I got the following question. Here’s how I answered it.
Dear Dr. Maisel:
I’ve been so mentally distracted by the news lately that I’ve had a lot of trouble getting motivated to paint and then staying focused when I do. Any thoughts on what I might do?
Agitated in Atlanta
Dear Agitated (if I may):
Yes, I think the following point of view can help. Each of us has multiple life purposes, not just one life purpose—that is, many things are important to us, not just one thing. Those life purposes might include creating, maintaining strong family relationships, being of service, taking principled political action, and so on. Every day is a day to live our life purposes—no matter what is going on in or with the world.
One day you may want to take principled political action or in some other way engage in activism; but on another day, you are completely entitled to do your art and indeed you ought to do your art, so as to honor your multiple life purpose choices. You would say, “This too matters” (even though we can always doubt whether art “really” matters) as you hold this rich, rounded view of life, that you indeed must care about the world but that you must also attend to your other important meaning opportunities.
You might also decide to engage in activist art, that is, in art with specific political or social intentions, like the art of Goya. This might be a way to marry your creative needs with your social activist needs. But no person is obliged to marry their needs in this way. If you want to keep your art “over here” and your activism “over there,” that is a completely legitimate choice. The point is the following one: the news of the day, however agitating it may be, must not keep us from living our life purposes; if it does, we end up passive and demoralized.
As to growing distracted while you work, maybe because the news of the days is still agitating you or for some other reason (there are lots of reasons why we get distracted as we try to create), the following is the most important single strategy to learn: to only think thoughts that serve you. If, while you’re painting, you hear yourself say, “That fire in California is still raging out of control” or “I wonder whether I’ll still have health care tomorrow?” you must say to yourself, “No, that thought isn’t serving me.” The thought may be a true one—that fire may indeed still be raging out of control—but that it is true doesn’t make it a thought that serves you to think.
If you can master this bit of cognitive brilliance, to only think thoughts that serve you, you will find yourself much less distracted and agitated as you paint; and much more able to live all of your life purposes.
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I was feeling the same- no focus to paint ( or read); my niece showed me a painting she wanted and I offered to paint her something similar ! It really was a blessing and motivated me because I made a commitment ! Now I hope to keep it going ( and read too:)!! Thanks for helpful article explaining life focuses!
Get that pallet knife and grab that tube of raw umber and create a wild emotional portrait of your political enemy. Let your brush fibers yell and scream at the injustice of it all.
That shattered glass n the kitchen floor will become tnhe lines of buew you feel.
Do that and you will splash onto your art.
Painting mindlessly and making it about someone else’s goal is discouraging as far as expressing art. It is demotivating, and at times debilitating. Sometimes mindless vicarious expression of someone else’s vision must take place to afford supplies to make art about me. If it is about ‘me’, regardless of the subject matter, then it is art. The other is commerce.
-Passive and demoralised, yes, I feel like I am knocking these two doors.
I feel so isolated lately, I’m in Europe, well the same world, we’re one…
Mastering my mind on how to think and act is not always easy…
I feel blocked more frequently, but I also try so hard to put that paint on the board at the same time (even if it doesn’t feel like “I’m painting”), because I know that if I don’t have that paint stain on my fingers I’d feel worst…
I hear all the news around the world. Understand many languages. I can’t close my eyes/ears. But I am a tiny human to carry all the weight of humanity… Those news are pulling me down to the bottom of the well.
I shouldn’t complain. Painting is my rope in the that well. I just need to act.. Move, move, move..