ARTISTS BLOCK – WHAT CAUSES IT?
Artist’s block, like writer’s block, is a lack of inspiration that most artists experience from time to time. It describes a period of time when an artist has no ideas for new work or no motivation, or both!
I am experiencing this right now and have been for some time. I’ll reveal why I think this is a little later in the post. There can be various reasons for it. Meanwhile, my research has revealed that the most common reason for it is:
1. PHYSICAL AND MENTAL EXHAUSTION
Other causes could be:
2. SELF DOUBT
3. LACK OF MOTIVATION
4. CRITICISM AND REJECTION
These four things don’t look like so much do they, but there are a multitude of things that underlay each of them. Let’s take a look at examples of what those might be!
Physical and Mental Exhaustion
- Stressful days at work
- Anxiety about a particular person or event
- A lot of study / schoolwork / exams / assignments etc
- Ongoing problems or worries on your mind
- Creative burnout possibly due to some of the other points outlined below!
- Perfectionism – wanting everything to be perfect. The best way to deal with this one is to embrace imperfection and keep on creating. There can actually be beauty in imperfection I’ve found! Importantly, I’ve been assured by other artists I’ve spoken to that ALL artists have stuff ups, days where there visions just don’t seem to be translating in their work, and artworks that don’t turn out how they would have liked them to. Not every bit of art you do will be a masterpiece! Put it aside, learn from any mistakes, move on to the next project.
- Comparison and Imposter Syndrome – following other artists and their work is fabulous and inspirational but sometimes it can lead to feeling ‘less than’ or ‘not as good as’ and that can lead to ‘imposter syndrome’ which is where you doubt your abilities and feel like a fraud.
- Catastrophising – believing something you’ve done is far worse than it is. Self criticism to the max! With me, this can go hand in hand with perfectionism!
- Pressure – putting too much pressure on yourself to create something of value or quality, or perhaps you want quantity.
Lack of Motivation
- You’ve gotta love what you do! Lack of motivation will come if you’re not doing what you’re meant to do and therefore not enjoying it. The right thing will feel great and you’ll ‘want’ to do it!
- Not too difficult and not too easy. If something is too hard you will procrastinate doing it. If it’s too easy, then it can be boring.
- Procrastination. For example – “I’ll do it after I’ve washed the dishes, done the laundry, mopped the floors”, etc etc
Criticism and rejection
- Taking criticism and rejection personally is quite normal. I’m not producing art in a ‘professional’ sense (at this point anyway) so rejection is not really a concern I have. Criticism though is more familiar, but mostly from myself! The way I think about this one though, particularly if criticism was to be coming at me externally, is that everyone has different taste. Some people might not like some of your work but love other work you’ve done. If you understand and expect this, then maybe the bite of criticism or rejection might hurt far less.
WHAT HAS CAUSED ‘MY’ ARTIST BLOCK?
I think it’s been a multitude of things that has caused artist block for me. Firstly, I’ll explain how I’m feeling.
- If I have some time where I could do some art, I am completely blank on what I would possibly like to draw or paint.
- If I just pick something and give it a go – it’s lack lustre. My creativity isn’t there. The flow isn’t there. The joy isn’t there.
- I’m making excuses and procrastinating. The motivation isn’t there.
What’s caused this is a few things which would fall under all headings above except criticism and rejection. Here they are:
- I have had a lot of very sad news lately. Two long time family friends have recently passed away. My auntie has been battling cancer, and my much loved cousin just recently lost her precious 18 year old son to acute lymphoblastic leukaemia. This is a lot for anyone to deal with but as a HSP & Empath it affects me more deeply than most.
- I carry a lot of worry & am emotionally fatigued when it comes to the welfare of my mother. I’ve written before about how I alternate care for her weekly with my sister. Another sister and brother check in on Mum on weekends. We now have a Home Care Package in place which provides a bit of respite to my sister and I (only 4 hours per week but we pay privately for another 2 to make it 6). That’s a ‘nutshell’ version. The full version of my worries around all of this would be very long.
- I’m not motivated to do art. I’m so mentally, emotionally and physically drained that I just can’t be bothered. I have tried and it doesn’t work. I’m never happy with what I produce. I need to feel more rested, peaceful and content.
- Perfectionism – always a problem for me. Not so much at the moment because motivation to create isn’t there but when I’ve tried – it’s been lack lustre as I mentioned above. This means it’s not what I consider perfect enough and so then I berate myself and imposter syndrome can creep in.
HOW TO FIX ARTIST BLOCK?
In my case, I think I just have to be kind to myself and:
- Take a break from art until I am feeling more rested and peaceful. Unless I’m relaxed my creativity just doesn’t happen.
Other ways to help could include:
- Finding inspiration from other artists (I follow a lot on Instagram)
- Practice, practice, practice until the creative flow and ideas comes back
- Try something different. A different medium perhaps!
- Just doodle
- Join an art challenge
- Change up your creative space
- Try doing your art somewhere else. Head outdoors or go on location!
- Do an art class or an online course
- Watch some YouTube tutorials
- Make sure you’re getting some exercise and eating healthy
What I tell myself is to remember that this happens to everyone, I have valid reasons for it to have happened, and no-one is meant to be productive 100% of the time!
Do you get creative block (either for art, craft, writing or other)? What do you do when this happens? I’d love to hear in the comments!
Ciao for now,
Linking up with Denyse Whelan’s ‘Wednesday’s Words and Pics‘
Hi Min – you certainly have very valid reasons for not being able to immerse yourself in creativity atm. I think it takes a degree of focus and commitment that we sometimes can’t manage if other areas of our life are taking precedence. I haven’t done anything “arty” for the last few weeks due to the stress leading up to my op and now my recovery. I just don’t “feel” like being creative – so instead I’ve been doing a jigsaw or two and reading – both things I can stop and start as I feel the need. I’m not even writing much in my blog – and am even considering whether to continue it into the future……life certainly impacts on us doesn’t it? I hope you find some headspace soon to get back to doing what you love.
Hi Leanne, yes you put that so well! I want to be creative like I was before but right now I just don’t feel like being creative. If I get spare time, rather than doing art, I’m wanting to veg out in front of Netflix or today I just needed to get out of the house so went for a short walk at the waterfront (still got foot issues and it’s so hot today)! Hopefully it’ll come back to me when I’m ready.
yes i get plenty of writer’s block. so annoying and frustrating and i always think the worst of myself. just gotta woman up i guess and let things flow. and give ourselves a huge break and be kind to ourselves. sorry rambling on here…
Hi Sherry, not rambling at all. I think we can be our own worst enemies. I get so annoyed with myself. I like to be productive and when I’m not I feel so disappointed in myself and the negative self talk can start. As you said – we need to listen to our minds and bodies and be kinder to ourselves.
I feel for you Min, it’s hard when your motivation deserts you isn’t it? You do have plenty of good reasons not to feel creative and it’s completely understandable. I’m good at procrastinating and get distracted by other things very easily. Sometimes I just give up and sit down to read a good book. I’ll get there or not, when I’m up to it! take care of yourself, you have a lot on your plate.
Hi Debbie – yes it’s difficult when you ‘want’ to do something but the will isn’t there. I sure have had a lot of things that have most likely led to this but then other people do too. I’m not alone, and others have far worse things to deal with than me. We’re all uniquely different though – some can forge on, others need some time out, and so on. Like you, I’ve been giving up quite a bit lately but I guess I’d rephrase that to ‘listening to what my body is telling me’. I’ve been watching a lot of Netflix when I get some spare time. I can’t seem to focus to read lately. Thanks so much for your kind message. We haven’t met in person as yet but I can sense you’re a kind and empathetic person, so thank you.
Hi Min. I can definitely relate to all the points you made about being blocked. I write, from time to time, and I also do sculpting, both with polymer clay, and paper mache. I am definitely a perfectionist, and I sometimes compare my work to other people’s. Lately, what really works for me, is, avoiding social media, with respect to other people’s work. I Often do look at Pinterest, for ideas, but I try to limit my time on there, so I don’t get carried away, with comparing my work. Thank you for sharing these great points.
Hi Christina, you’re right about social media. I love it but it can make you feel down on yourself sometimes can’t it? I think I just need a break from art for a bit. It’ll come back to me when I’m ready I think. Thanks so much for reading and taking the time to comment.
In no way am I an artist, but I do understand how you’re feeling. There are times that my motivation has left me as a blogger, and also with my fitness program. It’s really hard to get moving again when you get stuck. I think your examples of how to become unstuck are valid. My advice would be to not put pressure on yourself. You have had so much to deal with, it’s not a surprise that your mind and body need a rest. I’m really sorry you’ve been hit with so many things that you have to deal with. Take care.
Hi Jennifer, my motivation leaves me with regards to writing here on the blog too! I just take a break when that happens. I agree with you that I’ve had a lot on my plate. I’m trying to be kind to myself and just allow myself to take a break from art. It seems to be what I need right now. The creative me will come back eventually! Thanks so much for your kind comment.
I’m so sorry for everything you have to deal with right now and it’s totally understandable that you have creative block. Maybe just give art a rest – or as you say, try another medium. When I lose my creativity with photography it’s usually because of comparison and self-doubt. If I rest from it, or do it differently than usual, I get back to normal.
Perfectionism, self-doubt and comparison are two problems I always struggle with in all creative areas and while I’ve been able to learn to relax a bit with it and just enjoy the process, I slip back into it now and then, especially when I have a lot of stress around me. It’s a hard truth that comparison is the thief of joy, and so is perfectionism. I’m working on assignments for my graphic design course right now and it’s so hard – not the actual design work but knowing when it’s good enough, especially when these assignments are what will decide if I get the certificate or not. I’m trying to remember my teacher’s words from one of the first lessons: “don’t be too hard on yourself, and don’t forget to have fun!”.
Thanks Susanne, I’m giving art a rest for a little while. I’ve realised I can’t force it and that I just need a bit of time to get back into the right frame of mind for the creative side of me to come back. I know all about perfectionism, self-doubt and comparison – that’s why I’ve written quite a bit about them. I’m guilty of them all and more! Right now though I don’t think it’s any of those things – it’s more likely because I’m emotionally depleted with all that’s been on my plate of late. It’s not a woah is me session though, just recognition of the kind of person I am and having to accommodate that. BTW your teacher’s words are spot on!
I can relate to the writers’ block thing Min and go through that quite a bit. Sometimes I can just force myself to do some book reviews but that’s it. And sometimes I don’t want to even do them.
As you say (about art), if I do have a break for a bit I usually miss it and come back to it!
Hi Deb – yes I get like that with the blog too. Sometimes I have so many ideas that I’ve got several posts written in advance and scheduled because the ideas just pour out of my fingers on the keyboard. Other times I’m scratching my head with no idea what to write about. Sometimes I just don’t want to. When I’m like that I just take a break. I used to beat myself up about it but I don’t anymore. With my art though I must admit I am disappointed with myself. I surprised myself with what I could do when I was doing art regularly (like when I did the 100 day project). I was so pleased with myself, proud even! So happy to have found something I thought I was quite good at. I wanted to make something of it, but life has thrown me a few curve balls that have thrown me off track. I do get disappointed with myself but on the other hand I understand why it’s happened and am trying to be kinder to myself. I’ll get back on track eventually – just like i do with the blog.
I feel for you too Min. LOTS on your plate and with your personality and more, it is really HARD to put yourself first as well.
I sometimes go back to what I loved doing when I need to ‘zone out’ and that is mandalas. I find them soothing and mindful for me. I have lots of books with various types of art and journalling I am doing and guess what, they are ALL for me.
I have kept my books that are filled, and as I fill others I have them labelled and can bring back the times and the memories of when I did them.
I find too, that if I am overwhelmed, I will choose, one implement I enjoy working with and one piece of paper and play…with patterns or whatever comes up. No pressure ever.
Thanks for being part of the link up for Wednesday’s Words and Pics and sharing your post. It’s always great to see you join in. See you next week…and it’s November already! Denyse.
Thanks Denyse, yes it’s been a lot (but much worse for others and I’m well aware of that). My personality type as you’ve mentioned does make me more vulnerable to having emotional fatigue leave me feeling depleted and throw me off track etc. I’m so happy you have your mandalas to go back to when you’re feeling overwhelmed. I’m not sure what my ‘mandala’ is just yet. I’ve been watching too much Netflix and letting life get me down. I went out the other day for a walk by the Bay and a wander and that did lift my spirits so I know I need to get out more. It’s so hot all of a sudden though isn’t it?! Thanks for your link up and for your kind and understanding comment.