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An Artist in Brooklyn : Curious Creative Blocks

Curious Creative Blocks (Part 1)

By An Artist In Brooklyn

"Art starts simply, with fragility. Chug through it. The thinking about art as Art trips us up. Just put one foot in front of the other."

So there you are. You have free time. You have a workspace. You are perfectly free to get down to it and start churning out the work. So why aren't you?

This is one of those really strange and curious creative blocks, and weirdly, I think it's also one of the most common. I know lots of artists of different stripes, we talk a lot when we're not doing the work, and it seems like a certain fraction of the whole, different ones at different times, are always having this kind of experience.

So what's up? You're full of ideas — when you're doing something else. Ideas aren't necessarily the problem. Besides, there are a thousand ways to generate ideas. Where is the effort? The willingness to throw yourself into it? The elbow grease? The enthusiasm?

There are lots of ways artists trip themselves up. As the old Frank Sinatra song says, "…may I list a few?"

The first one that comes to mind is a popular one — We're suffering from the idea that, somehow, art must be Art, that it's not the product of ordinary ideas and ordinary effort, but it's…SOMEhow…MUCH more mysterious than that, and it requires almost a kind of magic.

This is such a pervasive idea. And it is SO inaccurate. It's a misunderstanding of the creative act. Given just a moment, we see it. But this false idea is reinforced endlessly around us, and we need to remind ourselves of the reality nonetheless.

Art starts simply, with fragility. Chug through it. The thinking about art as Art trips us up. Just put one foot in front of the other. Letting fear drive us from the work just exaggerates their seeming gravity. We want instead to treat ideas evenly, with a feeling of lightness.

Another block that comes to mind, related to the first, is comparisons. Scribbling out our own work and then somehow, subtly or obviously, comparing it to something, usually something famous, we know and love. What a thing to do to ourselves. A new art work, the vast majority of the time, is NOT a finished, polished art work — certainly not an Art Work. It's basically just an idea, really. And most ideas develop over time. Like all good things. Those art works floating around in our mind, let's just point out, are usually from masters in their field, and furthermore often from masters at the height of their powers — What chance does a fragile, new idea have against that?!??!?!

It's just a false comparison. Ideas take time. When we compare great works to our own new ideas we're comparing apples and oranges. Compare and despair.

These creative blocks can be endless because our list of excuses, of reasons NOT to do the work, can be as endless as our imagination itself — sometimes a surprising amount of creativity goes into devising them! How about this one? "I don't feel creative!" Oh, that's a great one. I don't feel creative. Makes sense, right?

Well, only in the sense that you may not feel like mowing the lawn, or doing the dishes, but if you want them to get do them anyway.

The actual reality is that art isn't any more magical than any other activity. Yes, the results of doing the work are sometimes mysterious, but more often than not that's not something you consciously select. Successful artists, by which I mean the ones who are putting out work, find ways of getting themselves into their workspace and doing their work — whatever they feel like.

People, particularly Americans, I think, have this idea that art is some kind of mystical intervention. Well, it can be mystical. Sometimes. But only usually in retrospect. DOING the work is not mystical. It's just like any other job. Then, somewhere down the road, if you're lucky, and after you've been working day after day after day, sometimes profitably and sometimes not…you look back at something you did and say, "Hey….Wow….That's kinda nice!"

Then you just keep working. Because that's the only way it's ever going to get done.

Continue to part 2 »