Uncertainty is something I have been more aware of and interested in lately but I’ve learned to accept it most of the time because I know it’s part of the creative process. It is something you can’t divorce from creativity because at its core, creative acts are really the result of it – working out the unknown, problem-solving, embracing change etc.

I’m just at a point where I’m trying to work out a self-induced creative problem that’s been gnawing at me for ages and I’ve been feeling utterly frustrated! So please pardon this more reflective blog on the subject which is the flip side to the ranting that Him Indoors has to put up with on our walks and stomping about the studio in a marked manner 🤨. You will be glad to hear it’s stopped now as I think I’ve come up with yet another solution – this one might stick…

So much has been written on this subject; books, blogs, academic papers all tackle the human uncomfortableness of feeling uncertain, how it is necessary, how to embrace, harness or plan for it in the worlds of art or business. This one quote really sums things up for me:

Uncertainty is experientially primary when it comes to creative thought and action. Uncertainty animates our creative actions and sustains our creative work. Uncertainty is a feature of all creative endeavors. We never know for certain how any creative endeavor will turn out. And, even when we have arrived at a creative outcome, uncertainties remain.

‘There is no creativity without uncertainty: Dubito Ergo Creo’ 2021, R A Beghetto.

I sometimes feel uncertain as an artist. Questions of doubt and lack of clarity will always raise their heads no matter what point you are along the path – a little or a lot of experience behind you. But that’s ok because I know everyone feels this at times and that I don’t feel this all of the time. My life so far has shown me that even if there are pauses, dips and peaks, I am a maker. I just make things because making things makes me happy.

We are naturally more uncertain when developing new skills and/or moving into a different area of practice. Abstract painting is new for me and I know I’m still in Ira Glass’s gap of not being where I’d like to be. But that’s ok, too. I’m learning and enjoying it hugely as well as feeling frustrated and uncertain at times. Those feelings don’t outweigh the general drive and enjoyment though: if I wrote a pros and cons list, the pros would far outweigh the cons.

I’m also uncertain when making a piece of work that is very different to anything I have previously created (which is tiringly frequent as a maker of one-offs!) even when I have have experience and tools to draw on. Wrestling with all the procrastination, trials, fuzzy imaginings and graft of making an idea a reality can be a delicious balance of possibility and problem or feel much more frustrating. I totally feel the remaining uncertainty spoken of above when I finish a piece of work as it could have a million other presences other that the one I gave it, or a better one perhaps. But this is at the heart the creative process – it’s the work.

Art is what we call the thing the artist does. It’s not the medium or the oil or the price or whether it hangs on a wall or you eat it. What matters, what makes it art is that the person who made it overcame the resistance, ignored the voice of doubt and made something worth making. Something risky. Something human. Art is not in the eye of the beholder. It’s in the soul of the artist.

Seth Godin

People often say making art is courageous, I think it is. There is a phenomenon called ‘confirmation bias’ which causes people to narrow their thinking when they’ve already locked onto something they expect. Robbins writes about letting go of certainty and trusting the process – becoming curious (open up rather than narrow down). To do this we have to identify our limiting beliefs, acknowledge change and work on our internal chatter in our head.

As humans, we are programmed to want certainty and safety so it can be a battle to open up our thinking. We feel uncertainty as vagueness, comparison, unfamiliarity, change of plans, insecurity, a hazy outline, blurred lines, unclear direction, living in the grey, fear of judgement… It’s usually uncomfortable!

Creativity is tiring because of this and the millions of big and micro decisions we make in the process. It’s why we need to look after wellbeing, take breaks, enjoy some chocolate buttons 😁 and have a special someone or a tribe to share with. Fields talks about how reducing exposure or judgement allows us to remain open and receptive for longer – its why not sharing everything we do on social media is a good idea, especially when we are working things out. How using daily routines can reduce anxiety and ground us a little – understanding our best items to work, grabbing a coffee, going for a daily walk. And how looking after our general wellbeing allows our brain to recover from willpower which depletes it like nothing else.

It’s been good to have a think about all this; to recognise uncertainty as both the cause and effect of creativity and as the inevitable travel companion. Sometimes we just need to remind ourselves that it’s going to be there at points in the process. I will try and be kind to myself along the way because the delight of making and painting still feeds my soul no end. And I will pack some chocolate buttons for my artist in residence week!

I wanted to end with this, it was posted on Facebook and I don’t know if there is a credit unfortunately – do let me know if you do?

There are 9 concepts in the Japanese culture that improve lifestyle and build resilience. I also think they also help us deal with uncertainty in the most kind and beautiful way. They are not a bad set of reminders to have up somewhere as we deal with our human condition:

1: Oubaitori.

Never compare yourself. Everyone blossoms in their own time in different ways. Don’t judge yourself by someone else’s path.

2: Kaizen.

Continuously improve. Constantly strive to improve across all areas of your life. Small changes accumulate and make all the difference.

3: Wabi-sabi.

Embrace imperfection. Nothing lasts, nothing is complete. Accept your own flaws and those of others. Find beauty in imperfection.

4: Gaman.

Have dignity during duress. Hard times need to be met with emotional maturity and self-control. We need patience, perseverance + tolerance.

5: Ikigai.

Know your reason for being. Define the reason you get up in the morning. Make it something you are good at, passionate about, and that the world needs. THIS is meaning.

6: Shikita ga nai.

Accept and let go. Some things simply aren’t within our control. Accept what you cannot change, and move on.

7: Shu-Ha-Ri

Don’t be wasteful. Everything deserves respect and gratitude. Recognize the value in what’s around you and don’t waste it.

8: Kintsugi.

Repair cracks with gold. Imperfections are a thing of beauty. The journeys we all take are golden. Our flaws are embellishments that make us more beautiful.

9: Omoiyari.

Show consideration for others. Life is better when we care for others. Be thoughtful. Build compassion.

And keep paddling those feet in new waters!