“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is today.” – Chinese Proverb
I planted my art tree twenty years ago around the age of thirty when I made the decision to follow my dream. Now I’m living it. I’m a working artist with five solo exhibitions under my belt and my first in a public gallery later this year. I get to sell my work and travel for art research and contribute to great publications.
This is in addition to my work as a psychologist and psychoanalytic psychotherapist with a twenty-year-old established practice in Prahran, Melbourne.
When I wake up, I feel motivated and joyful almost every day. I have a sense of purpose. But maybe at midlife, you find yourself thinking that you have missed “the best time” or that you are too old to make this change. I believe you can challenge this belief by developing a new routine without waiting to feel motivated or being skilled up before you begin.
Just Turn Up
For years now, I have had a mantra “Just turn up.” I go to my studio every morning at 7 am before I do anything else. I’m there for at least two hours every day. If I can’t make that time, I structure it into my day at another time, even if it means staying up late.
If you have an inkling that you long for an artist career the first step is to take action. Art cannot exist without time put into the making of it. From my experience personally and as a therapist, it is easy to ‘think’ about making art.
Yet without turning up to make the work – to plant the tree and tend to it – the work cannot exist and therefore will not be exhibited, purchased or celebrated. The most important step is to take some sort of action.
It’s Up to You
Have you always dreamt of being a painter, sculptor or a potter like Demi Moore’s character Molly Jensen in Ghost? Do you feel regret that you never took that Life Drawing Course twenty years ago? No need to despair. Focus on now. What step can you take today to move your dream forward?
“I don’t know what my dream is yet,” you say. “I only know I want to be an artist.” Okay, well, that’s enough. Start exploring. Try courses for beginners to discover what you enjoy. Buy a watercolor set. Don’t be stingy, try different mediums. Challenge the belief that you can’t afford the new materials. You need to focus on the small steps towards your dream. Don’t just let them remain as thoughts in your head.
So, you get some materials or join a course. What next? Set up a space somewhere in your home. Make it yours. Then turn up. Schedule a time into your diary. Make turning up a priority. Even if you sit there and doodle for the allocated time. If you have a pen and paper, start by writing three pages non-stop as recommended by Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way.
This takes you out of your ego and into deeper parts of yourself. Just turn up and write or doodle or play with clay. Maybe even stitch. The act of being there consistently will tell your unconscious you are serious. Unexpected things will then happen to support you. Ideas will come to mind while you sit in your creative space. They will come without effort. If you turn up to listen, that is.
Like me, at this time of life, you may feel a sense of urgency to produce and fulfill your dream before it is too late. Use this death anxiety to fuel you to turn up. By committing to a daily routine, this will trigger a series of events each day that will assist your artistic and creative development.
You will suddenly become aware of opportunities and support that comes your way. By selectively focusing on making art and giving it space, suddenly you will notice the world looks different.
The benefits of including art-making daily in your life include feeling confident and more trusting in yourself and others, greater focus and clarity, improved relationships, inner peace and reduced anxiety and fear about death and aging.
Your inner world will become more interesting to you. You will feel more curious and in awe of your thoughts, feelings, fantasies, and dreams. I have often thought that the creative process is a bit like a relationship with a beloved child. We would never neglect that child by spending long periods away from him or her. So why would you do that to the creative child within you?
By committing to be consistent in your explorations creatively, you build trust between different parts of yourself. Even though it is not obvious to anyone else, loyalty to yourself impacts on how you feel about you.
By committing and following through, you create a foundation for relating to yourself in a way that fosters creativity and allows it to flourish. So, I encourage you to take that second best step and plant your own art tree today. You are worth it.
About the Author:
Helen Fraser is an Australian contemporary artist, psychologist and psychoanalytic psychotherapist who helps people understand and love themselves, think independently and fulfil their creative potential. You can sign up for her free monthly newsletter (featuring ‘heART ideas’; the psychology of creative living, news and special offers ) at her website www.helenfraser.net.au and follow her on Instagram @helenfraserartist.