I’ve heard many artists talk about The Resistance, the force that drives the artist away from her work.
The Resistance takes an endless number of forms. It lures us away from the keyboard, easel, or work bench with something that looks oh-so-shiny in comparison to the hard grinding work of creation.
Resistance is a trickster, a shape-changer. Just when you think you have it cornered, it escapes you. When you think you have identified your personal vulnerabilities to it, a new one comes along. If you have an afternoon alone to create, it sets you off on a different course until you realize too late that you blew your creativity time on some other activity.
The Resistance is clever. It levels up. Once you conquer mindless distractions, like browsing the Internet, it replaces them with more worthy activities, like cleaning your house.
The Resistance can control your body. Almost against your will, you rise from the chair. “It’s just a drink of water,” you think. The Resistance can morph that brief trip to the kitchen into a sudden impulse to empty the dishwasher while you’re in there, even if you absolutely hate doing that chore.
The Resistance can do all of these things because it is part of you. Because it comes from within, it knows you like no one else does. It doesn’t want what’s best for you. It wants what’s easy. It loves what is familiar. It is desperately afraid of change, because we are biologically wired to avoid danger. Unfamiliar stuff might just be dangerous. Every one of us are here because all of our ancestors back to the primordial soup from which our species arose managed to avoid death long enough to produce offspring.
Any time we choose to become a creator, we go against this wiring because nothing is riskier than creating something new. It might not work. We might beat ourselves up for making something broken. Maybe our creation works, but others might look at it and call us crazy. People may ostracize us. Our families may not understand why you spent that time on your work instead of being with them. People who long to create but were defeated by The Resistance might be jealous of you and tear down you and your work. Depending on our circumstances, we might be incarcerated for our creation, tortured, or even killed.
At least, that’s what The Resistance wants us to think about. “Ugh. Creating is hard. Binge watching a TV series is fun. Why do something hard when you can do something easy and fun instead?”
My husband and I have been watching Guardians of the Galaxy a lot lately. In one of the pivotal scenes of the film, the protagonists are in a circle on Peter Quill’s spaceship, debating what to do now that they have lost the story’s maguffin, the infinity stone. At first, the group is in the grip of The Resistance. They believe that there’s nothing they can do. If they try to fight to retrieve the infinity stone, they think that not only do they have zero chance of success, they will probably die trying. As they talk about it, however, Peter realizes the truth. He explains that they’ve been given a chance here, not to win, but to “give a shit. For once. Not run away.” Quill convinces his friends to override their fears, The Resistance, and throw themselves into the work of saving Nova, regardless of the outcome.
Of course they succeed. They defeat the bad guy and get the infinity stone back. They literally save the galaxy. You, too, can succeed in making your art. Like the Guardians, you too will have to throw yourself into it as though it’s the last thing you’re ever going to do, or by all of the gods, you’re going to die trying.
Perhaps that is the only way any art that is worthwhile ever gets done.