(This theory, like all stage theories, ( and like my theory of artistic purposes ought to be considered more for its illustrative purposes than as a complete description of reality.))
Stage one, which most people are pushed out of abruptly is actually the same as the final stage: freedom.
The freedom stage is the stage at which you are absolutely certain about every single artistic choice. There is no hesitation, no fear of what others will think, no need to follow suit of a certain style. Look at children when they are given art supplies. They go to their work without hesitation.
All artists remember the ecstasy of stage one and are on a mission to return to it.
Stage two, which most people are in and never leave: development of skills and abilities.
This is just one stage, no matter how detailed and technical the skills and abilities become. Most people choose to disengage with art entirely because of the encumbered nature of this stage. Unlike stage one, stage two is often the complete opposite in terms joy. It is all about ability, all about what others think, and all about conventions. Only those who take naturally to or find a way to find themselves in skills and abilities are able to make it through this stage pleasurably.
Stage three is really a threshold over which to cross more so than a stage. It is the first time the individual refers to him or herself as an artist.
This is called: initial declaration.
I am an artist you declare. You take whatever skills you have developed and are still developing (stage two never ends really) and you try to do something.
What follows this is a series of clarifications or obfuscations of this stage…
Stage four [this is actually a period during which many stages, depending on various factors, are gone through]
This stage can either be clarifying or obfuscating. But it is usually clarifying in its initial instance. The artist chooses something and sticks with it for a while. The artist then may obfuscate and change courses entirely. Stage four may continue on and on in many iterations and in various forms.
Stage five [ is both a stage and a threshold of sorts]
This is the point at which the artist establishes true understanding of artistic purposes. This only happens after (in most cases) several takes through stage four (which actually is a repeatable stage).
In this stage, artists understand their purposes and are able to know precisely how those purpose affect the work. This may mean a very clear understanding of the kind of work that is to be done. Or, it may mean a more open-ended approach, embracing mystery. No matter what the course of action is, the artists in this stage are now truly clear in what motivates and moves them as artists.
Stage six (which is more like an occasional state of being than a stage that is arrived at) is an enlightened return to freedom. In which the emotional and intuitive freedoms of stage one are reclaimed with all of the knowledge of the journey up until this point.
This is not a permanent state of arrival but rather a an occasional state of being. The artist understands that more frequent and prolonged experiences of this state of being is the bigger goal of the artistic life.