I have to give my wife credit for this. Using our remote control she journeyed over to Amazon Prime or Netflix and started the habit of watching documentaries. First, she concentrated on watching docs about arcane topics with a touch of the sensational. Then it became health tips.
But a few months back she focused her interests on artist documentaries. Living artists, dead artists. Super well-known artists, regional artists. All.

Then I became an ardent watcher, too. I should have been watching these things a long time ago. The artists’ stories are compelling but what really catches my attention is what comes up in the interviews. 

More often than not, the artists discuss what it is like to be unstuck.  They don’t focus on the number of projects they are getting out the door as a marker of that, but on the inner experience of being unstuck. Then comes a shorter outline of what they do to handle down periods (a.k.a. being stuck). We all need to know both sides, stuck and unstuck.

They all describe the experience of unstuckness in the same basic terms. Regardless of what they work on, their education, or other factors in their background. we see from their descriptions, a universal experience. …It is a universal experience of not only of artists/creatives but many others who throw themselves into their work and stretch to do and know more with the things they love. 

The unstucksness revealed in the documentaries is an incredibly important form of motivation. This motivation comes from the relationship the artist/creative has with the day-to-day processes, tools, techniques, and experiences of their work. This varies greatly from motivators we think of: the pride of accomplishment at the end of a project, visions of future possibilities, being around motivated people,  visualizing role models, the potential increase in income or recognition. Those work too, but in less effective and in more limited ways.

If you can find the same joy, curiosity, trust, and love for your day-to-day creative work, you will have found a great motivator and friend for life. This friend will be there for the big events and the minutiae, not just at the finish line, or when riches or recognition jumps.  The true friend meets you on rainy and cold days, not just the beautiful ones. The true friend knows how to hang out and enjoy the moment, not just share special times. Always or nearly always showing up for you, the true friend can help lighten your load and move you along to where you want to go. 

What to watch and how to watch

I don’t want to list any specific documentaries because it is not necessary. You are likely to find unstuckness discussed in most documentaries. 

Important: do pick docs with interviews with the artist/creative. You won’t hear what you need to hear if the artist/creative is absent; professors and experts or family members just won’t do. They haven’t learned what the artist/creative learned through committed work. 

Expand out from your regular area of interest. Unstuckness is an experience that can had by people doing all sorts of work. 

Listen for the featured artist-creative to talk about:

  • what it feels like to be drawn to their area of creativity
  • what it feels like when their art making takes them over
  • how their art-making is their first love and how they keep faithful to it
  • how their consistent work takes them to surprising places through surprising methods

Of course, this power is not just available to creators who are distinguished enough to have documentarians.  We can have it, too.