What is Artist’s Block?

This year has been a difficult one with lots of transitions and changes. One of these big changes was my decision to drop out of the Human Services Associate’s degree program at Frederick Community College, in Frederick, MD. I made this decision after 18 months of double mindedness between feeling like I had to finish it because I didn’t have any other solid plans for my career, and feeling tired and unmotivated to complete the class assignments.  I felt really invested in finishing the academic program because I had already put in countless hours writing papers, studying and several fieldwork assignments. I also felt split in half between my desire to be a professional artist, and the need to carve out a definite career path for myself. It was a difficult decision, but I finally decided to drop out after some soul searching and talking with my academic advisor. In addition, the workload that this academic program demanded left very little time for creating art. And if I am 100 percent honest with myself, I have always wanted to take my art to the next level beyond just a hobby. However, I felt unsure of how to pursue this goal after I graduated from McDaniel College with a degree in Art in 2005, and it didn’t seem “practical” to pursue art as anything more than a hobby.  I also faced several professional setbacks with my art work when I got a series of rejection letters, both for art shows and for graduate school art programs.

Lately, I have been learning that incorporating creative time in my schedule is very important to me and my well being. Creating art work has been an outlet for me at various times in my life during stressful moments and personal struggles, especially during my father’s long illness and eventual death in 2011 from heart disease, complicated by a series of strokes and COPD.  Making paintings and drawings in oil, watercolor, pastel, and pencil, has provided me with a safe way to process difficult feelings and emotions. However, over the past few months, making art has been very challenging and more like a test of endurance and skill than the oasis or refuge it used to be. In spite of the difficulties, I have been pressing on with sketches and paintings to prepare for my October art show at the Frederick Coffee Company as Artist of the month, in addition to drawing every day in a drawing challenge I created for myself called 100 faces in 100 days, in which I post drawings of celebrity portraits on Instagram every day. However, the joy I once felt in making art seems to have deserted me.  I’ve been soul searching and asking myself, “What is going on here?” and “ How can I go from feeling like creating art work is my lifeline, to it has become my enemy and tormentor and relentless critic?”  After reading an article, entitled, 7 Types of Creative Block(And what to do About Them), by Mark McGuiness, I think I am beginning to understand that this lack of forwarding motion is the dreaded  Artist’s Block that seems to afflict creative types from a variety of fields such as musicians, writers, and artists.

This article mentioned 7 different types of creative blocks. However, the ones that I related to the most were “ mental block” and the “emotional barrier block.” The mental block is caused by a harsh critical voice which interrupts your creative flow with negative chatter and it often critiques the work in progress with a harsh rush to judgment. McGuiness suggests that artists should be curious and allow themselves to ask the question, “What if?” to break through the negative chatter and open up their minds to new ideas and approaches to making art work.  The second type of block is called an emotional barrier, and it involves the artist’s emotions and may have to do with the artist’s fears of failure or feelings that may be brought up by creating the art work. For me, I have realized that I have a tremendous fear of failure, and it is a subconscious feeling that comes up in the form of procrastination and avoidance when I have a custom art piece to complete or a celebrity portrait, to begin with, my drawing challenge, 100 faces in 100 days. I’ll justify it by looking for inspiration from art books or art work from the internet. Sometimes this is helpful to get me started on my art, and sometimes it isn’t.

This fear bleeds into many areas of my life, whether it is academic pursuits, art, etc. The fear of failure and my performance anxiety is so bad that I have already given up singing in the worship band at my church, and I don’t want to let that happen with my art work also. The only way I have been able to face this fear is to be intentional about doing the drawings or paintings anyway, despite my fears. I also find that setting the kitchen timer for 25 minutes helps me to get going on a drawing or painting because I know I have a limited amount of time in which to work.  It is interesting to note that McGuiness suggests that artists implement routines, and commit to doing their art work. When I started my drawing challenge in June of this year, I had not yet read this article, but the challenge of daily drawing with a pre selected subject that gets posted on Instagram has helped me to be much more productive. As for the fear of failure, it is still there, but I am trying not to let it keep me from doing the thing I love to do most and that is drawing and painting. Perhaps a little bit of fear is a good thing

because it keeps me on my toes and drives me to seek excellence in everything I do.

Pictured is a new work in progress, called Waiting: Creative Block, that is based on a photo collage I created in Adobe Photoshop using several photographic images from different sources. I traced the printed photo collage onto watercolor paper by placing a piece of carbon paper in between the photo collage and the Arches 140 lb watercolor paper, then outlining the image with a black pen. After I had transferred the image, I began painting in a burnt sienna watercolor paint to map out the middle values and darkest values in order to give the painting some basic shapes and to define the composition. More progress photos will be added later as I add in more details, lights, and darks. The piece seemed like a perfect complement to this blog post, because in it I wanted to translate the feeling of being creatively blocked by incorporating images such as a desert, mannequin forms trapped in cages, and plants and pregnancy images as a metaphor for the incubation of ideas and a time of waiting and stillness. Here is a link to the article I read in case you would like to read it: http://99u.com/articles/7088/7-types-of-creative-block-and-what-to-do-about-themThanks for looking!

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