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Saturday, May 16, 2015

Creative Burnout - When the Artist Hits the Creative Wall

Why do creatives suffer from burnout and creative blocks? You would think that the opposite would apply. Our art (in whatever form it takes), would calm us. After all, the rest of the world claims what we do isn't even real work. So how could we possible get burned out?

Yes I know that angers me as much writing it as it does you reading it. But it is a public perception that sadly exists. I suppose every profession gets its stereotypes. Engineers are all pencil pushing geeks. Computer programmers are nerds. Football players have no feelings and are all macho. And artists are a lazy bunch of hippy trash.

But despite what the masses might believe, we can and do suffer from burnout and blocks. I am not talking about mental breakdown (although that happens also), where our creative process breaks down and collapses for a time.

Thankfully when I suffer from this it seems to be short lived and has more to do with a lack of physical sleep. But others suffer from it severely and it impedes their development as an artist.

I've seen several kinds of burnout. there are many more than I can list but here are some example.

There is the artist that can't seem to get a good idea. The breakdown occurs early in the artistic process and like a writer struggling for the right words, this artist is literally locked out of the brainstorming process that lets them find new ideas and enlightened concepts. Once they find one though they are like superman and can create a masterpiece. But its getting there that is blocked.

There is the artist that halfway through a piece that was going strong suddenly runs across that wall and can't seem to finish the piece. Their is a lack of that momentary awareness that an artist must have to create while in the midst of a project. Their spontaneity has vanished.

There is the artist that fears so badly that they will mess up their current piece up that they literally shut down and just stare dumbly at the piece, helpless to continue on lest they destroy what they've already started.

I suspect that these problems are why digital art is so popular. Its easier to create with something that if you make a mistake you can just hit the backup button and remove the mistake. Artists often don't have this option. We can paint over something, but what previously existed will never be the same again.

These are just a few examples. But all have their roots in the same place. I call it "blank page syndrome". A totally lack or inability for a certain amount of time to find the creative fire that is so crucial to any creatives work.

So are their solutions? I don't believe there is a one solution fits all answer. I've observed that many creatives have their own way of overcoming it. I know one amazing artist who uses music to generate enthusiasm and thus creativity. The music motivates them, they get energized and the creative process starts up again.

I know another who was a computer programmer in a previous life and uses lines of code to find his creative balance again. Literally sitting down at a computer and coding a computer program puts him back in sync with the creative side.

For me its about switching gears. When I feel that burnout occurring, I change art. If I am blocked from good ideas for creating a new sculpture, I shift to photography or digital art or painting or even writing, which in all honesty is where many of the articles in my blog come from...shifting of gears.

I think that the human brain is tricky. If we can shift our conscious mind to something else for a time, the unconscious kicks in and works on the previous problem.

I have also noticed that I can get some of my best ideas from either driving or showering. There is something about occupying the body with tasks that take physical concentration that in turn releases the mind to focus better. Those ah hah moments come most often to people when they attention was wrapped up in something else. A famous myth applies. Einstein on a walk almost gets hit by a car while crossing the street and in turn suddenly realizes he understands the key part of the theory of relativity that he was missing. Or the classic story of Isaac Newton getting hit by an apple and discovering gravity. It wasn't the hit to the head that caused the revelation. It was the shaking the body and mind to another place momentarily that freed up their creativity.

However it may occur, there is reliable evidence that if an artist can break the pattern of thought for a time with other tasks, they can often reclaim that creative fervor.

I hear over and over how the artist just got depressed, headed for the bottle of wine and blubbered about that their best days were behind them and they'd never have another great idea again.

That's rubbish and we all know it. The biggest task you have before you isn't finding your creativity. Its getting off your ass and forcing the issue. Our creativity is not a fragile butterfly. Its very flexible and strong and can take a lot. Sometimes we have to whack it with a hammer to get it moving again.

So the next time your creativity fails you, try taking a shower or going for a drive or a walk. Don't force the issue. Don't do stupid exercises to get your creativity back in the swing. Go do a crossword puzzle instead. Get your mind out of that rut and your imagination will come flying back!

If you've not read it, I suggest also reading the following article on brainstorming exercises.


1 comment:

  1. Hello Greg, I am older and have a lot of ideas from life in my head and in my mind I don't have the time to get it all out. But in my case I have more ideas then time. I think you must change what your doing often to keep fresh. I know what you are telling us happens to a lot of people. Ideas are all around us in every thing if you look long and try to turn it into something, new subjects, new materials and ways of doing it.
    This week I have been sick and all I wanted to do is sleep, but laying around only gave me more ideas on my next work, so on Friday after work I painted three paintings and they are different then anything I have done. Your mind must be able to switch gears all the time. But that is me....