Pulse Points is a new series of posts on Create Mixed Media where a group of mixed-media artists are each presented with two survey questions gleaned from the pages of The Pulse of Mixed Media: Secrets and Passions of 100 Artists Revealed by Seth Apter.
Have you ever experienced an artist block and if so, how have you dealt with it?
The dreaded artist block: myth or reality? This seems to be a very real phenomenon judging by the responses of the panel. As with most issues, the responses of the artists vary along a continuum, differing in the frequency with which blocks occur and the seriousness of their impact. And based on this group, it unfortunately seems that an artist’s worst nightmare in this regard can sometimes come true.
For Claudia, artist block does not occur all that often. She describes herself as “disciplined with my work” and in fact says rather than being blocked, “usually my problem is trying to find the very best idea among many.” Sue has definitely experienced artist blocks but has come to recognize their origin as primarily due to outside pressure. Blocks occur most often when “I am trying to create something for someone other than myself, such as articles and class proposals.” Lisa has also experienced artist blocks, but for her they are more internal. She describes getting off track after being distracted while creating a work. “Doubts will come in when this happens – I’m not really an artist, am I? I’m just very clever and the same tricks will work.
These three artists have their own strategies to deal with artist block. As examples, Claudia suggests working in series “to examine an idea to its fullest,” looking at artists whose work appeals to you or is similar to yours” to get a different point of view, or looking at art more conceptually rather than technically. Sue’s strategies include wandering through a museum, remembering to “create art for the pure joy,” and “jumping in as my role of art teacher” at elementary school, an activity that reminds her “kids are naturals, uninhibited and create art for art’s sake.” When things are blocked for Lisa, she goes out “to the beach or to an art show” to be reminded that “I am so glad I am an artist – and how lucky I am to live this charmed (but at times frustrating) life.”
Further along the continuum is Veronica, who has experienced a more significant artist block that required a substantial life change. She describes a period about 8 years ago when she “experienced a block after painting and exhibiting heavily for many years.” She attributes the block to “absolute exhaustion with how difficult it could be to heed to the desires of the art world” and in particular the galleries. To deal with this, Veronica “pulled every painting out of every gallery, sold our home, put our belongings in storage and rented a farmhouse in the middle of the prairies.” She took “time to play and experiment with a variety of media and hasn’t looked back since.”
While Veronica’s actions may seem extreme, her choices effectively jump-started her work as an artist once again. For Jen, in contrast, what started as a typical artist block has turned into a permanent, life altering change. “I’m going on 3 years of blockage. Initially I came up with time proven strategies (just do it, fuel the fire with new visual experiences, put pen to paper in a visual journal, etc.) but I am currently beyond that. I keep returning to the table… though less and less given that the art is mostly awful… in hopes that my creative mojo will return. I have begun to realize that maybe that’s it. And while a year ago that terrified me, I am mostly okay with it today.”
Do you worry about running out of ideas?
This question goes hand in hand with the question about artist blocks and it is no surprise that there is much overlap among the responses for each individual artist to these two questions.
Running out of ideas is not an issue for Sue as she has several, very differing sources for ideas. First, she references “symbols that are important to my life” and as such, always has a personal pool of inspiration to pull from. Second, she is a sucker for a good hardware store. “Part of the process for myself is the thrill of the hunt. Usually by the time I get to my studio I am ready to get busy on the idea I had while browsing the aisles.”
For Lisa, running out of ideas is not a concern but “harnessing them when they are hot” is. “I will have a flash and then forget about it and wish I had acted on it” quickly. Lisa’s sources of ideas are also varied and can come from “tearing, scribbling and collaging away with piles of previous trials of art” or from “looking at the news.”
Claudia also does not worry about running out of ideas but rather “not getting the very best of myself” and “not having enough time to do what I want to do.” Seems like she almost has too many ideas “since I came back to art late in life.”
Since Veronica has rediscovered her love of being an artist, running out of ideas does not seem to be a problem. She attributes this to her newfound sense “of freedom to explore. I now trust myself and will try anything that appeals to me.” Like Sue (and so many other artists including myself), that exploration often takes place in the hardware store – a mecca for unconventionally inspiring materials. After much exploration, “I was finally able to connect the symbols and imagery that I have carried in my mind all these years with the vibrant color palette and subject matter of my heart.”
Jen, as detailed above, seems to be in a period where she is accepting of the fact that “the well has run dry.” She goes on to say “people are looking for reassurance that, yep, an artist block is entirely normal AND you, you wonderful artist you, will never ever ever run out of ideas so long as you keep doing. I’m here, unfortunately, to tell you that in very extreme cases the block remains no matter what and yes… unfortunately you CAN run out of ideas.”
The lesson here for all of us is to celebrate each and every single second of our creative lives and acknowledge the joy that comes with that. There are no guarantees and it is not something to take for granted. Now excuse me. Suddenly I have the urge to paint.
Seth Apter is a regular contributor to CreateMixedMedia.com, the voice behind, The Altered Page and the author of the book, The Pulse of Mixed Media (North Light Books, Spring 2012). His two instructional videos, Easy Mixed Media Surface Techniques and Easy Mixed Media Techniques for the Art Journal are now available in the North Light Shop.
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