Beth Pickens is not an artist. She makes as much clear in the introduction to Make Your Art No Matter What: Moving Beyond Creative Hurdles, a book written both for and about artists. Although she doesn’t face the challenges of an artist herself, Pickens is a licensed therapist who has dedicated her professional life to helping artists of all types overcome creative hurdles from time management to marketing to death and God. Divided into twelve sections, the structure of the book is flexible and can be read in any order. Thus, artists can tailor their reading experience and, like any good therapy session, dive deep into the topics most relevant to their stage of growth. As Pickens writes, “You bring your own experience to this book; you and I collaborate to invent the creative life you want.” Make Your Art No Matter What can be whatever the artist needs, whether that is practical advice about finances, the pros and cons of pursuing an MFA, or personal advice about the relationship between grief and art. No matter the hurdle to overcome, Pickens’ voice acts as the one creatives need to hear, that of an invested friend, an unbiased observer, or the bearer of hard truths.
Some of the best advice Pickens offers deals with time and how both the lack and over-abundance of it can be a great hindrance to the creative process. She encourages artists to remove the sense of “right” or “wrong” from how they view the use of their time, asking “What if there is no right or wrong, only the next thing?” This quells the sense of guilt that can grow from neglecting a creative project to handle personal affairs or vice versa. From Pickens’ viewpoint, time is a neutral resource to be used in a way that benefits the creative and mental well-being of an artist, whether that means diving headlong into or taking a step back from a project.
Along with discussing strategies for handling large chunks of time, Pickens’ emphasizes the importance of transitional periods when moving from the regular business of life into a creative time. As dancers stretch to warm up their bodies, she suggests all artists devise a ritual to help step into a creative mindset because, as she explains, “…it’s impractical to expect your brain and body to turn right on and get cracking.” Lighting a specific candle, drinking a certain flavor of tea, listening to the same song, or doing a short meditation are all strategies she presents to help ease into a creative mindset. Pickens’ argues that learning to slow down and reclaim small moments of time in a culture obsessed with busyness will bring an intention and richness to art that is otherwise lost in the rush.
In close relation to time, Pickens talks in great length about the relationship between the artist and work, both working to sustain an artistic career and art as the main sustainer. For the majority of artists who have to balance their creative pursuits and a professional career, she notes that “Artists need extra boundaries with their paid, non-art employment in order to protect their practice.” Pickens is a loyal guardian of the creative practice, empathizing with artists who are exhausted from splitting their energies between a day job and practicing their art. For those who feel the need to give 110% to a day jobs at the expense of their art, she suggests doing “a B+ job at work” because “you only owe the labor you’ve agreed to provide.” In the throes of hustle culture, the idea of setting boundaries of self-preservation comes as a welcome relief. By setting boundaries and allowing more energy to flow into their art, artists not only produce better work but also reinforce the idea that their art is valuable and deserves healthy investment.
Perhaps the most resonant topic Pickens delves into is a concept inevitably familiar to every artist. The act of creating art, whatever the medium may be, is inherently lonely. This is the hurdle that Make Your Art No Matter What most actively tries to scale, both in the section devoted to isolation and throughout the rest of the book. Pickens shares advice by recounting the real-life struggles experienced by her diverse roster of clients. As individualized as the book can be, it’s easy to see yourself in the plight of the budding writer who is afraid to submit to a fellowship, or in the San Francisco-based painter contending with the isolation of his studio. As much as the book pulls the readers into their own minds, encouraging them to analyze how and why they create art, it also yanks them out, reminding that although the struggles of an artist are deeply personal, the themes are universal amongst anyone who has ever dared to create. As she writes, “By placing yourself in the endless continuum of artists who came before you and who will come after you, you connect through space and time to your long, strange, magnificent lineage.” This theme of connection—to inner creativity, a supportive voice, and a network of artists around the world—is the most compelling reason she offers for heeding the titular advice in these pages. In creating art, Pickens argues, we are connected to something both within and beyond ourselves.
Makenna J. Myers is a school librarian and children’s author. She holds her B.A. in English and Creative Writing from Concordia University, Irvine, and is currently pursuing her M.F.A. in Writing for Children through Hamline University. Her works of short fiction and poetry appear in Concordia University Irvine’s Aerie (2019, 2020, 2021) and Biola’s Inkslinger (2021). She lives in Southern California with her two dogs and two incredibly loud parrots.Enjoy this article? Share it on your favorite social site.