Do you ever get stuck during your creative process? Or you just want to give up?
You are not alone. Feeling this frustration is common and to be expected. In fact, Elizabeth Gilbert states in her book “Big Magic: Creative Living Without Fear,” Learning how to endure your disappointment and frustration is part of the job of a creative person…Frustration is not an interruption of your process; frustration is the process. On a personal note, I wish I had known this many years ago when I had first started to paint.
Are there common places in the creative process where creatives often stop and don’t want to continue? When you read my Part 1 of this blog post, I asked if you knew where creatives typically get stuck in the creative process. Any thoughts? It was fascinating to learn from my research that there are two. This was helpful to be aware of, particularly since I learned that I had company.
Per my last post—Part 1—and for review, I outlined the key stages of the creative process as follows:
- First Insight—the original thought or problem to solve;
- Saturation—the gathering of resources;
- Incubation—unconscious and conscious ruminating;
- Illumination—the Ah, hah! moment;
- Verification/Production—the resolution.
- Separation/Letting Go—closure and transferring of ownership.
- Hibernation—the time of rest and restoration after the process is completed. By the way, this important step was not added until the end of the 1900’s.
Note my graphic below to as a visual understanding the steps above. The graphic depicts the creative process as a circle or spiral versus linear, which reflects reality more accurately.
There are some experts in the field of creativity who believe these phases are not worth noting. However, I believe they are as I mentioned, because knowledge informs us and gives us power. Understanding our experiences better prepares us along the artistic journey. An awareness of the creative process helps us to be prepared and/or not surprised when these stumbling blocks arise.
FYI: An excellent book with a different perspective is “Imagination in Action: Secrets for Unleashing Creative Expression,” by Shaun McNiff. I highly recommend it.
Frequently, artists do not continue in their creative endeavors because the hurdles seem unachievable. There are countless stories of the ‘problem to be solved’ or the ‘painting’ being put on hold indefinitely or permanently terminated. Most of us have heard of artists doing this or we have done so ourselves.
Where Do Creatives Typically Stop During the Creative Process?
I learned that this stoppage occurs most often during two different phases.
The first is during the Incubation-Step 1—period. According to the well-known author Betty Edwards, in her book “Drawing on the Artist Within,” The mind longs for closure while the answer stays out of reach and this is the most critical moment in the creative process. The artist succumbs to the anxiety and gives up for fear the problem may, after all, have no solution, or [they] cannot summon the courage to accept the anxiety, keep the problem before their eyes and in their mind and take the next uncertain step.
According to Edwards, this is when we lose most artists. It takes will and persistence to overcome this anxiety. When I look back at the times when it took me a long time to arrive at my “Ah, ha!” with some of my painting ideas. I often wanted to toss the idea. I believe it was my passion and belief in myself that kept me resolute to continue. I did not succumb to the anxiety and frustration I was feeling.
However, there are times when it does feel like a battle that cannot be overcome.
Edwards states that the second place where artists most frequently do not forge ahead is during the Verification—step 5. Either they cannot quite complete the idea as they see it in their mind’s eye or they do not complete the artwork for fear of external feedback. The fear of the unknown responses from others can be debilitating.
Bringing our artistic results forward for all of the world to see, critique, enjoy, purchase, stare at, and walk by, is not unlike enduring the dreaded act of public speaking—stated by many psychologists as one of the most feared activities people can face. We painters are in a vulnerable state when we present our work and the risk can seem daunting. For some it can be exhilarating. Which one are you?
There can also be the feeling of personal failure because the artist cannot do what he or she set out to do. Sometimes it feels like plowing through thick, gummy mud and it doesn’t seem worth all of the work and stress. Yet, when we get to the other side it can feel very satisfying and motivating. Personally, the more I have painted, the easier it has become to persist through the muck. I also know that each step is getting me closer to what I am trying to accomplish, because I am constantly learning along the way.
As the masterful vulnerability researcher Brene Brown states, “Vulnerability is about showing up and being seen. It’s tough to do that when we’re terrified about what people might see or think.” She also says that vulnerability is the key to creativity and authenticity.
When going public early in my painting career, I learned I needed to g-r-a-d-u-a-l-l-y step outside of my safety zone. Overtime I slowly enlarged the circle of people I had the emotional countenance to tolerate. Further confidence decreased my anxiety significantly and my expectations became more realistic. Also fear of confirmation and validation lessened.
There is much more that coule be written about this subject. What are your opinions and experiences? Please leave a comment below.
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Colorfully and gratefully yours,