Saturday, September 02, 2006

Studio Friday - Artist Block

Artist's block is a nasty issue. My usual problem is I have difficulty making time for art - I convince myself I have no time to make art. I allow “life” to fill up my dance card. So it’s a real bummer when I finally get time for art and I’m blocked.

I find my brand of artist's block generally has one of three sources. They are:

1) general burn out from a crazy life,
2) inner critic paralysis, and
3) depression.

The first is fairly addressable and is a common source of artist's block for me. I’m certain that many of you go through this. You go weeks and can’t wait to get into your art space. You finally manage to clear your schedule of everything and steal a few hours to yourself. You have so many ideas whirling in your head. You bounce to your worktable, sit down, and go…blank. Completely, mind-numbing BLANK. Like you never had a single art idea in your entire life. Or, you have so many ideas in your head screaming to be realized that you can’t discern a single idea from the masses. When this happens, I’ll look through my journals where I jot down ideas, through my books and magazines full of little bits of paper marking techniques I want to try and nothing grabs me. I’m just brain dead –burned out. I finally have time to myself and all I want to do is soak in the tub and read a book or take a nap because I’m fried. In this case I just start doing menial jobs in my art room. I start by vacuuming up dead carcasses of various bugs or mostly dead bugs. Well, my art room IS in the attic. Then I will straighten up. I’ll start organizing things and I won’t put any pressure on myself. Slowly I’ll start to see something that sparks me into action…or not. If "not", I will pick a technique and go with it. I'll pick a stamp or two that I've never used (come on - admit it - EVERYONE has some of those) and start stamping or embossing a dozen or so images to make note cards for my friends. Or I’ll pull out my clay and start making little “figures” for collage. If I’m in a painting mood, I’ll pull out some colors I like and start making backgrounds for collages.
This is a Claudine Hellmuth “hint” that is one of my favorites. Just start making backgrounds! The backgrounds can be inspiring all on their own and call out to be filled. I may go through my collage materials and cut out images that catch my fancy. I find that once I start touching, collecting, and/or cutting art materials I start charging my batteries. The act of smelling clay or paints or glue (oops! - I' better skip that one) gets me in a creative mood. And you know what? If I don't end up creating that day, I've produced backgrounds, trimmed images, created note cards for my friends that I can use on another day.

The second artist's block source is damn annoying. I’d like to take a contract out on my inner critic! Know any good hit men or women? Where’s Femme Nikita when you need her? There are things I avoid when my inner critic is on a rampage. The one thing I WON’T do is look at other artist's work on the internet or even look in my art/craft magazines. My inner critic would have a field day. Going to my art room is a waste of time – my inner critic will find fault everywhere. So I change-the-subject. I’ll go to the barn to visit the critters. One of the many great things about horses is that they are great listeners and will never tell you that your art sucks. The most they will do is ask you why you don’t feed them more. Instead of walking along the road, Penny and I will go via one of our trails that cut through the woods. Even my inner critic can’t find anything to fault with Mother Nature’s splendor and beauty. By the time I hit the barn, my critic is mumbling to itself. I’ll poke at the ponies, scratch their itchy spots, and fill water buckets. With nothing to bitch about, my inner critic will dose off. Penny and I will make our way quietly back to the house and I’ll tip-toe up to my art room allowing sleeping-inner-critics-lie while I create.
OK, some of you will say that this is not a terribly helpful suggestion if you don’t live on a farm, or have horses, or are scared of horses, or perhaps even don’t like horses (well now - there – THAT’S where your problem is! :->)…etc. I haven’t always lived on a farm and won’t be living on one forever, so here’s additional ways for "taming the inner critic." You see I have lots of experience because my inner critic is such a great big pain in the @$$. Mother Nature works wherever you are, if you can get to Her of course. I lived in south Chicago for a number of years and going into a secluded area by yourself would get you mugged or most likely much worse. If I went to a safer part of the city, I’d waltz by a very talent artist displaying their wares or painting on location. In that case, my inner critic would snap to attention and go on about how everyone else but me is talented. My alternate remedy to nature is to find individuals who have successful exorcised their inner critic (hey, does anyone know how to do this?), OR don’t have one…yet. Kids. Children are incredible to watch and interact with. I’d borrowed my one nephew who is so incredibly creative. Give him a subject and he would go on and on building things, designing things, explaining how he’d do things – everything was possible with him. Too bad he grew up :-). Now I borrow other people’s children. There is usually some point where their parents are happy to get them out of their hair for a brief time period. The other thing I do is to watch children play - REALLY play that is, not video gaming. I watch them painting or playing “pretend”. Eventually my inner critic gets bored and passes out. Then I can go blissfully create in blessed silence!

The third is the most difficult for me. The remedy depends upon the severity of the depression. Am I down because I broke my own rule and watched TV news? Am I depressed because I just read that only 30 people out of 100 have enough to eat in the world? Or is it deeper – like in the time following my father’s death. I find that laughter is the best remedy. I’ll watch one of my favorite comedies, or go see a new one. I’ll call up one of my funnier friends. Wait a minute, ALL my friends are pretty funny. But in the case of losing my father, I didn’t find an instant cure. I found I just had to allow time to pass. I still did everything I needed to do to “live” – go to work, take care of loved ones and animals, wash clothes, etc. However, if I wasn’t busy with keeping myself busy, all I wanted to do was curl in a ball and sleep to escape. Doing art for me means I have to go inside myself – at a time like that I didn’t want to go inside – it hurt too much in there. I didn’t create on my own for months. I did make myself go to some stamp classes that I signed up for which was a good thing. Luckily I’m not very often depressed so this isn’t a typical cause of artist's block for me as long as I listen to the BBC news on NPR. I find that bad news read in a pleasant British accent doesn’t sound quite as terrible! :-)


Ouissi Gresty said...

This is a wonderfully inspiring post!! I identify with all 3 but particularly number 2, the inner critic...I fall prey to mine all the time!!

Ouissi x

I need orange said...

I love horses, too, but have never been fortunate enough to have one (went to state fair yesterday, so I got to pet horses!).

I silence the inner critic by concentrating on volume rather than perfection. I read a great quote in a magazine ad:

What I lack in talent, I make up in volume.

Any time I start picking things apart, I remember to just MAKE MORE......

I do find that people I respect often like things that are not my favorites. So I also remind myself that just because I don't think something is so great doesn't mean someone else may not *love* it.....

kerrip said...

oh, yes, the inner critic!! (and I forgot to mention my crazymaker too) - how could I forget him? I love your backgrounds. looks like you made immediate use of those wonderful images.

Going For Greatness said...

Inner critic paralysis.. I too, suffer from this!!
I absolutely LOVE the way you write!
You're RIGHT!! Watching children engrossed in PLAY and IMAGINATIVE games is totally inspiring to me too. Oh, and tell Mac if he ever wants to Babysit, Mackie has offered herself up at his mercy LOL!
I don't fall prey to depression (or atleast I don't think I do?!) I am not one who wants to watch/hear the news either. It gives me a pit in my stomach. It's not that I don't KNOW what's going on, I do... it's that society really disappoints me in so many ways.

Keep writing... write more often. I crave it!!!

DEW said...

Sorry Gabi - I've been out of town and am now trying to catch up!! Tell Mackie to "hold her horses" - I'll get her more Mac soon. :-)