The lovely video I’ve included below mine by Savannah College of Art and Design alumnus Bang-yao Liu describes a process many of us go through. Who hasn’t had a block or lack of inspiration?
Hi, my name is Carrie and here on Artist Strong I help artists like you build your skill and develop your unique artist voice. Today I want to talk about artist block and inspiration. Lots of people assume block is a lack of inspiration, but I make a different argument today.
Let’s first discuss this issue of block.
The more research I do, the more I see block as a resistance to “shoulds.” Sometimes we place too much expectation on our art and think it has to “be” something other than what it already is. This undue pressure triggers perfectionist ideas and makes us start to wonder, “Well, then why spend any time on it at all?”
Do you put a lot of pressure on yourself to have a stellar golf game? What about the state of your garden? Why oh why do we feel this need to place unnecessary expectations on our art?
Block is an issue of mindset. It’s not about a lack of ideas. It’s a belief you have nothing worthy to create or worth sharing with the world. I’m here to tell you that is a load of bunk. You have a desire to create, otherwise you would not be watching this video today.
I encourage you to ask yourself about the expectations you place on your art life? Many are internal and unspoken. Get out a piece of paper and do a mind map of all the art expectations you have for yourself, or, engage in stream of consciousness writing that reflects on this idea of mindset and expectation. What did you learn? Does anything surprise you? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.
Once we start to acknowledge these issues of mindset we can return to our regular practice of creation, which includes finding inspiration.
What is inspiration to you?
My experience is I don’t seek inspiration, but rather inspiration finds me. There are things I can do, however, to help inspiration call my name.
For me, it whispers during the three rainy days a year in Dubai that flood roads and kick all of the dust out of the air. I heard it during the amazing lightning storms I observed over sand dunes against the night sky. I hear it with the peaceful sound of ocean lapping up against the shoreline.
Inspiration shows up in the playful curiosity of my puppy Banner when we go on walks.
Inspiration is loud and clear when I go to museums like The National Gallery of Art in Ottawa.
Nature is an excellent source of renewal. When I am quiet and listening, observing nature around me, I can relax enough to re-open my floodgate of too many ideas pouring forth.
Exercise can be another great way to clear your head and be open to new ideas. A friend of mine says that is one reason she loves running so much. It allows her to think and reflect on anything she chooses to address and it offers time to center herself. While she is into the whole marathoning adventure, activities like yoga or pilates, or even walks can be also very centering and invigorating.
Okay so nature, exercise, what next? Play. Do something you love. I love baking. When I am distressed and overwhelmed I love to bake my mother’s chocolate chip cookies. I love the smell of cookies baking in the oven. I love the physical nature of mixing up all of the ingredients by hand. I love sharing them with people and watching the looks of pleasure that cross their faces with the first bite.
Perhaps you hate being in your kitchen. Perhaps you don’t even have the gas hooked up to your oven (yes, I had friends do this when I lived in Dubai). Then go play with your friends. Go out for dinner and/or drinks. Picnic in the park. Find a free movie night in your city with big beanbag chairs and classic movies.
You know there is something you can do to clear your mind and pamper yourself. I can give you ideas, but only you know what actually helps you become a challenge for inspiration.
Think about this: If you don’t treat your body and mind well, how do you expect your brain to be chock-full of amazing ideas and inspiration? How do you expect to be energized to take care of life’s responsibilities AND make time for your art?
Lastly, seek inspiration in the actions and ideas of others.
I love art museums for this: I can study the brushstrokes, the layers of paint and the colors used by people we revere today. I like to read articles like this one (which give me tips on using my acrylic paints), or I can pop on Instagram and search for artists like CJ Hendry or listen to a podcast like Art For Your Ear by The Jealous Curator and they open up a whole new world of possibility.
Find people who act on things you wish to, who you aspire to be more like. Their presence (even digitally) and influence are likely to rub off on you.
Now go get those post-it notes and tell me in the comments below: what is your strategy for feeding your inspiration?