Monday, May 3, 2010

Around the Creative Block, and Back Again

The most common complaint amongst my artsy friends is having a creative block. For those of us blessed with a creative streak, it's one of the worst things that can happen. A creative block sucks like quicksand and is often as difficult to get out of. I've been there, done that, and didn't even get a damned t-shirt.

If you don't know where you are going, any road will get you there.
~Lewis Carroll

Years ago a friend, noting that I was going through a deeply troubling time, suggested that I write my way out of it. He said, "You were always a good writer. Why don't you try writing your way through it?" I told him I didn't know where to begin. He said, "Begin with a single word. Just one word." The next day I was cleaning my bedroom and I accidentally knocked one of my favorite figurines off the shelf. It shattered into a hundred pieces on the floor. I thought, "That's how my life feels right now. It's as if I've fallen off of a shelf and shattered into countless shards, and there's no way to put me back together again." In a fit of inspiration, I wrote down the phrase, "Baaba fell from the shelf today, now just pieces on the floor." And so began my penchant for writing (again), with the poem Baaba's Song.

I went over ten years without playing a piano. I didn't have one to play. I missed it in my life, but like having long lost friends, I put that sorrow to the back of my mind and got on with life. When John bought me my keyboard about eight years ago, I had a difficult time sitting down to play it. "It's been so long," I thought. "I don't know if I can even play anymore, and I'm not sure where to begin." Still, not wanting to disappoint John for giving me such a thoughtful, beautiful gift, I sat down in front of the piano. I struck a single note. Then I struck another one. Then I splayed my fingers and struck a chord, and then another chord. Then I let the fingers of my other hand drift over the keys as I sustained the chord. Before long I was lost in the glorious Other World of making music. It wasn't a concert level performance, but it didn't matter. It just felt good. It would take me another five years and John's death to get me writing music again.

It doesn't happen often, but every now and then I'll go up to my studio and just sit at my work station staring at stuff. I have a hundred different colors and kinds of paper, almost as many kinds and colors of ink, probably more than a thousand rubber stamps, markers, brushes, paints, etc. Yet, nothing jumps out and says, "Use me!" I detest that feeling. It's a lot like being really hungry, looking in the fridge and having nothing to eat that strikes your mood even though the fridge is full of stuff. It pisses me off to feel that way, largely because it makes me feel somehow ungrateful. I feel ungrateful because I have this gift and for whatever reason I can't or won't use it. So I force myself to do something, even if the end result is an absolute travesty to the world of art.

In art, it's the doing of a thing that counts, not the end result. Art is very forgiving that way. Art doesn't come back twenty years later and say, "You ruined my life!" After all, no one needs to see our messes, no one needs to read our misspent words, no one needs to hear our raucously cacophonic sounds. Our creative blocks are both self-concieved and self-perceived. Art is like the family dog, just waiting to be played with. It's up to us to nurture that relationship - the dog is panting, wagging and willing. We just need to put on our shoes and get on with the fun.

We have a guinea pig with two birds on its head. One of them put the rat in the fridge with a block of cheese. They're pretty creative.
~Rita Robinson


  1. I certainly know this experience. And I'm currently experiencing it! This, in spite of the fact that I'm signed up for and have paid a shitload of money for a degree program that includes the word "creative." Yikes.

  2. i posted on my blog about this, too, though i only touched on my current block. i've actually made a few things recently, though it was a struggle, but where i find the block is in the idea that i feel i'm not saying what i really want to say with my art. i have visions in my head, but lately it's such a struggle to bring them to fruition. i need to work in my art journal, that always helps. Oh, and i recently read a book about the creative process - Living the Creative Life by Rice Freeman-Zachery (sp.?) - and in it one artist said as she's going into her studio, she has one mantra, "i'm free." That really struck me, and i want to let myself feel that. As soon as i sit at my desk, i want to feel completely free, because really, making art is my freedom.

  3. Hilary... OUCH! 'Nuff said.

    Jess, that's a beautiful mantra! I think I'll adopt it. I know well the feeling you're experiencing. I get that one a lot... "what am I saying?" "Am I saying enough?" and at the deep heart of it, "what, exactly do I WANT to say?" It's maddening. I think this is why so many artists turn to self-medication. It's understandable, if sad. Just keep plugging away and try any trick you can. It'll happen.

  4. This is one of your more colorful creations lately Barb. I like it, it speaks to me.


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