The creative process, as you know, is allusive and not easy to nail down, yet I believe it is worth taking a moment to analyze. We creatives indulge in this activity all of the time and it is not natural for us to stop and break down something we can seemingly do in our sleep.
In Part 1: A Painter’s Creative Process Delineated, of this series of posts, I outlined how scientists throughout history have identified the steps in the process. These steps show how we get an idea, soak up information surrounding this concept, ruminate about it and then suddenly come up with a solution. The latter then leads to producing this solution or solving the probem.
Then in Part 2: The Creative Process Needs Closure, I took liberty to expand upon their steps and added one that I believe is crucial. I labeled it the Separation/Letting Go step and made it step 6 of 7 steps. The graphic below shows you the various steps in a cyclical motion. Are there any steps that surprise you?
Two Places Where Artists often Stop in the Creative Process
As I read more about the creative process, I came across information that I found fascinating and helpful.
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.
An awareness of the creative process helps to understand these stumbling blocks—where they typically happen and why.
I learned that this stoppage occurs most often in 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 along time to arrive at my “Ah, ha!” with some of my painting ideas, 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. 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 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 the Validation step where external feedback occurs. The fear of the unknown response 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 seems too daunting.
There can also be the feeling of personal failure because the artist cannot do what he or she set out to do. Sometimes it just feels like plowing through thick, gummy mud and it doesn’t seem worth all of the work and stress.
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 the fear of confirmation and validation I needed lessened.
As I prepared for my upcoming opening reception for my “Beyond the Surface,” show last week, my nerves were raw. However, I knew that the risk would be worth the fear and anxiety. It is also comforting to remember Georgia O’Keeffe’s quote: “I have been absolutely terrified every moment of my life — and I have never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do.”
Have had a creative concept that you have given up on? What was it and why do you think to stopped?
Or has the reverse happened when you distinctly remember pulling up your boot straps and persevering?
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