Well, I’ve gone and done it… made myself sick over the pressure of wanting to get things done. Just a virus, but I’m very aware that it was brought on by having an unrealistic to-do list. So, for the last two days, I’ve backed off completely. Every once in a while I come back to this theme and it’s because I need to be reminded that I’m not Superwoman. Sometimes the desire to succeed, to create, to perform becomes a heckuva pressure, though. When I get caught up in it, I start moving fast and try to accomplish too much. Instead of positive motivation, I am fueled by fear, which becomes stress. Once the dust settles, I always comes back to this: “Why am I working in clay?”. After a fashion, when my answers start surfacing, they are always balm for the soul. I’ve never let myself down because it’s the true heart of the matter: “For the joy of creating.” “To explore my creativity.” “To see where it leads.” When I consider my true, deep down intentions, then compare them to the nattering self-talk that makes me so frazzled, I realize I have to go back to the drawing board over expectations. When I do, I always end up acknowledging they are a trap that leads to no good. So, here I sit in my bathrobe. Yesterday, I treated myself to cartoons on television, many of which I hadn’t seen for years, and it was good medicine. Bugs Bunny, Sylvester and Tweety, the Flintstones, the Jetsons. Cushioned by pillows and blankets on the couch, I just dozed between cartoons.
When I consider what I actually have accomplished lately, I blink my eyes, wondering how I could ever think it was not enough. Here’s a rundown of what I did since last week.
- Made a plaster mold for some new relief work
- Underglazed and glazed about 36 pendants
- Waxed and glazed a new batch of Northern Lights tiles
- Retrieved newly bisqued escutcheon tiles,
- along with a stack of tiles from my new series
What I had planned on doing yesterday will be put off until next week because I’m going to take short break while I finish a few other things. Tomorrow, I will go to the studio to pick up about 50-60 glazed pendants, along with the aurora tiles. On Tuesday, if I feel restored, I will make several tests of my new tile series, using celadon and other glazes and glass. I will also start a new batch of 6 x 6 tiles that will be part of my new series. I’ll also check the drying stage of a batch of Sunrise tiles and new relief stamps, a dragonfly and two ginkgo leaves. And do so only if I am filled with the sheer joy of creativity, unfettered by expectations. I could have disregarded my health and well-being and gone in yesterday to work on all these things. But for what purpose? I’m not competing with anyone. So, it’s good medicine and self-love time. As I take a break and relax, my fears abate and as this happens, I start becoming well once again.
There are few things more discouraging than being stymied by a creative block. It’s a wasteland. If you can’t break through it shortly, you are bound to start suffering. Without anything to work on, you are also at loose ends, which can lead to the nattering of pessimistic self-talk. Malaise and depression sneak through the door after anger and frustration burn themselves out. If your livelihood depends on it, a creative block can become quite serious. We don’t have to give up, though, and while the effort itself can be hard, inertia is worse. There are a few tricks to counter the dreaded block. Of course, there’s only one way to find out if they work. Try them.
- Take a break: Get completely away from your project and don’t think about it. Taking a break will not only give your mind a rest, it will purge you of the brooding and frowning that comes with frustration. With a light(er) heart, you are more apt to come up with something new. How long a break? It’s up to you, really. A good way to prevent overthinking is to try a simple behavioral change method I’ve used. Do this only if you find yourself obsessing, though. Place a rubber band around your wrist. Every time your thinking drifts back toward your creative block or the project you’re working on, pull the rubber band and snap your wrist. Sounds and is primitive, but it really works. Pretty soon you won’t be thinking of your block at all!
- Become inspired: Pore over books and magazines about ceramics. Go to an art gallery gift shop and pick out several books that catch your eye. Libraries are also good. I just checked out two on tiles today. My library sells off old issues of Ceramics Monthly, too, and I’ve bought a few issues there. See if you can get a guest library card at a university; it’s bound to have a good choice of books in its holdings if ceramics classes are taught there. If you are associated with an art centre, peruse any books on hand. Enjoy your time. You can’t force inspiration.
- Do something else: Not a break, more like shifting gears. If you’ve made boxes, start throwing. If you have used certain glazes, use stains with a particular decorative technique. Your neural pathways are in a rut, but you can pave new ones by doing something else. It’s also Alzheimer’s prevention because it’s known that people who do things habitually are more prone. Just as you’d change your route to work, change what you’re doing. Changing habits can also free you up, give you more energy.
- Move somewhere else: If you find that nothing works, that you are experiencing a perpetual creative block, move. I guarantee you, there is nothing like a move to shake things up. According to feng shui tenets, stale energy builds up in a home if nothing’s done about it. But if you move, you have to discard, and discarding frees up energy. Whether it’s just several houses down, as I’ve done, or across town, it’s change. I wouldn’t recommend moving over a border, like I did, though. Your creative block will be put on the back burner while you sort through immigration red tape. All your time will be taken up by it and who knows when you’ll get back to your precious clay? It took me years to get back in the groove after coming to Canada.
- Get others involved: As they say, two heads are better than one. I would only ask people who are truly on your side. Avoid people who have an agenda or who will use it against you. Seek out people who understand and truly care about your efforts and who believe in you. We have to protect the energy around our ideas, especially while they’re in their infancy. This would be the case when we’re on the verge of a breakthrough. I can’t stress this enough. New ideas can become easily poisoned by a lack of well wishers. If you can find a true gem who is willing to dash around ideas with you, you are doing well and are on your way. They won’t necessarily give you an idea…and let them know that’s not why you’re asking. Just hashing things around can lead to something new.
- Doodling: Whether you’re out for coffee or are sitting at your kitchen table, doodling is a good way to go. I have a friend who is a die-hard napkin doodler. He comes up with his best ideas that way. Partly, because he’s thinking with ‘averted vision,’ with his mind only partly on what he’s doing. While the cook is working on his order, he doodles away and asks for another napkin when his order arrives. I actually have saved a number of those napkins, his ideas were so brilliant!
- Be domestic: You know about the need to become busy while you are procrastinating? Got a test to study for? Gee, the fridge needs cleaning out. A difficult conversation needs to take place over the phone? Hmm, this room could use some vacuuming. Well, use the same tactics tackle a creative block. It’s a mini-break or diversion, if you will. Clean the stove top, unload the dishwasher or drying rack or do some dusting. Use your shop vac, guys! But keep it domestic. Those ordinary, homely chores we do seemingly without thinking can actually dislodge an idea or two because you are on auto-pilot and have room to let something new in.
- Do more research: Are you working in a particular vein? If so, investigate it. The web is full of info… Sign up for Ceramic Arts Daily and search its site, run by the Potters Council. It’s terrific. Many free e-books can be downloaded from there, too. There are many forums and groups… LinkedIn has many ceramics groups. Find a niche that is working on what you’re doing and look into it. Maybe you want to do hard copy research…that’s fine, too
- Use symbolic sight: View the situation through the eyes of symbolism. What does the block mean? See if you can find a root cause. Also, consider whether there’s a bigger issue going on that is being covered up because you are focusing on the idea of a creative block. Maybe something else is transferring over into your artistic domain that needs to be kept out or dealt with in its rightful territory.
Persevere and your dry spell will soon be history…
I’ve been spending a bit of time pondering the nature of creativity. At the same time, my husband has been consumed with book after book on String Theory… strings not particles, a parallel universe so close to our own that it’s only two inches away. Boggles the mind. A friend also posted about neuroplasticity recently on Facebook and later spoke of the brain’s remarkable ability to rewire itself. Then, tangentially, I read about a study that said that highly creative people are only several removes from schizophrenia, as measured by they’re dopamine levels. To be certain, the study seemed like quite a downer, on one hand, because one wants, at all costs to avoid such a fate, and, on the other, because it brings up stereotypes about creative types being crazy or needing to be alcoholic or druggies to create, i.e. Kafka, Poe, etc., which is just plain untrue. Anyway, all this has been roiling around in my, well…brain. So, I’d like to enter the sphere of creativity and brains. About creativity and how it relates to neuroplasticity. It’ll take a while to cover and post, but one must start at the beginning. (As I was researching earlier, I did come across a podcast about neuroplasticity and culture, addressed by a neuroscientist. It tweaked my Third Culture Kid self.) So, to start off my inquiry, I’ve given you two videos. One is a TED Talk by Amy Tan and the other a youtube video that it counters notions myths and gives advice. The Tan video is so funny and her accompanying AV is hilarious. The second video is a joy because it is so creative in and of itself. Enjoy!
Victrola Advertisement from 1915
What do you like to listen to when you are working in clay? Me, I prefer airy music, like Debussy or Chopin. Listening to music while engaged in a creative act helps me. I end up sailing away on waves of rhythm and melody; whereas, if I’m just alone with my thoughts, I am often not as calm or creative. Last week we talked about playing music for plants during our Open Studio on Tuesday. How classical music increases the growing rate, how plants will even turn toward a speaker. I figure, if it’s good for plants, it must be good for me, too. Since high school, I’ve loved painting or drawing or working in clay to music and I remember listening to it in Miss Schwab and Mr. Carson’s classes. Now it just seems natural. However, our individual tastes become involved when there is more than one person doing the listening while creating. Sometimes we must compromise our taste or be tolerant of others’ choices. Last night, I made a quick inventory of such tunes on the net and the following is what I came up with. The examples vary so greatly, it shows a need for many individual studios! I even found a lesson plan from an elementary school teacher, Heather Lasch, who is teaching students about the relationship between music and art. The goal of this lesson states that “Students will understand that music can create emotions and feelings, that they can use to create art.” How wonderful! Someone is teaching first, second, third, and fourth graders something that will stick with them for life. My teachers for those grades were so wonderful and influential that I think about them quite a bit, even now, so I think Lasch is doing them a wonderful service. There are other applications for the art/music connection, too. Here is an article about how art and music therapy can be used to treat depression. “By using creative expression, the many blocks to our unconscious are bypassed,” writes author Max Cusimano. If we’re consciously trying help our creativity by listening to music, there are any number of pieces out there just waiting for us. Here are a few links to sites that people have designated as ‘music to make art by.” My idea of perfection: Debussy’s “Clair de Lune.” This version, shown in video form below these links, is played by Mária Kovalszki, at the Academy of Music Ferenc Liszt in Budapest. To me, sitting at a table with my clay, tools, a cup of tea and Debussy is all I need.
A Listmania! list by G. Benson “Rumplesbenskin”
Electric Blue by Phil Keaggy
Top Ten Albums of 2009
TWO HUNDRED THIRTY-THREE
To Dance With You Enno Velthuys
A Listmania! list by “primed-canvas”
Music you listen to while doing your art (scroll down)
Do you listen to music?