The Coyotes of Doubt


Some time in the past thirty years I encountered a brilliant bit of metaphorical imagery which described the creative process as the “coyotes of doubt” yip-yip-yipping just beyond an artist’s emotional wagons which are circled protectively round the flickering campfire of creativity. It has bolstered me often: The doubts have always been out there yowling, yes, but, if I choose to recall, I am safe and focused on the spark within. It has been this scenario forever with always the flame, the circle, the persistent yipping. Yet, surprisingly, a month or so into this global pandemic arriving at my own door, the howls have gone utterly silent, the wagons are now casually arrayed, and the campfire grows ever brighter.  I think I know why.

First, all the galleries featuring my work are “non-essential businesses” and closed indefinitely. Most never contacted their artists, just turned off the spotlights, locked the doors and went to shelter.

Second, all but two of the usual Spring and Summer 2020 Shows and Festivals I join in on are postponed or completely cancelled. The remaining two are “discussing options” and will let us artists know soon.

Third, the Fall and Holiday Shows (and shortly, I’ll bet, those Spring and Summer ones which were postponed until the Fall) are either dropping away or seriously in question. Maybe going online? No one knows for sure. They will let us artists know. Again, soon.

Fourth, as for the general economy – always a challenge of some sort for the arts – a boorish recession breathes hot and stinky in my face. That means that some galleries and showing opportunities will fold completely, while others will reduce scale or, again, go online. And prices will go down, down, down, and sales will dry up, up, up. Happens every time.

With this unusual silencing of the hustle and bustle of my marketplaces, I have made a strange and wonderful discovery: they are my ring of coyotes. While showing and selling are the yowlings I hear the loudest, chiming in from the next ring out are the nattering opinions of others in any form, peppered with the PTSS triggers of art school critiques. Not hearing any of this static is such a release; I feel like the kid I was when I made stuff for the pure joy of making.

And, truth be told, I would rather just create and have a talented gallerist rep do the rest with zest. Each of us working in her true medium: Pure Art for me; Pure Promo/Marketing/Merchandising for them, right?  Instead, I’m a big girl 21st century multitasking solopreneur who knows now that those coyotes are nothing to be afraid of, really, and also that they will be back. They are part of my ecosystem, after all. And, lo and behold…

If I really want to state it plainly, the howling is between my ears…

So, NOW, while it’s marvelously quiet – and for ever how long it lasts  –  I want to enjoy the current sprawl of nameless and numberless days comprised of nothing but making and making and making with no outcome or goal looming directly beyond my studio walls. To revel in the giddiness of not needing to perform or deliver on anyone else’s deadline. To be released from feeling constantly behind, sorely lacking, imperfect – with a side of self-shaming about that – yet showing up anyhow and giving it an honest and vulnerable go, both in the studio and the marketplace. In the extending silence I find myself wondering: “What if it’s always been nothing but an honest and vulnerable GO and I just gave center stage, the follow spot and mic to the wrong part of the metaphor?”

–Liz Crain, currently coyote-free, is stripping herself down to her primal time-out-of-mind skins and dancing wildly around those over-vigilant ego-wagons, watching them shrink to toy-sized, while the creative flames roar up to bonfire proportions. And she also recommends checking out Neil Gaiman’s 2012 Make Good Art Commencement Address, especially starting at around the 10-minute mark. “You should enjoy it.”




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10 thoughts on “The Coyotes of Doubt

  1. Bravo, Liz, your posts are always worth the time to read. This one gets the prize. I have come to the same conclusions, but wish I could articulate it as well as you. It helps to know your words had to brew for a while. I’ve been feeling so happy and oddly free, almost guilty about it. My agreement with self is to create only if the action brings me to the place of play and sheer joy of seeing my state of being manifest on the paper. Often I’m getting my hands dirty in the garden, certain that it is the right time to grow more food and flowers. And I’m happy that I am more prepared to sell online, but ever aware that it is in my own time.

    1. A prize!!! Thank you Kathleen! And I am so thrilled to hear you mirroring back that sense of “happy and free” because it means something real is definitely occurring here. One of my two pending summer festivals was postponed to October yesterday (at a time that doesn’t work for me) and I was cheering on my couch, because, like you, I am trusting in play and timing and my sense of rightness in my world. It’s so good we can take note and act on the truth. Happy gardening! And this explains a lot, too: XOXO, Liz

      1. I just saw your comment…..
        I love chapter 8, business of art, and subscribed to Oatmeal, so I wouldn’t go blind reading on the phone. Thanks for the yuks

        1. Oh goodie! Enjoy it!

  2. Hi Liz,
    I’ve been experiencing the same feeling of freedom! All my marketing tasks and to do lists just don’t seem so important or relevant right now. It’s freed me up to start exploring a new idea about family and a set of dinner ware 🙂 Enjoy!

    1. Ohhhhh! That just warms my heart. Can’t wait to see what you do!!!!

  3. Thank you , Liz. I awoke with an odd hollow feeling this morning. Loneliness for the first time. A need for touch from a loved one. From a stranger. Your words bring a smile. A good feeling. I will seek my coyote howlings!

    1. Oh my, I feel completely humbled. I struggled to write this for more than a week – NO, several weeks! – and yet the tiny flame I was trying to keep alive won out. Making things matters and how we find our ways to that matters because we’re making meaning in spite of our fears. Hugs. (and when we hear or join our neighborhood howls, it has new meaning, too.)

  4. For several weeks now I have devoted myself to a show coming up May 1, packing final touches, repacking, etc. I dreaded sending 9 pieces in this climate but they insisted the ‘show must go on’- though there ain’t much show when the audience is quarantined. Well this week they got around to seeing things as they are, and ‘postponed’ the show indefinitely. So here the work sits all safely packed in huge boxes and sitting in front of my studio door. INDEFINITELY. And I am free to do as I please with no deadline or expectations on me. What was a (somewhat laughable) career is now downgraded to a ‘hobby’. Bring on the coyotes!

    1. Whoa Sandy! While I don’t have any packed boxes like you do, I have shelves and closets full of new works and lots more ready for the next steps in the studio. I WILL continue to make stuff because, what else do I have to do??? At least I’ll be more than ready for whatever comes up whenever some kind of all clear appears and I feel safe and agree with it. I have had that “just a hobby” thought too. Not sure what I take away from that judgment as right now, I don’t really care what I call it: I will still be making art. Hope you will be as well!!!!

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