Every artist has experienced this. The dreaded artist block or slump. I like to call it a slump rather than a block because it seems less daunting. I can climb out of a slump easier than I can bust through a block, at least when I am visualizing.
I have been through a bit of a slump lately. For several weeks, I just did not feel good about anything I was painting. I was overworking everything I put my hand to. I had several paintings that had gotten to a really lovely stage and I ruined them by pushing too far. There is plenty of advice floating out there in the world about how to overcome an artist's block or slump. I probably know the most common ones by heart. This time though, I wanted to think about how I got here so that I could avoid the struggle and anxiety in the future. So, let me share with you the things I do that can get me into a slump.
Comparison is a sure-fire way to stop the creative process in it's tracks. This has long been a struggle for me. I spend a good deal of time looking at other people's artwork on Instagram and Pinterest. I do love to look at art, so it isn't always a negative hobby. I am not generally looking at paintings and thinking to myself that they are better than mine. But sometimes when I am at the easel and things are not going my way, I can be haunted by images of work that I have been looking at and wonder why it is not so easy for me. Then, I can find myself going back to Instagram and feeling that jealous knot in the pit of my stomach. Bad plan!
I think it is important to remember that what we see on those apps are the very best of what other artists have created. What we don't see is the struggle and mistakes and frustration that they may have gone through to get that painting to the finish line. We also can't see the pile of canvases in the corner that have been rejected and waiting for a paint over or that the artist just can't figure out where to go with them. I also don't know how long this artist has been painting or what stages their work went through before getting to the point of being drool-worthy.
I am never going to stop looking at other people's art on the internet. I just love to see beauty! What I can do is constantly remind myself that creating is a process and what I am seeing may be the end result of much struggle.and many long years of practice. I have to know that I am in that same process and not think that I should have already arrived.
Painting for Dollars
Another trap I often find myself falling into is trying to create work that people will like and want to buy. Instead of letting my creativity lead me. I will sometimes intentionally work in a style that I know people have responded well to in the past for the purpose getting interest and hopefully selling the piece. I know that some people would say "what's wrong with that?" Well nothing inherently. I just know that it is usually a path to stifled creativity for me. That may not be the case for everyone, but I know it is for me. When I start to pursue the dollar in my studio practice it is usually based in fear. I fear that I can't sell the work that really makes me excited. I fear that nobody will really like work that I love to do. Fear is not a good base of operations for me as an artist. I know that I need to play and experiment and paint freely in a way that gives me joy. If I get caught up in what people like and are buying, it stifles me. That is not to say that I have my head in the sand about what I know people respond to in my art. It is important to know how people respond to my work. I just can't get too caught up in painting what is popular to earn a buck.
Maybe It's Just A Transition
I have often found the at the end of what feels like an artistic slump, I discover that I was really just in the midst of a transition from one point to the next. During this last dry spell, I continued to head into the studio and paint. I painted when it felt dry and daunting. I played and made ugly, messy paintings. Then suddenly one day things seemed to break loose and I painted something new. It felt like an upgrade. It was a "next level" kind of painting compared to the work I was doing previously. I realized that what felt like a block was really just my creativity working through some ideas and challenges to get to something new and fresh. That is why it is important to keep creating through those rough patches even if it feels challenging. It is also important not to be too terribly hard on yourself. Don't be overly critical about the outcome of the work and just see it as a process of moving toward the next thing.
I hope this is an encouragement to my fellow artists out there, or really anyone endeavoring to work creatively in their chosen field. This is not to say I have it all figured out. I will have to come back and read this when I find myself in a slump once again.