Sunday, May 30, 2010

Don't worry, nothing is blocked!

I am currently reading a biography of the folk musician Phil Ochs. One of the experiences that characterized Phil’s life was his extreme relationship with the creative process. As a young man, he was a prolific songwriter. Musical ideas flowed into his imagination like running water, so that he was always scribbling down lyrics or playing melodies into his tape recorder. But when he entered his 30s and his creative juices slowed down and finally stopped, he became increasingly frustrated and ashamed. These desperate feelings, along with his struggles with alcoholism and bi-polar disorder, contributed to his eventual suicide.

Creative people all talk, write and worry a lot about being blocked.

But I contend that there is NOTHING TO FEAR. I honestly believe that, if you don’t have any ideas for a new painting, novel, song or dance, then it’s simply not the right time to be creating anything.

There is no reason to try and force creativity. Having no clear idea of what to do simply means that it isn’t time to be doing anything.

In fact, many theories on creativity posit that it is during our “down” times when our brains are doing their best creative problem-solving, even if we’re not aware of it.

Perhaps you need a rest from your labors. Perhaps you need new stimulation from a trip, a new hobby, an old or new friendship, or anything that might give you a different perspective, as an artist or as a person.

I haven’t touched a brush since May 14, and that’s a big change for someone who typically paints for many hours every day. I haven’t had the slightest urge to do so, and I really haven’t missed working in my studio. Even though it is the activity that I love most in the world, I just haven’t wanted to do it at all for several weeks.

This does not mean that I am blocked. It means that I’ve been working working working in the studio and I need a break.

I have been concentrating on a new dietary plan and cooking in this new way, as well as taking long daily walks with my husband. I also have a college class that meets for four hours a day, three days a week. Other than that, I do laundry, read and sleep. No canvas stretching, no paint mixing, no art, period.

But I know that, as has happened many times before, eventually I will wake up one morning and say, “Today’s the day!” And I will rush down to the studio and get back into my painting.

The human brain is not a machine. It goes through cycles of productivity, just like any other element of nature. Expecting it to perform with machine-like precision is not realistic and can be damaging to your faith and to your confidence. Trust that when you have stimulated or rested your imagination, whichever is appropriate, that little light bulb over your head will come back on, and you’ll go rushing for the studio.


Sweet Enemy said...

Hi Catherine,

What timely advice! I will be sending this link to an artist friend I saw today, I think she'll benefit from your perspective. Thanks for a great read!

Catherine Carter said...

Thank you, glad you found this post to be helpful. I see so many of those "break through your creative block" type of books for sale, but I rarely hear anyone give the most effective advice: just take a little rest! (I guess that advice wouldn't sell many books, would it?)