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Be Mused by Susan M. Brackney
Be Mused : Many Hands Make ...Well, You Know

Be Mused

Many Hands Make ... Well, You Know

Dear Muse,

My creative energy is like a Ping-Pong ball bouncing off the walls, and there are not enough lifetimes for me to accomplish all of my goals. I'm very frustrated, because I can't seem to concentrate on one project at a time or even place them in any order of importance.

Having so many ideas is downright paralyzing, and I'm having a lot of trouble getting anything done. I want to do it all, but I know that is unrealistic. What can I do? — In a Creative Quandary

You do sound rather paralyzed, but you were at least able to concentrate long enough to write to me, so maybe you aren't quite as bad off as you thought. Actually, you are fortunate to have all those creative interests and projects, but that's not what you want to hear just now.

I think the great Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens must surely be your kindred spirit and your polar opposite. In his book, "Masterworks in Berlin: A City's Paintings Reunited," author Colin Eisler writes, "This painter possessed of protean gifts proved to be an effective ambassador, scholar, courtier, humanist, lover and family man, classicist, architect, knight, numismatist, collector of antiquities, print designer, agent-connoisseur-adviser, pageant master, and fervent Roman Catholic. Equipped with rare energy, he would be up by four a.m. and could paint while dictating a letter and carrying on a conversation with a visitor, all at the same time."

But how could he accomplish so much? In the production of his artwork, Rubens used various assistants and collaborators — among them Anthony van Dyck — to make a myriad of his creative goals reality. Eisler explains, "[Rubens] was a shrewd judge of character and talent, and maintained a large, efficient, successful atelier in his little palace of an Antwerp townhouse. Innumerable 'Rubenses' that began with his design and ended with a few of his brushstrokes artfully placed where they counted most streamed from Rubens's very profitable workshop."

Likewise, turn-of-the-century photographers hired "drapery men" to hand color black and white photos assembly-line style, and contemporary glass sculptor Dale Chihuly has entire teams of craftsmen at his disposal blowing, stretching and pulling thousands of molten glass pieces per his specifications.

You may not be a Rubens or even a Chihuly, but I think you can make the drapery man concept work for you on a smaller scale. Before you assemble your "staff," you will, of course, need to settle on one goal to the exclusion of all the others — at least for a while.

To do this, make a list of your creative goals, convince yourself that you have but one year left to live, and notice which ones suddenly seem extra important. Is making piles of money crucial for you? Or does leaving some lasting impression or body of work behind seem more important? Once you're able to narrow your scope and commit yourself fully, you may examine all of your potential projects and see which ones fit with your sharper focus and which ones don't. Keep scrutinizing and pruning until you have determined which project best furthers your most important creative goal.

As to collecting a bevy of assistants, think about what you have to offer in the way of internships or apprenticeships. If you are a fine artist or fine craftsman, consider sharing your knowledge with a less experienced artist in exchange for a helping hand. You might also post fliers or place a small classified ad in your local newspaper seeking a paid or unpaid assistant. Loads of good can come from such an arrangement because you will accomplish more than you once thought possible and, in the meantime, you just might shape someone else's burgeoning career with your influence. •

© 2001 Susan M. Brackney. All rights reserved.

Susan M. Brackney Need a little help finding your way on the road less traveled? Susan M. Brackney, author of The Lost Soul Companion will try to solve your creative quandaries. More »