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.