"Keeping Momentum" is a high like no other. When you find what really works, you feel unstoppable. Your success becomes so much more tangible and your pride is palpable. The real secret, which I've really only learned in the past few years, is that being able to keep that intoxicating momentum isn't indefinite or static. You can hit a wall, feel suffocated by the reality of That Thing No Longer Working, and feel like you've lost it all. I used to despair when this would happen and spiral into defeatist thinking, but opening my mind and heart helped me see a new truth.
Changing and adapting are key elements to our surviving and thriving as a species, but those two actions are also just as important on much smaller scales. Looking back, I realize a lot of times where I felt stuck creatively, socially, or just personally were simply times I needed to change how I kept that blissful momentum going. When something finally works, we tend to think it is the end-all of our methods.
Yet how can we encourage each other and ourselves to be open for growth and learning, while casting out the idea that hey... maybe that thing just doesn't work the way it used to and that it's perfectly okay to take pause and switch things up? How can I say I'm growing when I only stick to what I know worked when I was 20, when I am certainly and definitely not going to be 20 ever again, in so many layers of ways?
The concept of good, memorable art only coming from pain or conflict is a heavily romanticized concept that I was all too familiar with when I was much younger. In fact, I was that very idealized and harmful image of the sad, starving artist. I was losing my battle with disordered eating, wrapped up in toxic personal relationships, and deeply and agonizingly depressed. My artwork from that time is intimate and beautiful, but it was drawn from darkness and only darkness. I created every day, mountains of it, and while I feel accomplished looking back, it's an era of my life that I feel is best left behind me.
Over the years, being a happier person made creating harder for me. It sounds ridiculous when I type it out, but it is my truth. I just didn't know how to adapt to this newer, happier, more authentic me. I didn't know how to draw out her creative strengths and work with them because for so long, my art was the furthest from happy as it could be. I felt impotent as an artist, I even felt a little betrayed by myself. It's not as though melancholy and depression had entirely left my life, and far from it, but creating with only those emotions (formerly the richest source of artistic momentum for me) was next to impossible.
I changed my tried and true methods. I forced myself to make art, a concept that for my entire life, was uncharted territory. I sat with myself for a long time and asked "what if I just MAKE myself start again?" when I knew full well "you can't force art" isn't just true for most artists, it was my motto. I had to understand that if what worked before was no longer on the table or accessible, I needed to change to reclaim art for myself and work with it in a way that could fit my new life and my new outlook. Why would I give up a source of comfort and one of the only ways I have ever felt truly myself, expressively and honestly so?
I forced it. I forced revisiting a project that I had mourned the loss of for years, a 365 self-portrait project. I had no faith in myself that first week, but I endured. I forced it, I forced it, I forced it... for no one else but me, just to prove I could and I would. I fell in love with my new creative process and on December 31st in 2017 I took my 365th self-portrait for the year. I was able to keep momentum because I was adapting and growing with myself as I went along. One week I was so ill from Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (my connective tissue disorder), I took several portraits in one night to satisfy myself on numbers. I had to change and step out of my comfort zone to keep my momentum and to ultimately make myself proud.
When you feel yourself losing grip on the thing that's finally working... take a deep breath, pause, and switch gears. You can always keep momentum, but it might not always work the same because we won't always work the same.
Amy Jutras is an artist and writer living in Rhode Island with her husband, wizard father, and cute dog. As a sufferer of chronic pain and illness, she hopes to spread awareness and insight into the lives of disabled creatives with experience and focus on mental health issues as well. She is passionate about sharing life through art and listening to learn.