Although the whole of one’s creativity holds no physical form, artists of all types struggle with keeping their proverbial well from drying up. Writer’s block, artist’s clog, painter’s snag – call it what you will, this complex condition cares not for the medium in which an individual works, only the agonizing halt of that individual’s ability to produce, create and thrive as an artist. Typically, this block is trivial, some temporary problem that needs to be dealt with, but extreme cases have lasted years and even ended careers. So what is one to do?
According to renowned painter, poet and colorist Carolyn Simon, co-founder of the East Side Art Center on – you guessed it – the East Side of Providence, the first thing is to realize that “you can’t make [art] happen.” She explains: “My students and friends will tell me, ‘There’s nothing there, I can’t create,’ so I tell them to clean their studio. Clean their room. Clean their brushes. Write little notes in a notebook. Put on music. Don’t force it, but kind of be there, just in case something clicks.”
Under the name C.C. Wolf, Simon has exhibited paintings and prints in museums, galleries and private and corporate collections in the United States, Europe, Canada and Australia. In addition, she has over 35 years of experience teaching classes and private workshops, 20 of those years at the aforementioned East Side Art Center, which she owns with her husband Don. She’s one of the founding members of the Rhode Island-based artist group 19 on Paper and has also published a hardcover book of vibrant artwork paired with melodic poetry, titled Angels Dance Upwards. Quite simply, Simon’s well of creativity has been flowing for more than 40 years and shows no signs of stopping.
How does she do it?
Her continual love of the arts may have something to do with how she views the process: “I compare it to having a conversation. You try something and the artwork tells you, ‘Eh, this is all right, but maybe less of that.’ So you say, ‘Okay, but I like that, so maybe I’ll save it for another day.’ It’s a conversation that goes back and forth between you and the canvas, or you and the paper.”
As many artists can attest, there are days when this conversation flows with ease. Every idea strikes hot on the anvil and “you step back from what you’ve done and you think, ‘Whoa! I’m a genius,’” says Simon with a laugh. “But maybe the next time you sit down and it’s gone. So that’s when you think, ‘Well, maybe I’m not a genius.’”
But these artistic voids should not be viewed with fear or anger. According to Simon, “Art is about getting in touch with who you are. If you’re not well or you’re not happy, you can’t fool [the art].” Whatever you do, though, to heal your weakened emotional state, you should always come back to the art. “I call art a good addiction,” says Simon. “People run – I don’t know why they do it, I don’t like running, but they love running. I love what I do. That’s the important thing. Frustration, not frustration; good day, bad day – I love what I do. No matter what art you’re doing, whether it’s cooking or writing or painting, you have to love it.”