It’s something that has happened to every creative artist during the course of their career. Upon setting to work on a new painting, song, sculpture, multimedia project, or piece of writing, for one reason or another, inspiration simply does not strike. The confidence to make another mark, compose another note, or type another sentence seems to evaporate. It’s referred to as artist’s block, and it’s unbelievably common. What follows are usually feelings of frustration, fatigue, malaise, and in some extreme cases, even imposter syndrome. It’s often easy to give in to these feelings of discouragement and attempt to distract oneself with other matters, but it rarely helps. So, how can artist’s block be counteracted?
John Kissick is a trained painter whose work has been featured in the Katzman Kamen Gallery of Toronto, the Wilde Gallery of Berlin, the Bigue Art Contemporain of Montreal, and the Michael Gibson Gallery of London. He claims that the first step is to see the “block” as a normal part of the creative process and so remain calm and resolve to rectify the situation. After that, some simple but effective actions can be taken to reignite the creative and critical spark. In an attempt to aid in that process, he comprised the following list of five effective ways to overcome creative plateaus.
Oftentimes, a change of scenery coupled with a bit of movement can do wonders for shaking off a negative, stifling mentality. There has long been ample anecdotal evidence suggesting that a mindful walk through the neighborhood or a hike in a natural setting can stimulate creativity, but there is mounting scientific evidence to support this, as well. A recent study by researchers from Stanford University published by the American Psychological Association suggests a provable link between taking a walk and a boost to creative ideation in real time and shortly thereafter.
“There is nothing quite so rejuvenating as a good conversation” claims Kissick. “When experiencing artist’s block, it can pay great dividends to seek out and engage with friends, peers, mentors—anyone who might stimulate a lively back-and-forth. In many cases, the seemingly small act of having a discussion and listening to the fresh perspectives of others will lead the mind out of its doldrums and into more fertile creative territory.”
In overcoming a creative plateau, sometimes a mindless activity is exactly what’s called for. Indeed, many artists use the opportunity to clean their work spaces. The mere act of removing oneself from the immediate vicinity of the project in question and engaging in a repetitive task that requires very little concentration can do wonders in remedying a stubborn mental block. Why not use what might otherwise be unproductive time staring at a project in blank irritation to clean the studio, purge unnecessary distractions or organize a storage closet? Completing chores can have a satisfying effect—and chances are, these tasks ought to be done, anyhow.
Every artist can pinpoint one or two pieces of artwork that spoke to them at an early age, and perhaps even provided the impetus to seek a career in the arts in the first place. For some, it is a particularly powerful painting, for others it is an emotionally evocative symphony. No matter the medium, revisiting artwork that has imparted inspiration in the past is a worthwhile pursuit when trying induce creativity.
According to Kissick, “when trying to get rid of artist’s block, it can be therapeutic to dive into another artistic endeavor and play around, even if the outcome is ultimately dissatisfying.” Be it a side project or, hobby, the exercise in and of itself may prove valuable. After all, it is an artist’s job is to create. The simple act of doing so may provide the jolt needed to reenergize the will and refocus the mind on to the larger task at hand.
By following the steps outlined above, any professional creator can take measures to chase away feelings of artistic stagnation. That being said, each artist is unique, and trial and error plays a big role in this process. If one of these methods doesn’t work, it’s important to try the others, instead of immediately declaring failure. If all else fails, heed this final piece of advice: when ideas don’t come raining down from the heavens, sometimes the best thing to do is to sit in silence to simply decide to have an idea. Happy creating!