Sometimes it is easy to fall into the pit of artist’s block. Self doubt, lack of ideas, infrequent recognition of work, time commitments, and everyday distractions are all demons trying to drag us into the pit. Our job as artists is to stay out of that pit. I was looking through my daughter’s sketch book and I came upon several pages of nothing but stars she had drawn. “Hey, this is really cool,” I told her, “Why did you draw all these stars?” “When I can’t think of anything else to draw, I draw stars, because I have to draw something.” That was a lightbulb moment for me, I have to create, something. The creation is the important part.
When there is “nothing new under the sun” what does it mean to create? The artist takes an idea and placed upon it their unique, personal touch, resulting in a variation unlike any other. This yields one completely original possibility among infinite combinations. We share the same universal themes. We love, we hurt, we want, we need, and sometimes we hate. But, we never find the exact same answers to life’s questions. The view is different from every window though we all live in the same house.
But what about when you are trying so hard to create and getting nowhere? You’ve drawn an entire sketchbook of stars. Consider this story by Steven R. Covey from his book THE 7 HABITS OF HIGHLY EFFECTIVE PEOPLE:
“You come upon someone in the woods working to cut down a tree. “What are you doing?” You ask. “Can’t you see?” They reply, I’m sawing down this tree. “You look tired!” you say. “How long have you been at it?” “Over five hours,” he answers, “and I’m beat!” This is hard work. “Well, why don’t you take a break for a few minutes and sharpen that saw?” You ask. “I’m sure it would go a lot faster.” “I don’t have time to sharpen the saw,” the man says emphatically. “I’m too busy sawing!”
I “sharpen my saw” many different ways. I go for a walk in the woods. I visit a museum and soak up the creative energy of the place. I read blogs of fellow artists. I write in my journal. I clean my studio. I watch documentaries, and yes, sometimes I browse Pinterest. So you might be thinking some of these are the “everyday distractions” I mentioned earlier.
They could be, but purpose makes the difference.
I think of these activities like ladders. I can fall off the ladder, spending hours wandering aimlessly through websites, advertisements, and mental garbage. I can “take the day off” after visiting the museum to go out for lunch and shopping. When I do these things I am continuing to fall into the pit, and the further I fall the harder it is to climb back out.
OR I can climb the ladder, focused on my goal of achieving new creative heights. It is not easy. There is no easy way.
The difference is between distraction and determination.
Elizabeth Gilbert explains it like this in her book BIG MAGIC:
“The fun part is when you’re creating something wonderful, and everything is going great, and everyone loves it. But such moments are rare. You don’t get to leap from bright moment to bright moment. How you manage yourself between those bright moments, when things aren’t going so great is a measure of how devoted you are to your vocation. Holding yourself together through all the phases of creation is where the real work lies.”
I have been in the pit. I believe we all fall off the ladder at least once, but I hope reading this helps someone out there to get their foot up on the first rung.