“Artist block” (or writer’s block or any perceived lack of inspiration) is something that all creatives face at some point. The biggest reason it strikes is because we label it and give it a name. Ideas come from everywhere at all times. When I finish a painting and am ready to start a new painting I can’t expect the idea for a wonderful masterpiece to come to me at the exact time that I am ready to start. Some people get concerned when that perfect creative idea for a new project does not appear the moment they finish their current project. That absence of an immediate creative idea causes panic and that panic is named and labeled and given strength. What was just an ebb and flow in the process has now become the dreaded “artist block”. Once artist block is acknowledged it becomes an entity on its own and brings with it all the negativity that people have bestowed upon it. It becomes a powerful beast that follows you around and laughs at your attempts to banish it.
An online dictionary defines inspiration as “the process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially to do something creative. The quality of being inspired, especially when evident in something.” (my italics) Inspiration is a process. That very same online dictionary defined a process as “a series of actions or steps taken in order to achieve a particular end.” By combining these two definitions we can see that there is a series of actions or steps that can be taken to become mentally stimulated to feel something. The mighty dragon of artist block can be defeated!
Here are 5 things that I have done to chisel a giant “artist block” into a beautiful sculpture. (As an artist I am a painter and have never actually chiseled a block into anything. The wordplay works better using the sculptor analogy and I have therefore used the other ubiquitous “artist” term, “artistic license”).
1. Disbelieve the illusion. There is a common feeling that as an artist you have you continuously create one masterpiece after, link after link, in a long unbroken “genius” chain. The second that pace slows down or a piece doesn’t live up to your expectation does not mean you have hit the “artist block”. Artist block doesn’t exist. It’s a term used to explain the lulls in your creative journey. Enjoy the process. Don’t put artificial timetables, deadlines, or expections on yourself. There was a time when creating and painting was fun, keep it that way. I used to get stressed when I wasn’t in the studio every day painting, feeling that I had to turn out painting after painting. If I didn’t have an idea for a painting as soon as I finished the last one I felt that I was failing and that I was facing the immovable “artist block”, potentially for weeks, months, or more. I keep in mind that ideas come from everywhere at all times and I no longer stress. I know that the next idea will arrive at some point and if I’m not in the studio I’m doing other things that are all potential seeds for more paintings. All of life’s experiences are artistic seeds that you plant every day and any one of them can sprout at any time. Don’t worry, don’t stress, don’t even acknowledge artist block.
2. If number one seems too crazy then the following steps involve a process, “a series of actions or steps taken in order to achieve a particular end.” A tried and true method in your arsenal against artist block is to keep a sketchbook and to actually use it. My sketchbook is a combination of doodles and handwritten notes. Ideas can strike at any time, when they do write them down, don’t wait thinking that you’ll remember later, you won’t. I do quick doodles or drawings of things that I find interesting. Most are not for any particular reason but you never know when they may come in handy later. I write words or phrases that catch my ear or notes and doodles for potential paintings as the ideas pop into my mind. When you are looking for ideas go through your sketchbook and review all the information there for potential ideas.
3. Take a break and watch a movie, take a trip, listen to music, or read a book. Let other things besides focusing on your art filter into your awareness. Stimulate your mind with living. Your subconscious will filter it and apply it to your particular art, recombine and reimagine it and then a small “idea sprout” will break through the soil of your mind as the “idea seed” that you planted who knows when takes root.
4. Revisit your artistic childhood. If there is an artist whose work moved you to become an artist reacquaint yourself with their work. Visit a museum, take time to view other artists’ work. Get books on your favorite artist and when you hit a slump review the books and reignite the awe and excitement that you experience when seeing that artist’s work. Reach back to why you started in the first place. It’s easy to forget why you create. I paint because I love it. I love paintings and paint and brushes and oil, all of it. Sometimes that gets obscured when you begin to focus on future outcomes, finances, time, etc. Reconnect with your purpose.
5. Change medium, subject matter, or style. If you paint in oils do a watercolor painting. If you do abstracts do a realistic still-life painting. If you do a work that you know is not what you normally do you have no attachment to it. You don’t worry how it will turn out, if it’s “good enough”, or how it will fit into your oeuvre. You will be creating but you will be relaxed and free of expectations and that is like watering your “idea seeds” which will help them grow. You will also learn all kinds of valuable art lessons that can then be applied to your normal work.“Artist block” is not something to be feared. It is a boogeyman that you can choose to ignore. I’m confident that the steps above will help you eliminate “artist block” for good. Again, thank you for visiting and taking the time to read my blog