Do you remember when you just loved to create?
Do you remember that feeling of being lost inside your imagination while the rest of the world dropped away?
When exactly did you lose that?
When did creating your art become something less than it was supposed to be?
As creative artists, we all go through those inevitable swings of excitement and loathing, expansion and contraction, that feeling of taking it to the next level as well as those moments when we’re simply trying to amuse ourselves as we wander aimlessly on our creative plateaus.
As this new year begins, I know that many of us are trying to reconnect and rededicate ourselves to our art and our creative passion. Those of you who have followed Skinny Artist for awhile are well aware of my previous struggles with keeping New Year’s resolutions. I think, however, that no matter what time of year it is, there will always be those times when we hit that proverbial wall and we utter those dreaded words of despair that every creative artist has said at some point in their career —“What’s the point?”
So how do we go back?
How do we return to our artistic innocence? How do we reconnect with that small creative child inside of us that doesn’t constantly judge our worthiness or compare our work to others? How do we replenish that creative fire that has been smothered by years of doubt, fears, and neglect?
You need to regularly replenish your creative well by absorbing the work of those artists around you.
Sure maybe you’ll have moments of self-loathing and feelings of inadequacy along the way as you absorb the masterworks of your genre, but these will also serve as a guidepost that can help to steer you in the right direction and may even help to unlock some creative impulse buried deep within you. Maybe you were drawn to these particular works for a reason. Not to imitate them, but perhaps to simply show you a little further down your chosen path.
If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants. ~Isaac Newton
If you are a writer, you need to read great books. You need to surround yourself and assimilate their words and ideas. Resist the urge to judge their work as being superior or inferior to your own, and don’t beat yourself up for not being the first person to come up with that one “perfect idea”. Remember that it’s all been said before, the importance lies not in the story but in the voice by which it’s told.
If you’re a photographer or visual artist, you need to allow your eyes to take in as much art as you possibly can. You need to find a way to see things from a new perspective and feed yourself those images that you’ll later play with and reconstruct inside your own imagination.
Finally, try to take some time each day to get outside and experience the lessons of the world’s ultimate creative classroom.
We live in an age of distraction.
The fact that we are now able to carry a telephone, movie theater, instant messenger, arcade, and a television in our pocket — it should come as no surprise that most of us are more distracted than ever. Everywhere we go, we are always connected.
Creativity demands, at least to some degree, a certain amount of empty space. We need to find a way to give our imagination that blank creative canvas where it can experiment, reconnect, and play around with all of those images and ideas that we have absorbed from the world around us.
This is something that I have struggled with myself. Finding that elusive balance between connecting with other artists online while still carving out some personal space to allow my creative imagination to roam free.
Sometimes I find it useful to keep a time journal for several days to see exactly how I’m spending all of my time each day. Having this information then gives me the ability to prioritize and make any changes necessary. Unfortunately, I tend to be a “look-at-the-shiny-object” kind of guy so personally, I’ve had to resort to some rather extreme measures in order to keep myself focused. Hopefully, this won’t be the case for you.
The only other piece of advice I could offer here would be to set a reasonable schedule for yourself and don’t beat yourself up when you don’t achieve everything on your list. Sure I’d love to be able to sleep four hours and get everything done on my to-do list before 9:00 am, but that’s just not very realistic. Many of us are juggling family and financial responsibilities so we aren’t always able to experience that ideal creative artist lifestyle.
Above all, be kind and forgive yourself for not always being able to live up to your own high expectations.
Anyone who has tried to get up in the morning and go to the gym at 6:00 a.m. knows that momentum can be a powerful thing. Newton was right (of course) when he stated that an object at rest will stay at rest, while an object in motion will tend to stay in motion.
This is why it’s so important to find a way to do at least one thing every day that will exercise your creative muscles.
Maybe you can take fifteen minutes to make a sketch and post it to the #Draw365 group on Twitter. If you’re a writer, make a point to sit down and just write for twenty minutes every day. It doesn’t even have to be part of a larger project. It can simply be about what’s on your mind or maybe a new idea that you would like to explore. Julia Cameron calls this her “Morning Pages” in her book “The Artist’s Way” If you’re a photographer you could challenge yourself to take 20 pictures in 20 minutes and then share your favorite one on your Flickr Photostream. If you’re a musician or poet, take some time to write down that musical fragment or lyrical phrase you’ve been noodling around with and post it to your blog or on SoundCloud
The point here is not to create something magnificent, but to simply create something every day and to leave some type of record of it that you can return to later. I think eventually you’ll find that it becomes a positive feedback loop as other artists begin to comment and respond to your work.
I know it’s hard to find the time.
As I’ve said before, most of us have less than ideal situations for creating our art. We have full-time jobs, we have kids that need to be fed on a regular basis, we have partners who may want us to crawl out of our den or studio once in awhile. It’s not always easy, but at the same time, we need to find a way to carve 20-30 minutes out of our day to exercise our creative muscles and create that momentum to keep us moving forward.
I know that sometimes during a creative drought you may feel like you’re simply going through the motions. We’ve all been there and these are the times when we are tempted to give up and stop wasting our time.
You have to remember, however, that no creative effort is ever wasted
Creativity builds upon itself. Even those times when it may seem as if we’re just spinning our wheels, we are quietly building the foundation for future progress. Since we cannot see very far down our creative path, we sometimes have to move forward on faith and be willing to put in the work necessary to grow creatively.
Although we may create in solitude, we also thrive creatively by having the support of those who understand us the best. This is why it’s important to find those kindred creative spirits to share our hopes, our struggles, our dreams, our fears, as well as our triumphs. We need to find our community — those who will support and nurture us along the way.
Depending on where you live, you may find your community nearby at a local art school, community center, or even the local Starbucks. If you cannot find your tribe around your neighborhood, chances are you’ll be able to connect with them online.
Think about joining online social communities such as Twitter, Facebook, Flickr groups, DeviantArt forum, and Google+ communities. If you’re not sure which one is right for you, I would suggest simply hanging around them a bit and see what’s going on. Each of these online communities has its own unique culture. See where your current friends hang out. Try them out for awhile and see what feels right to you.
Also don’t be afraid to open up an account and try things out for awhile. Later if things just don’t feel right, you can always go somewhere else. Don’t ever feel like you have to keep at it just because you now have 500 followers on Twitter. If it starts to feel like a chore, take a break. You can always come back to it weeks or even months later.
Wherever you decide to hang out, be sure that you allow yourself to occasionally open up and be vulnerable. Just like in the real world, people want to connect with real people not some fake super-confident version of yourself. As I’ve said before, there’s a reason that Superman hangs out with himself at the fortress of solitude. I mean, who wants to hang with Mr. Perfect?
Just be yourself and remember that you’re not there to sell your yourself as an artist, you’re there for the support and friendship that comes from being around other writers, artists, and musicians who are going through many of the same things you are.
Finally, don’t be afraid to experiment and try something new.
Creativity is all about seeing things from a new perspective. It may sound like a bit of a cliche but it’s true that no one has ever seen the world the same way that you do. Find a way to share your unique perspective with the rest of us. Remember that we are all here stumbling our way through trying to find our individual voice.
Also never be afraid to start over. Allow yourself from time to time to return to your artistic innocence and see your art through the eyes of a beginner. Don’t allow your past to dictate your future path. It doesn’t matter if you’ve already sunk twenty or thirty years into a particular discipline, if it no longer nourishes your creative soul, you need to let it go and head in a new direction.
Expand and resist defining yourself as an artist.
It seems like these days so many creative artists have managed to bury themselves so deeply into their niche and they can no longer find their way out.
Don’t ever limit yourself by defining who you think you are as an artist. Resist labels. Follow your creative path wherever it may lead you even if it means letting go of the comfort of the familiar.
Use every tool in your arsenal to explore your creative soul. Try to push yourself a little further each day into unfamiliar territory. Embrace the discomfort that comes from setting yourself apart from others.
Expand, explore, and enjoy!
How do you motivate yourself to keep moving forward when things are rough?
What kind of things do you do to get those creative juices flowing again?
How do you feed your creative soul?
Drew is a writer, teacher, and head custodian of the Skinny Artist creative community. You can also find him online at OutmatchFitness.com where he writes about fitness, nutrition, and his continuing battle with father time.