A friend of mine is in an art rut. Man, do I know that feeling!! I’m sure everyone out there has at some point or another. You’re not excited about anything you’re doing, it feels like a chore, but then if you don’t do anything at all you get that stressed out, tight, sad, tangled up feeling. Do you know what I mean? Those are the best words I can use to describe it.
I’ve noticed, though, that if I just keep moving, once I come out on the other side of an artistic crisis my work is better for it. In Walking in this World (the follow-up to The Artist’s Way) Julia Cameron points out that often what we refer to as break downs should really be thought of as break-ups, like an icy river breaking up in the spring. Once I was able to think of it that way, these periods of creative drought didn’t feel so scary. These ruts are not permanent. They’re just bumps and valleys we have to pass through to come out on the other side. It’s like the Pilgrim’s Progress of the creative life.
But, in the meantime, while we’re in them, they stink. So, here’s a list of ways I’ve found to help me keep moving through artist’s block:
1) First and foremost- Relax! This is not permanent. You are not doomed to forever live in a desolate artistic valley, devoid of creativity. Forget about your “responsible” reasons for needing to create (“I have a show coming up,” “I need to sell some more paintings,” “I’m trying to build my portfolio,” etc) and remember your real reason for creating. I paint because I’m happier when I paint than when I don’t. Period.
2) Do something that’s not your style. I think there’s a lot of pressure on artists of all kinds to have a recognizable “voice.” To have a style that people see and say, “Oh, that’s Erin Hardin’s work,” or whatever. That can get stifling, though. When I got thoroughly stressed out and bored by my super detailed paintings on metal, I started creating these little, simpler paintings.
I didn’t care in anyone even saw them. I just had to do something. I had to paint because, like I said above, I’m happier when I paint than when I don’t.
3) Change your surroundings. Can you reorganize or redecorate your art space? If you normally paint in the basement, can you move it to the kitchen table for a while? This may also mean…
4) Changing your medium. If you normally paint, draw. If you normally draw, try watercolor. Or do something completely different like writing a detailed description of the cashier at the grocery store, the smell of the rosemary by your front door, the vase you got as a wedding present. You have a zillion facets to your personality and to your creativity. Explore them.
5) Try thinking of life as art. If you can cultivate a creative mindset in things that you might not normally think of as artistic endeavors, not only will that mindset become a habit, but also it will spill over into your studio life. Explore a little bit. Take a different route to the grocery store and enjoy meandering. Beautify your surroundings. Plant some fresh fresh flowers and enjoy the feel of the dirt. Try not to be so goal oriented and enjoy the process. You’ll get the same end result but with a better journey. Notice and appreciate the multitude of things that make life beautiful.
Most of all, just keep moving. You’re committed to your art and like any relationship it will go through ups and downs. Weather the downs and you will be rewarded with higher ups. Would any relationship be rewarding if it was always placid and stagnant?
What about you? Do you have a favorite tip for beating artist’s block? Please share! We could all use a little help sometimes.