“What is necessary to break the spell of inertia and frustration is this: Act as if it were impossible to fail. That is the talisman, the formula, the command of right about face which turns us from failure to success.”
- Dorothea Brand
You are stuck. When you pick up your paintbrush, pen or pencil, you feel paralyzed. The work you do manage to create feels forced and uninspired. You begin to avoid your studio, the blank canvas or sheet of paper. You feel as if you are stuck in place, unable to move forward. Your imagination has gone on vacation and neglected to leave a forwarding number. When writers find themselves in a similar state of mind, it is called writer’s block. You, my friend, have artist’s block. This too shall pass.
Creativity is an important part of everyone’s life whether you consider yourself an artist or not. It is what adds the spice to life We all go through periods of creative stagnation which can be caused by the monotony of routine, depression, stress, or unresolved conflict. I have been a victim myself on occasion and have developed methods to lift myself out of a rut and back on track. I refer to these steps as 1) step back, 2) move forward, 3) seek inspiration, 4) try something new, and 5) turn off your brain.
1) Step back
Now that you have made the diagnosis, it helps to get a little distance from your daily routines, responsibilities and stresses, to gain perspective on your life and determine the source of your block. I wrote an entire blog post on this subject. A trip to a Caribbean island would give you real measurable physical distance, but a plane ticket is not necessary to gain perspective. Sometimes all it takes is a half hour of solitude on a park bench or a walk in the woods to get away. So let’s say you discover that your ongoing feud with your neighbor who refuses to cut his grass is eating away at your peace of mind and causing your art to look like angry expressionism, now what?
2) Move Forward
It is not necessary to cure the cause of your frustration, because, let’s face it, sometimes you can’t. You have to learn to maneuver around it and continue to move forward. The definition of inertia is the resistance of any physical object to a change in its state of motion or rest, or the tendency of any object to resist any change in its motion. The longer we stand still, the harder it is going to be to get up and move. Water in a river continues to flow, even when there are rocks and logs in its path. The stream simply flows around and over obstructions. If you are momentarily stalled by a conflict or obstruction, just continue to move forward by taking a first step. It doesn’t matter if you know the destination, Just keep putting one foot in front of another. I promise you’ll get somewhere even if your steps are clumsy or sloppy. If you don’t move, you are guaranteed to stay stuck. Keep putting pencil to paper, paintbrush to canvas, feet to the pavement.
3) Seek Inspiration
So now that your moving, it might help to gain a little direction. Get guidance from people who are clearly inspired. In other words, those that are not stuck. Seek out those individual whose work you admire, whose positive attitude is inspiring, who seem to “have it going on”. Visit art museums, browse through creative periodicals, search artist’s websites and blog posts, make new friends with new perspectives, and immerse yourself in nature. Surround yourself with creativity and beauty. Believe me, it will rub off.
4) Try Something New
You’re moving in some direction (though you are not sure where), and you’re feeling inspired. Now it’s time to put your inspiration into action. There is no better way to lift your wagon wheel out of a rut then to turn the wheel in a completely different direction. Explore a new path. If you are a watercolor artist, try oils. Try a new sport, pick up a new hobby, make a new friend. Your creating new neural pathways in your brain. It’s a great way to wake your brain out of it’s slumber.
5) Turn off Your Brain
Speaking of the brain, we all have heard of right brain/left brain, one side being responsible for creativity and one for logical, analytical thinking. Well, let’s just give the logical “left brain” a little rest. Try to stop over thinking. Don’t worry about the outcome. Let go of the internal critic. Pick up your paintbrush or pencil and just enjoy the process. Do it with feeling, not with thought. I love this quote from The Little Prince: “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly. What is essential is invisible to the eye.”
We all find ourselves in a rut from time to time. The worst thing you can do is stay in it, rolling along a boring, lifeless path lost in the boredom of inertia. Get some distance, gain inspiration, keep moving forward and turn off your left brain. You can give the left side a nudge and wake it up when it’s time to negotiate a sales price for your newly created, incredibly inspired masterpiece.