Three Things You Can Do To Overcome Artist’s Block

"Patience" 16"x20" oil on canvas

All artists suffer through periods of time when the imagination is tempered, inspiration is scarce and production comes to a grinding halt.  For me, these periods of time are quite challenging and they occur more frequently than I prefer.  What is most unsettling about these episodes is how quickly and unpredictably they commence.  I can be in a zone of creative ambition, producing art like there is no tomorrow, then out of the blue comes a phone call or an email or a thought that halts me in my steps.  Days, weeks or months later I walk by my work station and take note of the unfinished painting, the brushes in waiting, the forgotten open tube of paint.  It is as if I am witnessing the scene of a crime or an apocalypse that involved someone else, not me.

The funny thing is, to be blocked is really not a bad thing at all.  When I step back to view my work from a global perspective, I can really see the improvement.  Yesterday, I loaded up the car with several dozen paintings bound for storage.  We are currently attempting to sell our home and de-cluttering is important.  As I carefully packaged each painting, I had an opportunity to really compare the eras of my progression and I realized that each was unique and divided by a period of challenge, a block.

So, like the alternating vertical and horizontal planes of a stairway, both productivity and block are required to push me upward.  Without the block I suppose I would create replicas of the same work over and over until my time ran out.  Perhaps I would be highly productive but would I show signs of growth?  Would I remain passionate and excited about my work or would I become hopelessly bored?  For me, it is that state of emptiness, confusion and lack of vision that makes me desire a renewal of meaning, focus and vision all the more.  You see the block produces desire and the desire produces transformation.

As a practical matter, there are three things that I can do to overcome artist’s block, to complete each cycle of transformation, to keep moving forward on my artistic journey.

  1. Artist’s Block is a powerful force.  It is like a raging river, much stronger than my own will.  Swimming against the current will only wear me out while I try to remain stationary.  Ultimately I will be swept downstream anyway.  So I identify where the energy is flowing and I go with the flow, feet first of course, prepared to stay clear from dangerous obstacles.  I accept the fact that I am blocked and I look for new and different productive outlets.  Perhaps I am behind on my bookkeeping, spending time with the family or recreating in the great outdoors.  This is the perfect opportunity to do all of the things that are put on the back burner while I’m in my creative zone.
  2. Open my mind.  View art as an observer for a while, not as a creator.  Go to art shows, visit web galleries, read artist blogs, pick up and read that book that has been sitting on the shelf collecting dust.  When I do these things, inspiration has a way of re-opening my imagination and desire starts to grow within me once again.
  3. Re-entering the creative zone after a period of block is not something that happens on it’s own.  It is up to me to have the courage and resolve to physically pick up the brush or the pen or the camera, with the deliberate intent of creating something that I have never created before.