Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Crippled By Creative Block?

I confess: For a variety of reasons, I haven’t painted in about a year and a half. I miss it terribly. I often dream vivid, full-color dreams about painting. At the beginning of the year, I told myself I was going to get back into it, but then I had some business to wrap up… and a presentation to research and write… and a book to edit for a friend… and the studio’s a mess and requires a major cleaning… You get the picture. I’m making excuses.

Why? The truth is, I’m afraid to start up again. There’s nothing rational about my fears, but they are real. Why do I have this creative block? Have any of you ever experienced this? Where does it come from? What stops some of us from jumping in to the creative experience we say we love?

Somehow I did find time to attend a recent book signing party for a woman named Anne Paris, a clinical psychologist who specializes in working with artists, writers, musicians, and other creative types. She’s just published a book called Standing at Water's Edge: Moving Past Fear, Blocks, and Pitfalls to Discover the Power of Creative Immersion (available from Amazon), in which she explores a number of significant causes and cures for creative block. According to Anne, the best way to get past the block is to simply immerse yourself in the creative process. Pick up your paints and brushes and paint away with abandon, she says. Suspend judgment, she says. Let the ideas and emotions flow, she says.

This sounds great, and I agree completely, but my mind wants to take it one step further. See, for me—and I’m wondering if this is true of any of you out there—I’m always concerned about the outcome. Right now, my block comes from knowing that whatever results from such a flurry of artistic activity will not be good because I’m so rusty. Even when I’ve been painting regularly, though, I’ve had moments when my desire for getting everything just right has held me back from starting something new. You, too?

What’s making me feel better at this point is knowing that there’s another stage that comes after that wonderful immersion “in the zone.” After a frenzied, free-flowing emotional and spiritual release, there arises a new opportunity to go in and revise the work from an analytical or intellectual perspective. That’s the time to edit, adjust, refine. That’s the time to perfect the work… well, at least to make it as good as it can be.

Yes, yes, I know, nobody but me is ever going to see these paintings so why sweat it? Like I said, my fears aren’t rational. But it’s just how I operate, and I suspect I’m not the only one who puts this kind of pressure on myself, am I? But I’m confident I can get past this. I believe it’s possible for the artist part of me to have all the joy and exuberance of the art-making process, while the perfectionist part of me can relax, knowing she’ll have her turn, too.

Now, let’s see how long it takes me to actually get to it. That’ll be my next post!


  1. Jennifer, I am glad to hear from you again and will be keeping up with your doings.
    Blogging has been a lot of fun and educational for me.

  2. I am right there with you! I have been doing digital art and painting is something I did 15 or 20 years ago. I have started back, but now everthing is in limbo--even my digital art. Nothing seems right. I just keep plugging away in hopes that it will spark soon. ccrb

  3. Good to be hearing from you again, Jennifer. I will definitely stay tuned!

  4. Jennifer - About your 'block', it may not be a block at all. It may be a little voice trying to tell you something that you don't want to hear. Making paintings that are as perfect as possible is a suitable goal for everyone's art journey. At some point, if you are to grow, you need to let go of that, move beyond it. There is much more emotional power in the suggestion of a thing. Consider learning to be messy with just a few details to anchor to reality. Play with paint with no goal in mind. Be free and we will feel free just looking at your work! Good luck, Bob

  5. What a timely topic for me. It baffles me. I have done so little work in the past 3 years. If I knew exactly why, it would be a great help. Thanks for the book suggestion. I stopped taking Zoloft, that helped a little. And I do know after a 10 day workshop and receiving very positive feedback on my work, it stopped me dead in my tracks. Where do I go from here?
    It is not always criticism that is damaging. I have no shortage of ideas, projects, or time, but the drive, the excitement has disappeared. I miss it. I entered a few shows recently to force the issue. At least I am in the studio more often. anne

  6. Hi Jennifer-

    I really enjoyed your Create Better Paintings Website. I thought it was such a good idea. What happened to make you shut it down? I really don't smoke but it was the only photo I could find of me that was used for an ad campaign for Non Smokers in New York.

  7. I agree with Robert. I got past a block recently (I think I was getting bored) by playing with new paper (Yupo) and lots and lots of paint and water. It has been exhilarating and the results are so very different than my past work. And I like it!
    Thanks for the invite. I will enjoy following your blog.

  8. Hi Jennifer: Glad to see you back up and running again.

  9. Hello Jennifer! Good to hear from you again! I blog too but only about once a month! visit my blog if you get a chance! www.cathyhegman.blogspot.com
    I will link you on my blog as well.
    Keep up the good work! Take care!

  10. Hi Jennifer, I've been doing creativity coaching training with Eric Maisel, and it's an anxiety issue. I would recommend The Van Gogh Blues to you - it really resonated with me! Anxiety is not rational; it's fear about the future. Stay in the present moment and start appreciating everything around you and your abilities and the negative emotions that give you good information. Then in the present moment only, go to the easel and make a mark.

  11. Hi Jennifer...
    I look forward to your next post.... if it's words or painting or .... it's all expressive creating, isn't it... ?
    Loved CREATEBETTERPAINTINGS..... was sorry to see it go.
    You'll start again when you're ready.

  12. Hi,Jennifer, One of the comments about having your work "being perfect" resonated with me. I find my best way to break through that is to paint with a friend or friends. We have fun, we laugh and we do paintings that are creative and not at all perfect. Try "social painting" !
    Have more fun!

  13. I so know what you mean about wanting everything to be perfect,, to the point that it sucked the life right out of my work. I have really had to learn to loosen up and not be so uptight. One way I did this was buy starting each painting telling myself “This is just an under painting” I can go back and fix my mistakes. That was my way of giving myself permission to fail. But what actually happened was I would have a lot more happy accidents that I would end up keeping and then only refining certain areas.
    I also found when I would take a great deal of time off; when I came back to it I was actually better than when I stopped. It seems as you go through life and ultimately grow as a person, it has a way of also making you grow as an artist, sometimes in unexpected ways.

    I have found something terrific that I feel has helped me to let go some and defiantly grow as both an artist as well as a blogger. I am from Atlanta and we have a wonderful local artist named Karin Jurick.
    She has started a wonderful blog named Different Strokes from Different folks where she post a photo for everyone to use for inspiration every two weeks and tones of people from all over at all levels paint it. It has been a great help to me.

    If my links don’t work you can get to it from my blog.
    I look forward to keeping up with your blog and thanks again for “Create Better paintings”

  14. Jennifer, I am so glad you started this blog. Already, your message and the comments have been a great help to me. It has been really hard for me to get back to serious painting since taking time away from the easel to learn, create and build my new website last summer, using Adobe's Dreamweaver program. I'm seventy-one and it was a big undertaking. But, I find learning and using all tools related to my painting is exciting and I get throughly engrossed. Photographing my paintings for the website and for exhibits is time consuming also but I love doing that end of the business too. As you can see, my distractions have all been good but they are still distractions and take so very much time. The voice within me says that I'm preparing for the great change coming in my art world. Sure hope it comes soon and I'm ready.
    Nora Kasten

  15. Good to hear from you Jennifer. I think the fear of failure keeps us from proceeding. It certainly affects me. What helps is to re-define success. To me, by getting to the point of painting I have achieved success and can feel good about myself. None of us have total control over a painting. Even the best of artist crash and burn at times. Thats OK. Success is the journey, not the destination. At least approaching that way helps me. Good luck!

  16. You GO Girl! Creative Blocks are such a pain. As I write my studio rent check each month *sigh* I think, "gee - how much have I been painting, really?" I can't bear the thought of moving all the art stuff home, either. I think we get so tangled up by the old "product vs process" issue. "Will anyone buy this?" before we even get our paints out. I offer an open studio session each monday from 9:30 - noon if you would like to come paint with a fun group of non-judgemental folks. www.creativecatalyst.net

  17. Hi Jennifer! I know this block but I decided along time ago not to call it that because then I view it as something too high or wide to get past. Instead it is a mind set I must get past. For me it is the plain fact that I expect alot from myself and when I think I might fail, I just can't get motivated. When that time comes, I then have to devise a new word for it as well. Then I do not think about failing but taking this as an opportunity to experiement...because then I do not expect perfection. I believe it is all about how we talk to ourselves. Also when we begin to keep company with more accomplished artists we expect more from ourselves...and that is wonderful. It is just like golf...if we play with a poor player we never get better but when we play with the big boys we try even harder and we DO improve! You know so many artists so you have high expectations...use that as the jumping board to help you go farther. If we aim for the stars and miss...at least we could land on the moon! Gotta reach higher or we will just sit on our hands. Glad to see you up and running!

  18. Well, Jennifer, you've given me the inspiration to start a blog too. Please tell me how I go about putting a small slideshow like yours on my blog . . . .using my own paintings of course. I thought I could use Picasa but Im really having trouble. Please help.

  19. Hi Jen! I was glad to see the announcement of this blog! I've gone through those blocks a couple of times--once it lasted nearly 8 years!! What got me going again was a scheduled weekly activity--figure sessions at the Cincinnati Art Club on Monday afternoons. I told myself, "I'm only going to paint on Monday, and I've paid money and cleared a schedule for that." That seemed reasonable, not too intimidating, and after all, I figured, dues are only for a year... The first step, actually going there with pad in hand, was, of course, the hardest to make myself do. I hadn't done any figure in probably 20 years, never considered myself to be real good at it, and the first couple of sessions, did some truly dreadful work. But it felt so good to be back in a room with a bunch of people seriously painting. And slowly I found myself really looking forward to Monday afternoons. Don't worry for a second that you won't remember how to paint--it will come back quickly--and don't be upset if you find that you paint in a different way after some "time off". Take small, manageable steps and you'll find your way.

  20. Hi Jennifer,
    I really am going to miss "Create Better Paintings" But I look forward to your blogs.
    Thanks for bringing so much of the world of art into our lives and helping us struggling artists.
    God Bless.