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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Dreaded Art Block

Most artists experience these, and we dread them.  An art block can occur in one of a couple of forms.  At times the well simply dries up and we find ourselves with a complete lack of creativity or ideas. At other times (this is the one I have most often), the ideas are there but no matter how hard we try, what we produce never measures up to what we had envisioned.  I think this incarnation is the most frustrating of all.

When I hit the brick wall that is the second sort, I've learned to have patience - because ultimately
'Laird of Lochaber" Red stag in Glencoe, on
three turkey feathers. Lochaber District tartan
painted on the quills.
there is an advantage to it.  It is an evolution - you are experiencing growth in your particular art form and skill. It's a tough slog, but when you finally emerge on the other side of that block, you will find that something has changed.  You might not approach your art in quite the same way as before. You notice that you don't see quite the same way as before - you see and notice things you probably did not before - and in this, you will find your approach has changed, as well as your execution. Your technique has grown.  I have not experienced a block yet where I did not experience some level of growth.

While creative growth is great and we look forward to improving, what typically brings about a creative block?
Stagnation. When we produce, we often get into a routine.  What we produce becomes routine.  Maybe a particular style has become what is expected of us, and we eventually find ourselves bored. We might not recognize that at first, only that we are not as fired up to create as we once were.
Busyness. Raising my hand here - guilty!  We pile so much on to our schedule, we feel pressed to keep moving or else we'll fall behind.  Too much of this will promptly lead to burnout. You will run out of steam, as well as inspiration! Make time for personal time.
Health. No one can perform well after a period of poor diet or insufficient rest.  Likewise with lack of exercise.  Illness, stress, and bad things happening in your personal life also contribute as causes for a creative block.

So how on earth do you work through a block?  Once you've recognized and addressed the cause that put you there, break away from the work. Shake it up a bit, go do something different. Visit places that inspire you, go see the works of someone who inspires you and whom you admire.  Galleries, museums, and exhibitions are great for this.  Get out into nature and simply experience all that is around you, and let your senses take over. Does music inspire you?  Seek that.  Try a new style, a new medium, a new art form.

This Spring I had the mother of all creative blocks. It set in like a ton on my shoulders and no matter what I did I could not get past it. There was no guessing at the cause, the cause was grief. I had lost my brother very suddenly, very unexpectedly.  There was no getting past this very extreme matter until I addressed the grief I was suffering and said what I felt was a proper good bye to my brother. I will not go into detail in this post, but will probably make that its own blog article in the future on grief and healing and how I went about it. I will say that my approach was huge, but so was the relief and the healing that occurred. When I did what I needed to do and recovered from the pain of loss, I couldn't wait to get back to my brushes and paints. The inspiration was as great as the block that preceded it. And yes, I do believe the work that came from it saw an increase in quality.
"Power and Grace" - humpback whales on turkey feather

Your turn - what are some of the things that have given you a bad case of creative block?  What are some of the ways you worked through it?

1 comment:

DeirdraV said...

This is a great post. Thanks for sharing that.
Anxiety is my biggest block - I create art for fun and stress relief mostly. I have found that if I switch up my medium or try something totally different - like going from a painting to making a paper mache type thing, I can go back to my original piece with a fresh eye and enthusiasm.
Your feathers are extremely inspiring.