A large percentage of the people I see in my therapy practice are professional artists - actors and film makers, writers and musicians, dancers and painters - and many more are amateur artists, often just as gifted, but not making an income from their gifts directly. So, I have spent a lot of time exploring the nature of creativity over the years, and addressing the various internal forces that can block its fullest expression.
The best book I've ever read on this subject is "The War of Art," by Steven Pressfield, who also wrote one of my favorite novels, "The Legend of Baggar Vance." (The movie with Will Smith and Matt Damon is great, too.)
Pressfield understands something that is key to understanding why artists struggle - that the greatest resistance in each of us is to the greatest calling in our soul.
Pressfield: "The more you love your art/ calling/ enterprise, the more important its accomplishment to the evolution of your soul, the more you will fear it and the more Resistance you will experience facing it."
Most often, that resistance specifically manifests itself in not experiencing creative expression as a giving process.
Here's Pressfield again:
"Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It's a gift to the world and every being in it."
This not only applies to artists, of course. All adults need to "give," to arrive to a place that Erik Erickson called "generativity," a developmental stage of adulthood in which giving back to the world is the compelling desire. Adults who are still trying to get the unmet needs of their childhood fulfilled are going against the tide of their development, and that is why they are frustrated, and that is why they suffer. Creative blocks are the soul's way of letting us know we're going against the flow. We're not giving.
Now, "giving" is a tricky word, so let me clarify. Giving is not doing good deeds. Nor does giving involve "sacrifice" or altruism or self-denial. No. Martyrdom is an elaborate attempt by the ego to get something. Giving in its truest form is the celebration of yourself with others through the loving and joyful expression of your particular gifts. If you are a singer, it means singing. If you are a painter it means painting. If you are an actor it means acting. If you are a teacher, it means teaching. If you are a carpenter, it means building. If you are a chef, it means cooking. And you're doing it because you love to do it, because to be happy you have to do it. You're not doing it to get praise or find self-worth. You're not doing it for the money, but neither are you refusing the money. You receive and enjoy the money as a demonstration of the principle that for adults, giving and receiving are parts of the same motion, like inhaling and exhaling are both part of breathing.
Pressfield: "To labor in the arts for any reason other than love is prostitution."
I would add that, finally, to do anything for any reason other than love is against our true nature.
So, my fellow artists, my fellow adults, conduct this experiment: do only what you love to do in life and see what happens. Discover the support that comes to you when you stop trying to get what you think you don't have and start giving what you truly desire to give.