The Problem with the Perfect Space

The characteristics of a perfect creative space are as varied and subjective as the myriad individuals who utilize them. What makes an ideal space for one may be abhorrent for another. One writer, for example, may prefer the solitude of a quiet room with a closed door while another prefers the white noise and human bustle typical of the neighborhood café. One painter may prefer En plein air while another longs for the consistency of the indoor studio. Too, such preferences alter in response to related personal needs and emotional states.  Perhaps yesterday the objective was to get out of the house and away from the dirty dishes, making the coffee shop, where the dishes are someone else’s concern, more conducive to working. Tomorrow the concern may be reducing caffeine intake and limiting sugary snacks, making the library a more attractive choice. Artists intuit this about themselves and constantly adjust to get their creative work done.

Artists also know that physicality of space is important to the creative process. The painter/sculptor must be able to make a mess; the musician must make noise without raising the ire of neighbors; the photographer must have space to store and use specialty equipment; and the writer must have something hard on which to write or a place to set the computer upon which she types. In developing one’s place of creativity, it may be useful to know that quiet is generally considered more conducive to creating than noise, that large spaces dissipate energy and small spaces channel it, that distractions can prove homicidal to focus. But more importantly is intention to create.

One of the ways artists undermine their intentions to create is to focus on acquiring a perfect creative space – even waiting to create until everything about a space is perfect. Manuscripts are postponed until the perfect house on the perfect lane with the perfect view are purchased, occupied and decorated. Musical arrangements delayed until the ideal music studio secured. Great paintings left imaginary until just the right cooperative opens up. Then, once the perfect space is acquired, the artist becomes paralyzed by that very perfection. The writer is so stunned by the view beyond the windows of their dream writing space they never write a word. The painter becomes afraid to make a mess in their newly built studio with its hardwood floors. The sculptor becomes distracted by loft-mates and other artists in the cooperative she joined. The perfect space, then, is just another way perfectionism can thwart an artist’s efforts.

The intention to create, then, is at least as important as one’s creative space.  Is it really the thought of those dirty dishes that interferes with creating, or is it fear of facing the blank page, empty canvas or block of stone? Is it fear of success? Or is the thought of those dirty dishes a distraction meant to delay the creative process and temporarily keep the ego comfortable? Will the perfect creative space really make you better at creating, or will the act of creating make you better at creating?

Take into consideration other professions in which lack of distractions is crucial to success. You would not want your dentist to be distracted by a stunning view while performing your root canal. Give the same level of focus to your creative work by providing your creative process with as much consideration as a surgeon gives the patient beneath his scalpel.

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