Once upon a time, in a distant land, there was a young lad who spent his days as a stable boy. He felt his days were wasted in toil and drudgery and he dreamed of traveling to the magic castle. The magic castle granted the wishes of all who entered. The young lad filled his pack and began the journey to the magic castle. He walked with joy and hummed a happy tune. All was going well and he came upon a deep chasm. There was a bridge across the chasm and the young lad could see that the road continued and led directly to the castle. Night was beginning to set but the young lad was confident that if he hurried he would be at the castle before it was dark. Soon his every wish would be fulfilled and he would be forever happy and fulfilled. Just as the young lad was about to step onto the bridge a bear that had been sleeping nearby awoke and lunged at the young lad. The boy quickly jumped back and avoided being eaten. The bear came at the young lad again in a hunger-induced fury. The young lad ran into the woods with the bear right on his tail. The young lad ran blindly into the woods as darkness set over the woods. In his haste to escape the bear, he tumbled down a ravine and sprained his ankle. He had eluded the bear but now he was lost in the dark woods and was not able to walk due to his injured ankle. The young lad cursed the bear, he cursed his injured ankle, and he cursed the fact that he was now lost in the woods. The castle had been in sight and now everything was lost.
The young lad nursed his injured ankle and he fashioned a crutch from some tree branches. He wandered slowly around the woods for a week as his ankle finally began to feel better. He was still upset and he cursed his fate. He wanted to be in the castle and he was angry and bitter that his dreams were not happening as he wanted. That stupid bear had ruined everything! Being attacked by the bear was the worst thing that had ever happened to the young lad.
After a week of painful wandering, the young lad was walking along a small path. As the path came to a clearing he saw the castle just ahead! The young lad hobbled to the castle gate and was met by a kindly-looking old gatekeeper.
“Well you are one lucky young fellow indeed,” said the gatekeeper.
“Lucky!?” cried the young lad. “More like cursed. You have no idea what I’ve been through!”
“I’m sure,” said the old gatekeeper. “We too have had our own troubles. This is the magic castle where all happiness resides as everyone has heard. About a year ago an evil wizard came to the castle and used his power to take over the castle so that he could use the castle’s magic powers all for himself. The evil wizard did not want anyone to come to the castle to steal his power. The evil wizard cast a spell of illusion and made an illusionary bridge appear to go over the chasm. Many tried to cross that bridge and fell to their deaths. The evil wizard was not satisfied and was worried that someone would somehow get across the chasm. The evil wizard cast another spell so that anyone who knocked at the gate would burst into flames. The few who did cross the chasm all perished at the gates. The evil wizard just died two days ago and the castle was finally free from his evil grasp. The castle is once again the home of bliss. So again I say to you that you are indeed lucky that you somehow survived the illusionary bridge and that you arrived when you did, if you had gotten here a week ago you would have burst into flames right here at the gate!”
The moral of the story? Art (and life) can sometimes be un-“bear”-able but sometimes the bear is just what you need.
Genius can be defined as an exceptional natural capacity of intellect, especially as shown in creative and original work. The label of genius is often reserved for a few select people whose qualities are out of reach of normal people. This is false. Everyone is a genius. There is something that everyone has “an exceptional natural capacity of intellect” expressed in a “creative and original work” that they do better than everyone else. That genius that everyone has is being themselves. There is no one like you anywhere, at any time in the past or future. You are a unique expression and no one can do it better than you! You are yourself and in fact, you are perfect at being yourself. The problems arise when we don’t recognize our own genius. No one can tell you how to be yourself, they can only tell you how they go about being themselves and assume that what works for them will work for you but your particular case is extremely unique. So unique that only you can know with 100% accuracy all the conditions and inner workings of your particular existence. Since you are the only one who knows the completed, unfiltered picture of your own unique expression then only you are the most qualified to know what is best for you at any given moment. As the only expert on yourself, trust yourself. Following someone else’s path, no matter how well it worked for them, is still someone else’s path. You will never know with 100% accuracy all the conditions and inner workings of someone else’s existence and so you will never be able to do exactly what someone else has done. It will be quite impossible for you to be anyone other than yourself, which is perfectly perfect.
As a painter, I am always trying to learn new techniques (or centuries-old techniques). I try to learn how other great artists painted. Everything I learn gets added to everything that I all ready am and becomes a part of my unique expression. As a result, every painting I paint looks like I painted it. There was a time when this was incredibly annoying, I didn’t want to paint as I painted. I tried emulating other artist styles and all that resulted was that I created a painting that looked like a copy of artist “X” painted in the style of me. I searched for my artistic voice and thought I would find it by trying to speak with someone else’s voice. I finally realized that no matter what I painted the bottom line was that I painted it. No matter what I said it was my own voice. I could try to disguise it but that only made it garbled. I finally accepted that all my paintings were me. My voice, style, expression, brush strokes, in fact, everything about the painting was me and could never be anything else. I continue to learn from others and incorporate what I learn as I grow and expand and it gets added and filtered to become a part of my unique expression. I am a genius in being me. No one else can match me in being myself. You are a genius in being you. No one will ever come close to matching your “natural capacity of intellect” and the “creative and original work” of being your unique self. Embrace your perfect genius, it’s impossible not to.
“Artist block” (or writer’s block or any perceived lack of inspiration) is something that all creatives face at some point. The biggest reason it strikes is because we label it and give it a name. Ideas come from everywhere at all times. When I finish a painting and am ready to start a new painting I can’t expect the idea for a wonderful masterpiece to come to me at the exact time that I am ready to start. Some people get concerned when that perfect creative idea for a new project does not appear the moment they finish their current project. That absence of an immediate creative idea causes panic and that panic is named and labeled and given strength. What was just an ebb and flow in the process has now become the dreaded “artist block”. Once artist block is acknowledged it becomes an entity on its own and brings with it all the negativity that people have bestowed upon it. It becomes a powerful beast that follows you around and laughs at your attempts to banish it.
An online dictionary defines inspiration as “theprocess of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially to do something creative. The quality of being inspired, especially when evident in something.” (my italics) Inspiration is a process. That very same online dictionary defined a process as “a series of actions or steps taken in order to achieve a particular end.” By combining these two definitions we can see that there is a series of actions or steps that can be taken to become mentally stimulated to feel something. The mighty dragon of artist block can be defeated!
Here are 5 things that I have done to chisel a giant “artist block” into a beautiful sculpture. (As an artist I am a painter and have never actually chiseled a block into anything. The wordplay works better using the sculptor analogy and I have therefore used the other ubiquitous “artist” term, “artistic license”).
Disbelieve the illusion. There is a common feeling that as an artist you have you continuously create one masterpiece after, link after link, in a long unbroken “genius” chain. The second that pace slows down or a piece doesn’t live up to your expectation does not mean you have hit the “artist block”. Artist block doesn’t exist. It’s a term used to explain the lulls in your creative journey. Enjoy the process. Don’t put artificial timetables, deadlines, or expections on yourself. There was a time when creating and painting was fun, keep it that way. I used to get stressed when I wasn’t in the studio every day painting, feeling that I had to turn out painting after painting. If I didn’t have an idea for a painting as soon as I finished the last one I felt that I was failing and that I was facing the immovable “artist block”, potentially for weeks, months, or more. I keep in mind that ideas come from everywhere at all times and I no longer stress. I know that the next idea will arrive at some point and if I’m not in the studio I’m doing other things that are all potential seeds for more paintings. All of life’s experiences are artistic seeds that you plant every day and any one of them can sprout at any time. Don’t worry, don’t stress, don’t even acknowledge artist block.
If number one seems too crazy then the following steps involve a process, “a series of actions or steps taken in order to achieve a particular end.” A tried and true method in your arsenal against artist block is to keep a sketchbook and to actually use it. My sketchbook is a combination of doodles and handwritten notes. Ideas can strike at any time, when they do write them down, don’t wait thinking that you’ll remember later, you won’t. I do quick doodles or drawings of things that I find interesting. Most are not for any particular reason but you never know when they may come in handy later. I write words or phrases that catch my ear or notes and doodles for potential paintings as the ideas pop into my mind. When you are looking for ideas go through your sketchbook and review all the information there for potential ideas.
Take a break and watch a movie, take a trip, listen to music, or read a book. Let other things besides focusing on your art filter into your awareness. Stimulate your mind with living. Your subconscious will filter it and apply it to your particular art, recombine and reimagine it and then a small “idea sprout” will break through the soil of your mind as the “idea seed” that you planted who knows when takes root.
Revisit your artistic childhood. If there is an artist whose work moved you to become an artist reacquaint yourself with their work. Visit a museum, take time to view other artists’ work. Get books on your favorite artist and when you hit a slump review the books and reignite the awe and excitement that you experience when seeing that artist’s work. Reach back to why you started in the first place. It’s easy to forget why you create. I paint because I love it. I love paintings and paint and brushes and oil, all of it. Sometimes that gets obscured when you begin to focus on future outcomes, finances, time, etc. Reconnect with your purpose.
Change medium, subject matter, or style. If you paint in oils do a watercolor painting. If you do abstracts do a realistic still-life painting. If you do a work that you know is not what you normally do you have no attachment to it. You don’t worry how it will turn out, if it’s “good enough”, or how it will fit into your oeuvre. You will be creating but you will be relaxed and free of expectations and that is like watering your “idea seeds” which will help them grow. You will also learn all kinds of valuable art lessons that can then be applied to your normal work.
“Artist block” is not something to be feared. It is a boogeyman that you can choose to ignore. I’m confident that the steps above will help you eliminate “artist block” for good. Again, thank you for visiting and taking the time to read my blog!
The digital revolution has changed the world. Art has also changed. Art is now created on computers, digital images are shared, NFT’s are sold (I think, I’m not exactly sure what NFT’s are but they seem to exist in cyberspace for the most part) and 3-D printers are a thing now. Artists push the boundaries of what art is. Given the growth of the “cyberverse”, AI, high-speed computing, and CGI why do I still paint with an “analog” paintbrush on canvas? Why do I still use methods and techniques that have been around for hundreds of years? It’s not because I’m part of the resistance, joining forces with John Connor to thwart the rise of the machines. (or am I….).
Creating physical works of art connects the artist and the viewer in a tangible and meaningful way. One of the most emotionally moving works of art is the hand, stenciled on the wall of a cave. There is a direct link between the artist who placed their hand on the wall and the viewer. A direct connection that transcends time and unites the viewer and the artist in a moment in time. For that moment they exist together. Painting and sculpture also share that quality. When I stand in front of a Rembrandt painting there is a moment when there is only myself and Rembrandt. Time no longer exists. Rembrandt was the last person to spread the paint, to scratch the surface, to leave his mark. Now, years later, I stand staring at those marks, scratches, and paint, just as he left them. Rembrandt stood in front of the very painting that I now stand in front of. There is only Rembrandt, talking to me across hundreds of years, as we both contemplate the same exact globs of paint.
Digital art (in my opinion) is starting to lose that direct connection from artist to viewer. The hand of the artist is being obscured by ones and zeros. If I look at a digital work of art it’s possible the artist never had any physical connection with it. A digital pen creates a digital image on a machine that digitally edits it and sends it (digitally) to a printer or screen which alters it again and finally it is viewed on a screen. The direct connection between the artist and the viewer is missing (or at least being filtered and beginning to slip away). If you stand in front of the stenciled hand on the cave wall you know that the artist was there and physically left a direct mark of their presence. Rembrandt and I are both are looking at the same smear of paint and contemplating its nuances. An image created in a computer only really exists in that computer and it can’t be experienced directly. I think something is lost.
I paint with oil paint on canvas. I enjoy rich, thick paint application that captures brush strokes and holds them in time so they can be passed on to the viewer hundreds of years from now. I am contemplating the nuances of the paint smears along with the future.
Artists create the art that moves them and this is why I paint. Creating a direct human connection across time. As the computer and digital ages continue to advance I (and possibly John Connor) will continue to use old fashion means to create art that connects and speaks from one human to another.
Thank you for stopping by and checking out my blog. I’m an artist living in Central Pennsylvania. I grew up loving art and was fascinated by the art on the book covers. (I grew up when there were actual bookstores). Contrary to what “they” say, I judged books by their covers. I went to school for illustration and eventually focused on figure art and portraiture. Through this blog, I will be sharing my journey in the art world and life.