Work life moves forward in stages unless interrupted by abrupt catastrophes. I’ve noticed four sequential steps: exploration, editing, consolidation, searching-for-next.
Exploration means learning a new skill, figuring out a job, searching for basic anchor points when working on an unfamiliar problem. Unknowns and unpredictable turns make this step exciting and fresh or scary and bewildering.
Editing comes once the basics have been figured out. The former novice looks for more direct ways of accomplishing goals and discards paths leading to frustration and failure. Surprises still occur, but challenges become less severe and threatening.
Consolidation arrives after the surprises all but stop. A seen that, done that method of operation takes over. A relaxed sense of mastery establishes itself as experience’s reward. Two problems arise near the end of this step: complacency; and loss of ability to adapt to new situations.
Searching-for-next makes its entrance after boredom grows from a sense of comfortable dullness to soul-killing despair. The master of his/her domain starts looking for an escape hatch when hunger for something new counterbalances the fear of the unknown.
I’ve gone through this cycle about five times since graduating from a masters program in painting. A professor told me long ago that it’s important to maintain interest in the act of painting. Once any style, subject, method becomes stale, it’s time to move on. I no longer see the rise and fall of any particular body of work as something to fear, celebrate or mourn.
Some jobs and relationships seem exempt from periodic change. Renewal comes from within an ongoing discipline. Some artists find enough material and room for experimentation to maintain a style throughout their careers. Their work evolves.
Teaching still challenges me student by student, class by class. My subject matter hasn’t changed much in the last 25 years, but I still look for ways to keep my lessons fresh. Every time I teach a new style or technique in class, I learn an alternative approach that may influence my work. The job only becomes stale when I feel too tired to look for opportunities to expand and strengthen my practice.