What artist or creator doesn't know the frustrating feeling of entering their studio or workspace and not knowing what to do with themselves - how to start a new work or continue one already in process? We look at the canvas or paper or computer screen and nothing comes out... The feeling that we don't understand how to continue and what we're even doing and why, can be threatening, discouraging and even push us deeper into the loop of being stuck. Every artist encounters a creative block, the inability to connect to their inner creative flow, several times in their life. Creative block can last for hours, days or months and in extreme cases even years.
What causes creative blocks?
The leading causes for an artist or creator feeling stuck can be many and varied and unfortunately, sometimes happen precisely at the most challenging timing. Here are some reasons that can lead to creative block:
Pressures or difficulties unrelated directly to the creative process - financial hardships, health, family, relationships etc. The creative process requires space and patience, and when we're in an intense, energy-draining period, that space shrinks dramatically and we feel creatively stuck.
Rejection - One of the most common causes of creative block. If we tried to get accepted to an exhibition, studies, job or other opportunity and experienced rejection, it can lead to self doubt and lack of confidence that weaken us and dampen creative energy. We feel unworthy or not good enough and these difficult feelings lead to a state of being stuck.
Self doubt - Sometimes unrelated to rejection, but arises from the process itself and from within our psyche. You may be surprised to know that even the most successful artists describe periods when they experienced creative crisis due to doubts about their talent and capability.
Perfectionism - The number one enemy of the creator! Aspiring for good results is blessed but aspiring for perfection is the most castrating of all because it is something that can never be attained. The great paradox is that many creators define themselves as perfectionists but those who stop creating because they are disappointed with the results and themselves will likely encounter so many barriers throughout their career that they will no longer want to continue.
Negative criticism - Can come to us from outside (professional, friend, family member, colleague) or be negative self-criticism.
Loss of meaning and purpose in creation - Also an experience every artist has during their life, and of course not only artists, but since an artist is their own boss in the studio and responsible for driving the processes, the difficult feeling of loss of meaning often leads to creative block.
The fall after - Often after a big project, like an exhibition we worked tirelessly towards or a period that was very fertile and full of productivity, we can feel drained and uninspired.
Deadline - There are artists who work excellently under pressure and there are those where an approaching deadline can paralyse them and drag them into creative block.
Of course there are additional factors that can lead to creative block. These are the main ones among them. While each factor can be dealt with on its own and we can even get to a state where we know how to prevent the symptoms that might lead us to being stuck, we will now detail useful courses of action to try when you're in a block.
How to overcome our creative blocks?
So how do you get out of it? First, like any situation that requires us to change our attitude and modes of operation, it's important to accept the situation. To be able to tell ourselves and others that we're stuck, this is the first and most important step to the solution. After we've accepted the situation and understand it's a passing state, there are a number of useful techniques to try that can lead to release.
Take a break - This may sound obvious but it's actually not. Many artists experiencing block continue to feel stuck because they insist on continuing to stare at the empty canvas hoping inspiration will fall on them from the heavens. Taking a step back for a day or two or more can be the solution to the problem. It's important to note that it's not enough to just physically distance yourself from the studio or computer, but also detach mentally and emotionally and try not to engage with the fact you're experiencing a crisis. Take advantage of the break for beneficial activity - sleep, reading, wandering, good conversation, an exhibition, play, movie... It's very possible that when you return to your workspace with a fresh, clear perspective, you'll be able to resume creating without inhibitions.
Write - A recommendation that will help artists of all kinds not only during crisis but absolutely can assist you in releasing block. Write your ideas, frustrations, fears, dreams, try to pour out as much as possible onto paper and most importantly, remember that no one will ever read this (unless you choose otherwise of course) and there is no expectation for you to write beautifully or intelligently or creatively, just simply get out as much as possible. Artists who write as part of their studio routine describe experiencing less blocks and barriers.
Move - What a little adrenaline can do! Go for a run, take a yoga class, workout, dance in a club or any activity that's fun for you. When we move our body we release feel-good hormones that uplift our mood and open our heart and mind and often that's all we need to return to work with different energy.
Shop - No, we don’t mean wandering around the mall or online buying clothes (although that activity also certainly has the potential to improve your mood), but purchases related to your work. If you paint or sculpt, go to your favourite art supply shop and buy yourself new materials and tools you've never worked with before. Return to your studio, watch tutorial videos on what you bought and allot yourself a work day or more to experiment and play with the new materials. This action will bring back a spirit of adventure, creativity and discovery that will flow into your work.
Studio visit - Sometimes a conversation with a valued, beloved person can make a significant change in how we feel. Invite an artist friend or colleague you enjoy talking with to your studio, share with them what you're going through and open up about the difficulties. All artists experience moments of crisis and sometimes advice from close people is the most helpful there is, and just simply sharing and knowing you're not alone feels nice and releasing. An outside perspective on our work and encouraging words are very effective remedies.
Go back in time - Sometimes when we feel like we have no idea what we're doing and what's next, it really helps to look back at what we've already done. Instead of staring at the blank page, lay out old works of yours in the studio, the more the better. Observe how much you've progressed, what you've accomplished and how much experience you've gained. Maybe you'll remember a technique you love or subject that interested you in the past and that will restart the wheels turning.
These are several useful techniques for releasing creative block and of course there are many more. It's very important to remember that these situations are part of the process and that they're passing and that you are not alone! We hope this content helped you and that you have a period of flow and inspiration.