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Curious Creative Blocks : Page 2 of 2

Curious Creative Blocks (Part 2)

"For the blocked artist, the emotional or psychological energy of NOT doing the work is stronger than the energy of DOING the work."

continued from page 1

I've read on a lot of creativity blogs that "if I'm feeling blocked, I just don't do the work that day," which is usually presented under the idea that this is being gentle with ourselves, or being good to ourselves in some way.

Well, that's fine — if making art, if doing the creative work, isn't a high priority for you. It doesn't matter whether you need to do it because it's a career and you just simply have to get the next show up, or if you're someone to whom the creative process and making art is a vital part of who you are, "profit" be damned. For those of us who need to make the work, I believe this "walk away from it" idea is actually not so great.

I'm all for being gentle with ourselves, with being good to ourselves, but it's important to understand there's a difference between form and content. Just because something has the appearance of gentleness does not mean it's actually gentle. Take an example with the opposite emotion, a teacher shouting at a student. At first glance, of course, we would say this teacher is being too rough, too harsh, and in most cases we'd probably be right…but what if this teacher knew this student extremely well, knew his or her psychology backwards and forwards, was an intensely caring and experienced person, and chose the precise tool and mode of expression to get an important lesson across in that particular moment? The "form" of roughness in this case would be deceptive — the teacher, given all the conditions I stated were true, would simply be using the most effective tool, temporarily, to illustrate the idea involved. I've been, on very rare occasions, the recipient of this kind of teaching, with the tiny sprinkling of great teachers I've been blessed to have, and it has opened my mind.

In the same way, I think this form of "being gentle with yourself," in the context of dealing with creative blocks, is deceptive. Again, if you need, for whatever reason, to do the work. If actually nurturing the artist within is what's important to you.

For the blocked artist, the emotional or psychological energy of NOT doing the work is stronger than the energy of DOING the work. The inertia is all on the side of No Progress. I think this "walking away from the work" idea, presented in the form of "being gentle with ourselves," only reinforces the inertia of No Progress. What we need is to harness this force of inertia and start to build experience on the Making Work side of the equation.

We don't do this by walking away from the problem.

  1. Yes, be gentle with yourself. But be gentle with yourself AS you're doing the work.

    The emotional and psychological energy of the blocked artist is almost always built around ideas relating to: A) Fears about the future (what if this piece is not good enough, etc., etc., or what will people think, etc., etc.); or B) Negative experiences in the past regarding our art-making, or how people have perceived it, etc., etc.

  2. What this often means is that we're avoiding the present moment, lost in our fantasies about the future or our sorrows about the past. The art work is here. The art work is now. We need to work on strategies that help us remember this. We need to rid ourselves of this baggage. It's such an important part of being an artist to be free.

  3. Detach yourself from judgments about quality. This is vital. This is key. It may well require a set of strategies all by itself, but if making art is important, and if we are blocked, we need to recognize that criticizing our own work is one of the most powerful tools we use to keep the blocked artist blocked. Would we rather have nothing to show for today? No art work at all?

Remember: Every piece you make, no matter how wonky, no matter how imperfect, is taking you in a positive direction — toward making the work you truly want to make. Every delicate, new piece of art you make — if you can somehow just free it of judgment — is actually a tangible, physical, actual step toward making the work you love. •

© 2009 An Artist in Brooklyn

An Artist In Brooklyn is a multi-disciplinary artist who has for decades created work in a variety of creative fields. More »