“The best cure for a dry spell is simply to keep at it. Good things are happening, soon to be revealed.” Eleanor Blair (from The Painter’s Keys)
Those first thoughts of panic when you find yourself in a dry spell can take over and consume you. What if you are never inspired again? What if this is it? Your artistic life is toast! You’re done. All the art in your soul has dried up and you will have to find something else to do. The love of your life has walked out the door. The cold hand of panic is about to get a firm grip on your throat. Everything you do is dry, dry, dry! You can go to the nearest bar and get stone cold drunk or you can sit down and take a deep breath. While taking that deep breath, check out what others suggest. Or wait until the hangover is over, then check out these suggestions.
Graham Mathews has several suggestions in an article for Artpromotivate. Number six on his list is to experiment with a different style or medium. Following this recommendation frequently leads to new discoveries that can change the course of your entire artistic direction. How many artists have you read about whose experiments in times of drought have resulted in the biggest breakthroughs of their career? If something is not working, that is usually a signal from the artist within that you are not listening. Trying something unfamiliar forces the outer artist to stop and pay attention to the inner one. A new direction can’t be put on automatic. It requires an effort on the part of the artist.
Another technique for breaking a dry spell is to return to original inspiration. PsychCentral.com has a blog post on creative block. Author Margarita Tartakovsky suggests stashing away anything that inspires you. Tartakovsky says tucking away interesting thoughts, quotations, films, ideas that strike your fancy can be a source for watering the drought. My favorite thing to do is collect images from magazines. I’ll tear out anything that even remotely looks interesting and put it in an inspirational images folder. Over the years, I have ended up with a number of folders. Sometimes I get a laugh from wondering why I chose certain images. But it causes me to rethink why I found those images inspirational in the first place.
Not giving in to panic is the best first step to getting through dry spells. Once you make that decision, trying some new things could be fun. It may keep you out of the bar. At the very least it will occupy your hands so they don’t continue moving up toward your neck region. While the hands are occupied, your inspirational wells are free to start working again. Once the wells are working, the water will start flowing. But if all else fails, you can try a rain dance. You never know. It may open up a new career for you as a dancer.
“An artist is not paid for his labor but for his vision.” James Abbot McNeill Whistler(from Brainyquote)
The main question most artists are asked is “What is your vision?” Artists are expected to come up with some lofty description of a complicated concept spoken in a manner intended to deliberately confuse, hopefully with a snobby accent. The more confusing the description means the greater the artist’s vision must be. Some artists agonize over an artist’s statement hoping for just the right definition of the perfect artistic vision. But do artists set out to develop a vision that fits within some high- minded description? Or do they simply take what’s inside and bring it outside for others to see.
Alain Briot, writing for Luminous-Landscape states of artistic vision, “It is something you see in your mind’s eye.” Artists can’t always verbalize what is in their “mind’s eye.” That’s why they paint. Articulating what is inside through painting, is how artists communicate. If they could verbalize this vision, they would be writers. Some artists are both writer and painter. Even then, it can still be difficult to verbalize what is an inner feeling or motivation that can only be expressed in paint.
Whistler solved this issue by naming his paintings with musical terminology. The painting shown is titled, Nocturne in Black and Gold—The Falling Rocket. Perhaps Whistler’s musical title was meant to inform the viewer of the painting as a dreamy night vision. The title directs the viewer with more intrigue than a simple title of The Falling Rocket. As a nocturne, the viewer associates music with the painting. Now the rocket is dancing rather than simply falling. The painting has more drama in the mind of the viewer.
Artists are paid for the vision over the labor. How that vision is or is not articulated can make the difference. People often don’t read a long artist’s statement. They will, however, read the title of a painting. So much more vision can be expressed through a title than through a statement. Concentrating on visionary titles over visionary statements may be a much more effective expression of artistic energy. And it will likely reach more people.
Here is Mr. Bean as an art historian describing Whistler’s vision in his most famous painting, Arrangement in Grey and Black—The Artist’s Mother more commonly known as Whistler’s Mother. I doubt this is what Whistler had in mind but you never know!
“Art is a basic human language that is universal among cultures and across time.”
–Peter William Brown (from The Painter’s Keys)
The well from which visual art arises in the soul is a place difficult to put into words. Artists express what is in this place through what they put on paper or canvas. It is a fountain that is forcing its way out, pushing to the surface to be expressed. The fountain pours out, spills over. What needs to be said appears on the surface. What and how the expression is said is more or less directed by the individual artist. The important point for artists is whether their art must be literally understood or is it open to the translation of the observer?
This past April, Chinese-French artist, Zao Wou-Ki passed away leaving behind a legacy of art that bridged two cultures. Julia Grimes has written extensively on Zao and his art. Grimes quotes Zao in her article for CNN, “French and Chinese thought are not the same. It’s hard to translate between them. Sometimes you must wear yourself out trying to understand. Painting must express these feelings.” Zao’s art expressed what words could not. Zao tells The New York Times, “Everyone is bound by culture. I am bound by two.” He had no words to adequately communicate the two cultures he inhabited. Painting did that for him.
Does an observer understand Zao’s struggle between two cultures? Or does the observer simply see art that is pleasing to the eye? Does it matter? Zao was immensely successful. The language of his art spoke to others on many levels. Whether others saw or understood his struggle did not affect his success. The question for artists in their own work is if it is important for the language of their work to be understood literally? If understanding is the important factor then a decision must be made as to how best to get the point across. If the point is open for the interpretation of the viewer, more freedom of expression is possible. It’s the artist’s language. Each artist can decide how to speak it.
“As music is the poetry of sound, so is painting the poetry of sight.” James McNeil Whistler (from skinnyartist.com)
Art inspires literature. Literature inspires art. Music inspires both art and literature, and vice versa. There is an emotional connection that is felt, one for the other on a deep level. It has been going on for as long as humans have communicated with each other.
The evidence is there. Blog.ted.com has an article by Kate Torgovnik on Ten Books Inspired By Paintings. Redbubble.com has a group devoted entirely to art inspired by literature. A Current Under Sea has a post by Angie about literature inspired art. Flavorwire.com has an article titled Great Works of Art Inspired by Great Works of Literature. The list goes on. Examples abound of the arts inspiring the arts.
Artists, writers, and musicians create from a place within that speaks to inherent creativity. It is a special language heard and recognized one in the other. Spirit recognizes kindred spirit and is inspired. It is a mystical place. Those times when blocks happen, a moment to seek the place of the kindred spirit may be in order. Check in with your writer and/or musician friends. Take time out to read a meaningful work of literature. Read poetry. Listen to a piece of personally inspiring music. Perhaps in the shared language of creation fresh inspiration will be seen or heard.
Vermeer’s painting, Girl with a Pearl Earring, inspired the book of the same name.
“Where the spirit does not work with the hand, there is no art.” Leonardo da Vinci
What is political art and what isn’t? The Tate’s new exhibition, “Art Turning Left” exhibits the art of left-leaning political artists like the Guerrilla Girls. Undoubtedly, the Guerrrilla Girls made a splash with their bold political statements turning up in odd and surprising places but always with a point to be made. And they made no bones about the purpose of their art. The Guerrilla Girls wanted to be heard and they were screaming in the face of as many people as possible.
The Tate’s exhibit would tend to surmise that political art was entirely a product of the left. The truth is both right and left have always used art as a means of getting their message out. Hitler was to known to frequently use art for his political purpose. But is it art or is it propaganda? Do artists become artists to make political statements or to pull something out of the heart to bring enlightenment to the world?
The answer would seem to lie in the designation of importance of either goal. Is my art about informing others of a political injustice? Or is my art about expressing something in my heart that must get out for others to see? Creating art solely to make a point would seem to be the dividing line. If you did not have a point to make politically or socially, would you be making art? The fact that what is in the artist’s heart may be expressed as a political message is a different thing than making a judgment to use art as the vehicle for getting a political statement into the public arena. One is a calculated brain decision. The other is the expression of the heart. The difficulty for the viewer is to tell which is which. The feelings of the heart can override the calculations of the brain as long as the ears are listening.
For an entertaining look at art purely for political gain go to the blog: Standing Ovation, Seated.
“To me, art is an adventure into an unknown world, which can be explored only by those willing to take the risk.” Mark Rothko (from SusieGadea.com)
Capturing what is in the heart and splattering it all over canvas or paper is what artists do. Facing what others say about that heart is what happens with every work of art placed into the public arena. The risk of acceptance or rejection of what’s in the heart, what comes from a place that in most other people is only rarely exposed, is the daily life of an artist. Some are more able to handle the daily unveiling than others.
For many artists, facing the big “F” word is a major challenge. Fear! And with fear comes the tag, “of failure.” These two big “F” words pack a major punch. What if no one likes my art? What if no one wants my art? Why am I risking my heart if no one wants to see what’s in there? Maybe its better to just keep it hidden. That’s the safe thing to do. Keep it all inside. Don’t let it out to play. That way it can’t get hurt. It stays safe, tucked away deep inside where the outside world can’t get to it.
In her blog, “I paint, I write” Pamela Hodges says, “The little girl wants an A on her paper. A shiny star on top of the math page for not getting any problems wrong.” That little girl or boy is inside the heart of us all. We go into protection mode to shield the child from hurt. So we erect the barriers. For people whose life work does not require the continual heart exposure this is no problem. For the artist, it can be a daily problem.
Dr. Bob Tobin, in his blog, states, “artists show the courage that many of us could only begin to imagine.” This daily pumping out of what’s inside is a courageous undertaking. Pamela Hodges states, “Creating takes courage. Courage to stand out and be seen. Courage to risk failure, and to risk success.” To do less is to give in to the big “F” word. Do we allow that to happen?
No! The courage to conquer the big “F” comes from the same source as the art. Courage comes from the heart. As the art is allowed to flow from the heart, so must the courage. To open to one, is to open to the other. Like the Cowardly Lion in the Wizard of Oz, it was there all the time. It just has to be acknowledged and out it comes. All the Lion lacked was a medal, an award of courage. Go to the studio and make a medal. You’ve earned it! Then stand aside and allow the courage to flow along with the art as you allow the heart to come out from behind the safety barricades, and step into the sun.
“Art is the Queen of all sciences communicating knowledge to all the generations of the world.” Leonardo da Vinci (from The Art of Artificial Evolution)
Does participation in the arts increase knowledge? Since the publication of “The Mozart Effect” study, scientists have been asking this question. Artists already know the answer is yes. The more studies are undertaken, the more the facts will become clear. Learning is enhanced when visual art and music increase the amount of sensory input. Conceptual learning increases with the use of creative problem solving. Adding eyes, ears, and imagination will bring on more cognitive understanding. It just makes sense to add the senses to education.
In her dissertation for the University of Kentucky, Jennifer Sue Shank looks at the effects visual art has on the ability to learn music. Her paper entitled, “The effect of Visual Art on Music Listening,” examined the introduction of visual stimuli to enhanced identification of musical elements by elementary teachers. The results showed a statistically significant increase of music learning among the group exposed to selected works of visual art while listening to music. Shank’s paper is very interesting and well worth reading all the way through.
Karin Evans, writing for The University of California, Berkeley, covers much of the findings of research on the subject of arts and learning in her appropriately titled article, “Arts and Smarts.” Evans covers both research findings and the skeptics’ arguments. One of the issues Evans covers is the benefit of the arts in teaching students the ability to envision solutions. Arts enable students to develop the use of creative problem solving. Evans also covers research on how the arts enhance the ability of students to feel and express empathy with human emotion.
The National Assembly of States Arts Agencies (nasaa-arts.org) discusses the finding of the relationship of increased SAT scores in students who actively participate in the arts. The NASAA-ARTS details the benefits of art on general education in “Critical Evidence: How the Arts Benefit Education“. More than SAT scores are improved through the arts but SAT scores are a telling measurement of the effect of art on learning. Abundant evidence exists on arts and learning.
In spite of this growing body of evidence, schools are drastically cutting arts education. Slowly and methodically, the arts are being removed from courses offered. Science teachers are in demand. Art teachers are not. Yet from da Vinci to Einstein, the greatest thinkers throughout history have actively engaged in both the arts and the sciences. Without arts to engage the senses, will education grow more senseless? It appears so.
Autumn in Percy Warner Park
Step out of the busy stressful everyday life for a drive through Percy Warner Park in the Fall. Feed the Soul. Prime the pump with inspiration. The one-way road winds around a hill to the top then down again. The dense trees of the forest surrounding the road are changing and putting on their fall colors. Breathe in the cool autumn air. Smell the scents of the woods. Enjoy!
“Inspiration is for amateurs, the rest of us just show up.” Chuck Close (About.com/painting)
Artist’s block is a subject worth repeating because we all go through it. Each time it rears its ugly head is a cue to seek some kind, any kind of solution that will break the back of the evil block. There could be many reasons for a block, such as energy depletion, brain overload, ignoring the soul, not following the heart and on and on. It’s probably not necessary or even worthwhile to search for the cause. The medicine does not depend on the cause. The medicine depends on the action.
Tara Leaver discusses artists block on her blog. She gives three possible reasons for block but for each she prescribes the same cure, a week of studio immersion. Spend a week in the studio immersing in making art without stopping to think about it. Don’t think. Just do. Go for it and see what happens.
Over at Mental Hygiene, Tony Santos has a list of things to do to break through the block. He suggests
- Going to the source
Following the steps outlined by Santos, he believes will lead to breakthrough. Check out his detailed description of each of these steps at the link.
If these suggestions don’t work for you, check out the You tube video at the top. He has an innovative, yet simple remedy. Start drawing something meaningless and abstract. Start putting marks on paper letting them flow. Pretend you are back in the classroom of the most boring teacher you ever had and remember the doodles you drew to get through the monotony. Then say a silent “Thanks!” to Mrs. What’s-her-name for boring you to tears and forcing you to become a creative doodler. She may have been the push you needed to become an artist. Put yourself back in her class and start doodling again. And if you didn’t have a Mrs. What’s-her-name, try the ideas from the other two artists. One of these artist’s suggestions may be the right medicine to cure your block.
“Its not what you look at that matters, its what you see.”—Henry David Thoreau (from Creatingminds.org)
Taking the time to simply observe surroundings can lead to some delightful surprises. Artist’s visual skills will see the pattern or the image in unusual places every time. Designs in frost on the window, patterns in park benches, faces in trees, objects in clouds, an artist will spot the art in all quickly. Mere mortals miss what is plain to the artist.
Pbase.com sponsors The Tree Gallery where artists and photographers can submit unusual tree art, naturally occurring or touched by the artist’s hand. The trees in the gallery are amazing. One fascinating photo is an example of the phenomenon of art made my Mother Nature. “Riverside Cottonwood” by Steve Grooms is particularly bittersweet. He discovered the tree roots of a cottonwood tree recently exposed by floodwaters and finds the art in the roots. He takes the photograph that shares this unusual sight with others. A year later the tree topples over into the Mississippi River. The artist captured the vision before Mother Nature took over and it was lost forever.
The website Patternity focuses on seeing pattern all around in everyday places. The caption on the website reads, “seeing pattern everywhere—from the mundane to the magnificent.” Take a look at the photographs on Patternity to see how surrounded we are by pattern. Suddenly, a stack of chairs takes on a different feeling. A row of windows becomes a pattern to an artist’s eye. Patterns are all around us on a daily basis.
“This is part of what I mean about looking at the world with wonderment,” state authors Andy and Ali of the website ctrl-alt-travel. A look at the website reveals many instances of finding the art in the mundane. A shot of the knots in a rope, spikes in the street, park benches, art is everywhere if we take the time to look.
When in need of inspiration, observing surroundings for odd little patterns and designs is a fun game to play. Waiting in line? Play “spot the art.” Left on hold? Play “spot the art.” You never know what you might find. There are always wonderful new discoveries out there waiting to be spotted.
The tree heart is in a row of trees lining the drive to the Ocala Museum of Art, Ocala, Florida. The other shot is the “knee” of a cypress tree.