For the Creatively Constipated

I am an artist who is surrounded by other artists.

My circles are comprised of photographers, actors, makers, writers, and the like, which leads to some really brilliant (albeit scattered) conversations. We throw around edgy ideas, offer resourceful tips, and question e v e r y t h i n g under the sun. Together. It's fun. 

Recently, I've been engaged in a dialogue (with more than a few people) about creative direction. More specifically, this question keeps surfacing: What does a gifted artist do with all the talent in the world, substantial practice, enriching experience, enough time, and absolutely no creative direction whatsoever?

It's a really good question. One I ask myself often.

As creative people, we are ruled by our curiosity.

We stumble upon a story like this, and we immediately want to become filmmakers (because holy smokes, that story NEEDS to be a film. Read it). We find ourselves clicking link to link to link until we are nose-deep in research about Carl Jung's psychological studies on Kundalini yoga, or the rich landscape of earth's most bizarre plant species. We take a sudden interest in our district representative and spend hours watching videos of Congressman John Lewis and his work in the civil rights movement.

And that's just one day in the life of a curiosity-driven creative. 

But then we sit down to make something and we've got nothin'. We don't really know what we're trying to say, what impact we want to make, or what subject we would like to tackle. We've got a million and one ideas that are all pretty okay but nothing is screaming in bold letters "PICK ME!"

We find ourselves creatively constipated.
We like to call it “writers block” or whatever else kind of block other artists say they get. We throw our hands up and stomp around and fuss at the muse for being so tight-fisted. We get lazy and we stop making things because the gods must be angry. 
But I'm going to tell you something. 

I don't believe in writers block. 
I think it’s a poor excuse to stop creating.

Sure, maybe all of your ideas suck right now and everything you make is total garbage, but you can still be making things. You can still be creative. You just have to create your way out of the lull. You have to paint your way back to brilliance. You can’t expect to sit around complaining about how blocked you are, hoping that one day all of a sudden the sky will open up and angels will descend to magically unblock you. You have to do it yourself. 

So, what really happens to us during these times and how do we get out of it?

What happens is: When we can't find our path; when the creative direction of our work becomes fuzzy and eludes us, we become paralyzed by perfectionism. We stop creating altogether. We compare ourselves to other creatives. We become overly critical of our work and we slip into some kind of weird depression and get really, really lazy.
Or something like that.

And how do we get out of it?
Good question. Glad you asked.

Other than sitting down with a bottle of whiskey and drinking ourselves into creativity,
(because frankly, I’m sick of living in a culture that operates under the perverse assumption that in order to create our best work, we have to destroy our bodies. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a red-wine, bourbon drinking kind of gal. But becoming dependent on a substance in order to make good art isn’t the only way. It isn’t even the best way)
*coming up for air from that long, ranty side-note* 
I've come up with a few things.

  1. Sit down and make something. 
    Literally just do it. I've written about a salt shaker before. It was horrible. But I wrote it anyways and it didn't ruin me. It was a step forward in my progression toward a better creative idea. It propelled me through the dark and gloomy tunnel of artsy haze.
  2. Consume quality material.
    You are what you eat. That's true in both the physical and the creative sense. Read good books, watch good plays, listen to good music, etc. You get the picture. What you put in is what will come out. Basic anatomy, folks.
  3. Follow your curiosity. Stole this idea straight from Elizabeth Gilbert herself because it's a really good one. You don't have to find the ONE THING YOU'RE MEANT TO DO FOR ALL OF TIME, EVER. Just ask yourself what interests you most and pursue it, no matter how irrelevant it may seem. Ask yourself what you would most like to see/read/experience in the art world. Make that.
  4. Step away from the artwork. I know I know. I just told you to sit down and DO IT. But also, you need to take a break. I went to a Bikram class literally in the middle of writing this post. It helped me clear my mind and focus in on what I really wanted to say. It also accessed other parts of my brain, which is always a smart idea when you're trying to create something. Stimulate yourself with diversity. Get outside of your usual medium. Make something solely for the sake of making it. Move your body and surprise your mind. Then revisit your work with fresh eyes.
  5. Lastly, stop the whole on-again-off-again work based on whenever the mood strikes. It's fickle and it doesn't lead to masterful craft. It's fine to treat hobbies this way, but not your work. Your work is what is meaningful to you. It's what gives your life zest. You want to make it a practice, not an impulse. 

So, what does a gifted artist do with all the talent in the world, substantial practice, enriching experience, enough time, and absolutely no creative direction whatsoever?

The artist makes art anyway.

Where do feelings go?

The Art of Saying No.