Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Creative Wounds

Creativity is a dynamic thing.   It ebbs and flows.

When you're in flow, it's awesome.  You're creating great stuff  - or learning great stuff and you don't care that the finished product is less than stellar.

A creative ebb is not so awesome.  Staring at the blank paper, brush in hand, wondering if every successful thing I've done before was a fluke is not my idea of a good time.

I was talking to an artist friend recently about what causes creative block and we ended up talking about the notion of 'creative wounds'.

Since then I've been thinking about the things that have caused creative wounds for me.   Wounds serious enough that I just don't want to try any more.

The most serious wounds for me come when I come face to face with my mindset problems.  And they almost always center around Expectations. 

  • Others' expectations that my work should be better.  More original.  Less colorful.  More urban.  Less rural.  More sky.  Less sky.  More floral.  Less like me.  More like something else. 
  • Others' expectations that they are the gatekeepers of beauty and they have the right to judge my creative output. 
  • My expectations that my work should be better.  That it should be easier.   That I should be able to do things faster.  That I should have better composition, or color harmonies, or subject matter, or something.  That I should get into more juried shows and that if I don't, it means I'm a bad artist.  That someone else gets to decide what 'good' is and if I can just figure that out and spend 24/7 practicing, then finally I'll be 'Good'.  
  • My expectation that all efforts that aren't great [frameable/sellable] are a waste:  of effort, of time, of materials.  And that all waste is evidence of a deep character flaw.
  • My expectation that my worth is completely and totally tied to the worth of my final product - and that is determined not by me, but by Others.
Geeze.  It hurts just thinking about it. 

The only way to get over these types of wounds is with a lot of care.  Creative Therapy, if you will. And that's going to be 90% deciding how to think about things differently and 10% practice reminding myself to think about things differently.  These are my current mindset shifts:
  • My opinion of my work [and my life] is more important than anyone else's. [I'm going on a juried show hiatus for a while.  I'm generally just fine when I get rejection letters, but this summer I want a break from that.]
  • All great artists do the equivalent of piano scales for.ev.er. before they get great and those resources are not wasted, but merely stepping stones to a more satisfying-to-me place. 
  • My worth is completely independent of my creative output.   A stack of 'bad' paintings is evidence of practice, nothing more, nothing less. 
  • Learning and experimenting can be fun.   Actually fun.   I'm good at learning, not so good at fun, so I have given myself the task of learning how to have fun.  [Which makes me laugh, so I think I'm on the right track.]  I think that will involve a lot of paper and paint and exploration and experimentation and stacks of things that will never see a frame.  
And I'm Ok with all that.   I can feel my Creative Wounds beginning to heal already.  


  1. This really hit home for me... thank you for writing about it. Someone Else has always been the giant, looming, faceless Dementor that sucks me dry and leaves me with no strength or will to do my own art. What is Good is always decided by Someone Else. Years ago, in an a kind of evil experiment as Devil's Advocate, I sat down with a poet friend of mine. He was published, and a gritty type of poet...raw. I really liked his work a lot. But I couldn't help myself. I challenged him on this notion that someone else, some gaggle of unseen authorities, declares what is 'good' or what is 'bad'. Someone decides what poem gets into the literary journal just like some faceless judge decides what gets into an art show. Getting in is really validating, but getting rejected is really devastating sometimes, and puts you into the place where you don't even want to try anymore. I challenged the authority of the people who decide, and as a result, my poet friend came completely unglued, defensive, unsure, wounded even. I am still ashamed that I goaded him, but I think the principle is valid: who are so-called 'experts' that feel like they alone can elevate a work to the level of 'good art'? What makes them special? What we all do is beautiful to someone, but not everyone. I personally love everything you do. Most of the time, I'm completely jealous of your talent and your courage to pursue this passion. :-) But I'm behind you 100%, and I know of what you speak. Thank you for your art (all of it!) and your example. Love you, friend! <3

    1. Girrrllll. I so get this. The comparison thing sucks me in. I work for an amazing human [Angela Fehr] who has made it our mission to help people become their own favorite artist and to help them enjoy every part of the journey. It blew my mind at the beginning - to think that I have the right and ability to love my own work regardless of what anyone else thinks?!? Best mindset shift ever.

  2. Wow! This resonated so much with my early art experience( high school and college) that I found myself squirming in discomfort just reading your words. Clearly I still have blocks that need to be resolved. I am constantly inspired by your work and practice. Most of all I'm inspired by your bravery. You put you work out there. Exposed to all the judging. I can't tell you how many times I've said to myself "Someday I'll be brave like Robin....someday..." sending ((hugs)) Jen

    1. It is really squirmy. I hate that. Lots of people hate that and so they stop creating. It doesn't help that there are dozens of people in our lives who are not creating anything, but who are quick to point out flaws. [I had one person come to the studio and explain how 1/2 square inch of one of my pieces totally ruined it for her.] She claimed she was 'just trying to help'. You can't win with 'support' like that. No wonder we want to climb into a hole and pull it in after us.

      P.S. My darling. You are one of the bravest people I know. Sending much love your way!

  3. Robin, if you are up for it, you should share this in the community! Expectations are something we all struggle with, and it's a good reminder that they are both internal and external.

  4. Thank you, thank you, thank you for this blog topic. I have not painted ANYTHING since February & can’t make myself face the paint & paper. I realized that I had 28 years of pent up grief I’d never dealt with that I had to face first. I got into a good therapist & just told her yesterday that I NEED to paint & I have to find a way to do it again. I read a quote a while back about not entering work into competitions where you really didn’t respect the work of the juror who would be judging your work. How many times have I done this & suffered when my work wasn’t chosen? Too many! I started researching jurors & it immediately reduced the number of competitions I considered entering. Both Angela Fehr & John Salminen told me to sit down & paint & it would resolve itself. My therapist told me to sit down & play with paint. So, I’ve decided to work on my skills without any expectations at all. Hopefully a spark of something will relight the fire inside me! I am a talented artist and I need to start believing that I am & quit worrying about what ANYONE thinks! Good luck to you Robin. I love your paintings. They are so unlike any I would do, but they are so you! Happy painting.

    1. Cindy! I completely understand. Learning how to play is hard for me, but that seems to be key. I stand in front of the paper and say, 'I'm just going to play around with this. No pressure. Really, Robin. No pressure'

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  6. I read some articles on how to learn to play as an adult that I’ve started to read. You can’t address issues until you’ve identified them I guess. I’ve never been terribly competitive & now I know why...it takes the joy out of what was a pleasurable experience. One step at a time I guess, but I miss painting & want to get back to enjoying it again. Nice chatting with you. It seems we share more than our love of watercolor!

  7. Wow Robin. Now I've met 2 amazing human beings. "Creative Wounds" is bang on for me for 68 years. My scar has healed since joining Angela Fehr wonderful power of healing. And here you are coming out with this article out of the shadow, I get both of you. Your yarn gems are so creative and beautiful,


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