October is here and the freshness of a new season in Michigan has everyone here taking deep breaths of the cooled air. There's something about the days growing shorter and pulling out wool in all its forms that has me inspired me to take some time to reset.
Over the previous couple of months I painted a mural for ArtPrize Nine, an international art competition in Grand Rapids. The experience of creating the piece was euphoric for me as an artist, while the competition deemed itself equal parts exhausting and exhilarating. As life likes to do, it simultaneously threw me projects and social obligations, crunching my shoulders down another notch. Headstrong as I may be, I caught myself before running into that wall we like to call "busyness."
Creating art has always been a rewarding experience for me, even during the times that I wrestle with uncertainty and frustration over a piece. After declaring a painting finished, I feel victorious, even if its 1:00 a.m. on a Tuesday and not even coffee will save me the next morning. Recently though, as I caught myself before the wall, I realized that rewarding feeling was escaping me. Instead, the satisfaction of dragging a line through the next item on my to-do list was what I was chasing after.
For those of us who are anxiety prone and tend to spiral before surfacing, you'll understand that stepping back isn't always the most inviting option when you're on the edge of burn out. But I've recognized something that I believe is worth sharing: what is the point of piling up achievements, pages of crossed out to-do's, enough paintings to fill a room, if getting there doesn't bring you joy?
I've come to think of joy as a thing beyond happiness. Being happy is like being handed a hot tea on a chilly day, its gone the second you drop and spill it on the sidewalk. Being joyful is the gift of untouchable satisfaction. Artists like to talk about passion and how it fuels us, but what is fueling passion? For me its joy, whether in multitudes or in lack of, that's the stuff of passion.
This season, I'm not shrugging off my to-do list and hiding under all of those layers of wool I unpacked for fall. But I am moving more slowly, more carefully. I'm stopping to check in on myself and be sure that joy is there as I'm putting color to canvas. Because the paint isn't what makes a piece light up, its the truth behind it and disingenuity is not easily disguised.