Does deciding on which element to include in your art work slow you down?  Even stop your work altogether?

Resonance is your guide.  “Resonance” is simply a sympatico with an idea, color, mood — any element that it’s possible for you to, in some way, integrate into the piece you’re working on.  Intensely personal to you, this attraction for an element can be right on the surface of your personality — a trait or proclivity you are well known for — or it can be deep and subterranean, hidden in your unconscious and a stranger to the conscious you, but an important aspect of your being nonetheless.

What can be of immense help here, in addition to the learned practice of simply letting yourself be attracted to what you’re genuinely attracted to — perhaps that’s an entire blog post (if not years of therapy! 🙂 ) by itself — is the very practical tool of Non-Judgment.

Deciding something is Good or Bad can sometimes open the door to letting in a whole world of references to the past, of emotional baggage, which can in turn start throwing wrenches into the creative process in which you’re engaged.   Judgment like this must of necessity reference the past, and very often it is lost in imaginings of the future as well, and is fraught with an emotional weight which can, especially for the blocked artist, slow down the creative process.  The art work, and particularly the creative process in which you’re engaged, is here in the present.  Where you are.

Judgment limits what you believe you can and cannot do, and the aim of the artist is freedom, of thought and practice.

When you make a soup, do you judge the potatos, carrots, and spices as being intrinsically Good or Bad?  Of course not.  You simply choose elements based upon what you feel might work and what attracts you in the moment.  You look upon them evenly.  They are merely ingredients in what you are creating.

Ideas about intrinsic quality of a simple element, which judgment seeks to impose, are not only irrelevant but actually harmful to the artist.  You are either attracted to an element or you are not.  You use an element or you do not.

The freest artists are those who have learned the skill of setting aside judgment and looking upon all their ideas evenly.

This leaves them free to create.

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“When you’ve got it, you’ve got it. When you haven’t, you begin again.

All the rest is humbug.”              — Edouard Manet.

 

The “trick” is to show up. The “trick” is to do the work.

Anything — and I mean ANYthing — that interferes with me responsibly setting aside time and actually going in and doing the work is in reality just self-obstruction, no matter how artfully disguised. Anything that stops me from doing the work is humbug.

Humbug is just another mask I put up to frighten myself away. It can be boring, tedious nonsense, or it can be the most frightening thing I can imagine, but it’s as empty as the endless chatter I use to pull myself into reveries about the past or fantasies about the future — it’s how I seduce myself out of the present moment, the moment I’m actually living in. It may look like an impenetrable mountain wall, but the fact that I never want to admit to myself is that I can walk through it as if it were mist. I just have to actually walk through it.

The masks can — and often do — arise on that short walk between the living room where I’m relaxing, wandering the net or whatever, and my studio or workspace. And the masks can take a thousand forms. “This series you’re slaving over sucks out loud!” is a good one. “There’s not a single idea in your head — why bother! Why pretend!” is another. “So and so will always be ten times more [whatever] than you!” is of course a classic.

I’ve been doing this for a lot of years, and these masks, I’ve come to feel now, are just a part of the gig. The thing the years have taught me about these masks, whether it’s a tiny, niggling doubt or a persistent, gnawing fear, is that they almost always look to the mind’s eye like an impenetrable mountain wall, and that — always — they are actually and in fact just little bits of mental mist, and I can, in plain unglamorous fact, walk right through them.

The mind shrieks, but the body can be sent into the studio. Do the little tasks.  Eventually the mind comes back to the moment. What am I doing right now?

NOT What is the MEANING of ART?!? Where does MY work fit in to it all?!?! WILL this be a GOOD piece?!?!

Rather, what am I doing right now? Where are my hands? What is the next small step I need to take to continue with this piece? This is the moment I’m actually in. The mind shrieks, but it can be led. And it will calm down. And this small task that I’m actually doing…well, guess what, it can actually be done. And this present moment that I’m actually living in?

It can be alright.

 

Enough days like this, where I lead myself through the masks and into the straightforward tasks of doing the work — I start to remember that I love this.

…and again and again and again. 🙂

This isn’t going to be a blog just about creative blocks, I actually want to share more about my experiences in the creative process, and the experiences of others, but I’m definitely going to be coming back to this problem of blocks again and again, because it’s a Great Unspoken Problem that I believe afflicts a lot of creatives. And there are solutions.

The only thing I want to say in this entry — alas, I have to run out the door yet again in a few minutes — is about the idea that 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.

2. 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.

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.

Hope this has helped you! These ideas sure helped me ever since I was first exposed to them.

And now I AM late!!! 🙂

Be well.

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 tiny fraction of them, 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?”  In no particular order, then…  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 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 we need to remind ourselves 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 them drive us from the work just exaggerates the seeming gravity of our fears. 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.  AND, those art works floating around in our mind, let’s just point out, are usually from masters in their field, and furthermore from masters often 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.  You’re comparing apples and oranges.  Compare and despair.  

Let’s see.  This field, these creative blocks, it’s really endless, but let’s see if we can settle on one last one for today.  Hmmm.  Oh!  Okay, how about this one?  “I don’t feel creative!”  Oh, that’s a great one.  I don’t feeeeeeel creative. Makes sense, right?

Well, only in the sense that you may not feeeeeeeel like mowing the lawn, or doing the dishes, but if you want them to get done you do them anyway.  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, the ones who are putting out work, find ways of getting themselves into their workspace and doing their workwhatever 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.

More next time.  We’re just scratching the surface.

Oh, please feel free to leave comments!  I’d love to hear your experiences.

What a lovely topic for my first post!  

Still, it’s a pesky — and fascinating — one for me, so it’s perfectly appropriate.

If my experience is any indication at all, it’s not a subject you just read a few “inspiring” bullet points about, and then some light goes on in your head, and then it’s like — All fixed!!!  So this is going to be a subject I’m probably going to post a lot about as I work through different aspects of it.  I’ve learned a lot about it over the years, and heaven knows there’s always more to learn.

Who am I?  

I’m an Artist In Brooklyn!  

I’m an ANONYMOUS Artist In Brooklyn, and I’m going to stay that way.  Mostly because…err…well…um…I actually have an art career, and when I first toyed with the idea of starting a blog I realized that one thing I definitely did NOT want was to have to mold it to somehow fit into the persona of that professional art person.    

Just that whole strange trip of being someone who has become associated with a particular kind of art and a certain set of concepts, blah blah blah.  Yes and of course, it helps to be focused and to stand for something and it’s definitely good for the career to be identifiable, and I am way, WAY grateful for all of it, but…letting it bleed into other areas where you want to be really free to say and do as you please…well…yuk, yuk, and yuk.  Been there.  Doesn’t seem to work for me.  

Instead, I wanted a free space, a genuinely free space — and here it is.  I want to be able to think thoughts out loud that don’t relate at all, and maybe even are diametrically opposed, to the ideas represented in my usual work, at least the work that I’ve become associated with.  I want to be able to say and think what I want, not run it through the filters and the Fierce Gatekeepers of Career, free of all that, and just talk about art and ideas about creativity in a more naive sort of way.  Just like when I first got interested in art.  

I want this to be fun.  Otherwise what’s the point?  

Anyway, who I am is an Artist In Brooklyn, who wound up in Brooklyn many years ago after leaving the place I grew up, in different suburbs of the glorious Midwest (and aren’t they all pretty much the same?), moving to the City of Dreams, and working a variety of weird, ridiculous, m0stly corporate jobs as I worked for free in the art form I love, took art classes, and slowly, oh so slowly, built a body of work.  SOME of which people liked.  

I now am part of a full, vibrant community of artists who know my work and are a big part of who I’ve become today.  I can’t tell you how important (and useful!) it is to have a bunch of acquaintances — and if you’re lucky, friends — who confront the same issues you do and understand, really understand, your point of view and where you’re coming from.

Too many thoughts and too little time now, I have to run out the door to make an appointment!  And I didn’t even get to my topic!!!

Yet.

DEFinitely more later….

Like what you see? Stumble Me!

PROJECTS

Currently working with some friends on a kind of "guided study course" on demystifying the creative process and working through creative blocks. We're thinking about what form it should take at the moment...having fun...lots of ideas kicking around. :-) If you have any ideas, or you want to be updated -- not promising anything! -- drop me a line at anartistinbrooklyn at yahoo.com. Be well.

Latest Tweets!

  • Technique alone is never enough. You have to have passion. — Raymond Chandler 2 years ago
  • I don't take notes; I don't outline, I don't do anything like that. I just flail away at the goddamn thing. — Stephen King 2 years ago
  • Space is the breath of art. — Frank Lloyd Wright 2 years ago
  • The only thing I know is that if I get to my studio, that means I'm alive today. — Robert Farber 2 years ago
  • Ideas aren't real estate, they grow collectively and that knocks out the egotistical loneliness that generally infects art. — Rauschenberg 2 years ago