Updated: Oct 18
I pose a question to a large art group: 'What helps you when you have blocked creativity?' Here are some of the top ideas shared by the community from some highly talented individuals.
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I pose a question about what helps blocked creativity on a Facebook group of creatives called BendArts. Here are some of the top ideas shared with the community from some highly talented individuals.
BendArts is a great place for sharing ideas, works and events (music, visual art, performance etc) for creatives in Central Victoria. It was founded by the late Hugh Waller and continues to be maintained by a handful of his old mates (myself included!).
Tip 1: Step back and take time away from your “serious” work, but do something for your creative side.
A change of scenery can be just what you need and it can be fun to intentionally take a little “art adventure”. Julia Cameron in her book The Artist's Way calls it an “Artist Date”. It might be a walk somewhere outside in nature. Being outside in the fresh air with the birds and plants, soaking in the light can be deeply healing and might bring you back into the “present moment” and out of your thoughts.
Artist Tashara Roberts suggests being in nature or around some like minds. “I used to go do deep listening in the bush or do a gallery day. Being around other creatives always helped too.”
A very very old Shakespeare collection was on display in the Peter Harrington store. This book had a price tag of $850,000!
How about a gallery visit? Search for some truly inspiring art that you have perhaps never seen. Venture to a part of the gallery you may not have closely looked through. Seeing art as an appreciator can be a great thing to do for ideas but also you may pick up on the inspiration that is often embedded in the artworks, a kind of “energy” the works can possess. I personally love going to the city and checking out something creative at the National Gallery or a small show in Brunswick Street. Recently we went to the Melbourne Rare Book Fair at the University of Melbourne (what an amazing place loaded with history!). On display they had a wide range of old books for sale. Some were as old as the 15th century, it was truly inspirational to not only see the works themselves, but the love people still have for them.
Are you a writer? Perhaps try some prompts! Paul Rudd suggests "Story cards work great. Lay a few out at random and try and think of how they might be linked in a sequence. I mean, isn’t that how Narnia was written? "
Tip 2: Relax and simplify! Put the phone away, sit in the quiet, meditate, pat a pet, listen to something relaxing or do some chores!
A relaxing piece of music and sitting in a comfortable chair can refresh the mind. Often if you have a pet cat or dog, it will find its way to you for a pat or scratch. The simple enjoyment of stroking an animal's fur is deeply soothing and great for planting you in the moment. If you don't have a pet, you could simply pick up a book and have a flip through, or visit a friend who has a pet! The idea is to become more in touch with the present moment—so social media etc. is not recommended in this strategy. Even basic tasks around the house can help take us out of thought cycles. Author Amanda Collins says "Walk the dog, fold the laundry, or do a chore you have been putting off"—something to take you out of that sense of “stuckness” as described by Martha Beck.
Relaxation or meditation -
Artist Sarah McQueenie says “The block for me is never related to my painting. Sit with it and find what is at the bottom of it all.” Sara continues by saying that sitting in meditation or using “morning pages” can help bring issues into the light. Morning pages are another suggested practice from Julia Cameron’s The Artists’Way which involve doing three pages of long-hand stream-of -consciousness writing each morning. Artist Lorraine Brigdale recommends that a short meditation before working can help. “Meditation (even a very short mediation) where I ask my inner id to guide me for my next steps and direction. Sometimes I even do this as I’m sitting in front of my paper with pencil/charcoal/paintbrush in hand.”
Sometimes it's simply not time to create. There is nothing wrong, but your creativity just isn’t ready yet and needs some time to mature. Composer Rohan Phillips has some thoughts on the topic. “I try to carry as much in my head as I can for as long as I can as a bit of a filtering process (with the bad ideas likely to be forgotten), and won't put pencil to paper until I have a really good idea of where there work is headed (or at least enough to give the work a good kick off).”
Tip 3: Write it down or talk about it.
Write it down: Several creatives recommend the aforementioned “Morning Pages”, suggestedby Julia Cameron. This is essentially the act of writing down any random thoughts, worries and ideas in the morning while your mind is relatively clear. Musician and artist Sheree M says “It gives you a place to write out the junk and get to the bottom of the block”. Cameron recommends this to be practiced each morning and many people highly recommend it as a very insightful way to grow creatively and gain a deeper understanding of the self. If you have not yet read this book. It's highly recommended.
Talk about it: Some people simply are not going sit alone and write their thoughts down. Perhaps talking it out can help? Comedian Luke Morris suggests “Talk to a friend. Roll around your problem until some ideas appear. The way another person can prod the way you look at an idea is always enlightening.”
This may sound crazy, but another approach is actually talking to yourself! You can role play and talk in the third person about whatever is bothering you. This is a great way to observe your inner narrative. A lot of people have this feeling of “I should be doing this right now”. Perhaps this is something you have experienced. Maybe try doing what you want to do instead! If you don't want to do your creative work, why do it at all?
Tip 4: Ride the negative thoughts/feelings. It’s OK!
This one is a bit more challenging and possibly enters the mental health arena, but the basic idea is that when we have negative persistent thoughts, we tend to fight them instead of seeing them as a natural part of existence. Instead of fighting, try “riding the anxiety like a wave”. Sometimes we allow our negative thoughts to become much more potent than they possibly ought to be—thoughts like “I'm a failure” or “this person is so much better than me”. When we begin to feel ourselves sliding into despair, an alarm is raised in our body, and this can be deeply unsettling. Over time, this can—in some instances—leads to depression, anxiety and, definitely, creative blocks! These ideas come from a book I read a while ago called No Worries. It describes negative thoughts using the metaphor of ocean waves; we are a surfer who needs to ride them out instead of fighting them. It's incredible how much of the “sting” or power is taken out of these thoughts/feelings when you accept that it’s natural to experience them when trying to do something that takes guts or is out of the ordinary. It takes some practice and trust, but I highly recommend this approach!
What we all could use more of is giving ourselves a break when we need it and accepting that “negative” feelings are our travel companions in life. There is nothing wrong with the thoughts on their own. Give them a voice, hear them out, then decide if you will take them on board or not. I often ask “how does this thought serve me?”
Tip 5: Physical Space. Maybe “play” or try a class/group?
We are profoundly influenced by our immediate surroundings, so venturing into the space in which you create may improve the mindset and start to get the wheels turning again. I have certainly found myself feeling uninspired upon entering my workspace, only to break out of it and lose track of time because there was a painting I started working on. Sharon Greenaway says "I find going to my studio and pottering around often gets the mind working". Kerryn Finch says "Sometimes what can work for me is just going to my studio with the intention of just painting or drawing something purely for myself". This is a great option (providing you are fortunate enough to have a space). If you do not have a dedicated space, maybe just try sitting somewhere quiet and flipping through some of your ideas.
The value of experimentation and learning - Visual artist Judy Hutchins says "When I feel blocked creatively I like to just ‘play’. Just do anything that is totally unrelated to my usual work. I might just get a heap of papers and cut them up and do a collage with them. I have no expectations of outcomes and put no restrictions on what I do. This is a great way to lighten that sometimes heavy feeling one might have when thinking about their main work or even a large piece that may not be going so well and needs some time away.”
Attend an art group! Artist Sarah Hansford says of her life drawing group “…the timing means you don’t really have time to worry about what you’re doing. And most of the decision making to do with coming up with subject matter is taken care of too."
Bonus Tip 6 - Set goals!
Sometimes we need to have something tangible to work toward and focus on. Signing up to a small exhibit, competition, gig, performance, reading etc. might be the trick to giving you a sense of purpose and direction that may be temporarily missing. We can all flounder when there is no hill to climb, only to realise that “it's been a long time since I have been in the studio, or working on a project.” Maybe a (manageable) goal is enough to get things moving again.
"For me, I only get out of my blocks by booking exhibitions or setting goals. I find that forced motivation leads into real motivation and enthusiasm for art again." - Nathan Sims (otherwise known as awesome artist Mr Dimples)
Conclusion - We hope there is something in the above “top 5 tips” that might help you if that challenging time ever comes. Also, a sincere thanks to all the kind and thoughtful contributors who shared their life experience for the benefit of others. It will no doubt be extremely helpful to anyone who reads it.
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Begun in 2021 as an online creator of art education resources for teachers and students, NetSpaceArts is centered on creating activities that are fun and easy to use but grounded in skill-building and art history. More recently, we have been planning art classes with full online/in person programs that focus on skill development and personalised creative practice. We will also be offering coaching on marketing in a one-on-one format for those who want to build a profile online.
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