become highly skilled at networking and marketing. Thanks for your comment. Hope to stay in contact.

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  5. I’m rather doubtful, David, that anyone’s thinking could be stimulated by reading about my current pursuits—just writing and endless editing—but people like to hear me talk about the life I have lived in the past.
    I have traveled extensively, visiting some 39 countries around the world and working in many of them. For example, roughly fifteen years ago my wife and I went to Egypt where, among other things, we walked 350 miles from the Nile Delta through the Sinai Desert to Mt. Sinai. We just wanted to see how Moses might have felt. I loved it—bleeding feet, aching muscles, the ever present danger of land-mines, the whole thing!
    For most of my life I have made my living as an artist (to see some of my paintings, click on the first link below). At the moment, though, my whole focus is on writing (to find out more about the trilogy I am presently working on, just click on the other link).
    My writing is very much influenced by the way I paint. It is very descriptive and detailed. In fact, someone whom I had asked to read the (almost) final draft of my first novel, told me that it felt like watching a movie.
    My third passion in life is music, and I rarely paint or write without it playing in the background. I don’t like silence when I create. Indeed, I can concentrate best when I sit in a busy coffee shop.
    Well, David, enough said for now (or perhaps already too much). It’s hard for me to stop once I start. Be well.

    My paintings: http://ruppertlindemann.jimdo.com/oil-paintings-drawings/
    My trilogy: http://ruppertlindemann.jimdo.com/books/

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    • davidjrogersftw

      Ruppert, thank you for your comment. The life you lived does sound fascinating, but to me, the reading, writing and endless editing you do is just as fascinating. I’m planning now to write a blog about the importance of a creator’s memory for detail, particularly visual detail, which, based upon your comments, you might find interesting. When I write fiction and poetry, my writing too, like yours, is filled with images. Creating images is one of the greatest pleasures of writing. What you say points out the importance of the artist’s memory because memory is the artist’s stock in trade. I listen to music all day too, from 4:00 in the morning. By the way, when I was young, I wanted to become an Egyptologist. Thanks again for the comment and the links to your work. Stay in touch. I hope you are very productive.

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