How many times have you told yourself you’re:
- Not artistic?
- Not artistic enough?
- Not the creative type?
- Unable to draw anything?
- No good at making things?
- No good at coming up with ideas?
God, we’ve all done this to ourselves from time to time. All of us. Here’s where the link between focus switching and creativity is so important.
Look, that flat feeling when things aren’t going as well as we’d like – in any area really – can be given a good kick along when we change something so we look at the world a little differently. Sometimes a sideways push into another perspective is all we need to get going again.
When I feel stuck in the studio, or neck-deep in self-doubt, I can be a classic procrastinator. But if I play around with a new material, or bake a cake or go for a walk instead, thoughts usually turn to solutions – or at least ideas of where to go next. Doing something left-of-field is just what you need.
WHY FOCUS SWITCHING IS GOOD FOR CREATIVITY
It makes you NOTICE OTHER THINGS.
It helps you KNOW WHAT YOU REALLY THINK.
It allows you to ACCUMULATE VALUABLE MATERIAL FOR LATER USE.
I’m amazed at the amount of times I hear people say they’re not creative. When teaching a class I’ll often hear a grumble here and there from students about being ‘not very good’ or wishing they’d learned to draw earlier, etc. etc. But switching focus has so many benefits – and not just for the problem we might be facing at the time. Getting out of a rut or feeling blocked, or feeling that what you have is never going to be enough, can be turned around by little shifts in perspective over time.
I know that in my own practice, I love to latch onto the threads that continue from one batch of work to the next, the ideas that get generated, the possibilities that evolve. Sure, that thread will loop and knot and sometimes break altogether – but those events will always lead to another way, another attitude, or another opportunity. Curiosity is everything.
A FEW REMEDY SUGGESTIONS
If anything, uplifting our mental states is a damned good reason to try another way. Here are some tactics I’ve tried that have worked for me in the past:
- Try out a new material
- Read something I normally wouldn’t
- Travel a different route to somewhere you go often
- Use a recipe but substitute all the ingredients
- Declutter the house
- Go through my wardrobe and sort the wheat from the chaff
- Get a journal and actually write in it – about anything (stream of consciousness stuff, what irritates you, what shapes the clouds are in today). I find a boring old exercise book -rather than a beautiful journal – to be helpfully un-inhibiting for this.
- Get yourself a copy of Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit. It has wonderful advice for thinking outside the norms.
And for God’s sake – stop comparing yourself to others. It’s an absolute creativity killer.
AND SOME GREAT IDEAS FROM OTHER PEOPLE (FAMOUS ONES)
Students (and everyone else) often forget to use what’s already inside them. But what they might feel they lack in one area will be amply available to them in another. It’s all in the seeing.
With the help of little perspective shifts you’re more likely to come back to the task feeling refreshed/relieved/lighter/happier/more focused/more curious/more open to possibility than before.
The author Ann Patchett illustrates the usefulness of accumulating random life experience over time, writing in her memoir The Getaway Car:
I am a compost heap, and everything I interact with, every experience I’ve had, gets shoveled
onto the heap where it eventually mulches down, is digested and excreted by worms, and rots.
It’s from that rich, dark humus, the combination of what you encountered, what you know and
what you’ve forgotten, that ideas start to grow.
And in his blog article Validation is for Parking, Austin Kleon writes reassuringly about individual vision:
Nobody’s gonna give you permission.
Nobody’s gonna welcome you into the club.
Nobody’s gonna pat you on the back and say “well done.”
All you can do is keep making the work you want to see in the world.
Probably my favourite advice quote of all time, one that I keep coming back to, is Sol LeWitt’s counsel to Eva Hesse when she was going through a massive creative block in the early 1960s. This is an extract from a lengthy letter he wrote to her (you can read an article on the letter in The Marginalian here) that I think you’ll find useful:
Learn to say “Fuck You” to the world once in a while. You have every right to. Just stop thinking, worrying, looking over your shoulder, wondering, doubting, fearing, hurting, hoping for some easy way out, struggling, grasping, confusing, itching, scratching, mumbling, bumbling, grumbling, humbling, stumbling, numbling, rambling, gambling, tumbling, scumbling, scrambling, hitching, hatching, bitching, moaning, groaning, honing, boning, horse-shitting, hair-splitting, nit-picking, piss-trickling, nose sticking, ass-gouging, eyeball-poking, finger-pointing, alleyway-sneaking, long waiting, small stepping, evil-eyeing, back-scratching, searching, perching, besmirching, grinding, grinding, grinding away at yourself. Stop it and just
Try and tickle something inside you, your “weird humor.” You belong in the most secret part of you. Don’t worry about cool, make your own uncool. Make your own, your own world. If you fear, make it work for you — draw & paint your fear & anxiety. And stop worrying about big, deep things such as “to decide on a purpose and way of life, a consistant [sic] approach to even some impossible end or even an imagined end.” You must practice being stupid, dumb, unthinking, empty. Then you will be able to
Try to do some BAD work — the worst you can think of and see what happens but mainly relax and let everything go to hell — you are not responsible for the world — you are only responsible for your work — so DO IT. And don’t think that your work has to conform to any preconceived form, idea or flavor. It can be anything you want it to be. But if life would be easier for you if you stopped working — then stop. Don’t punish yourself. However, I think that it is so deeply engrained in you that it would be easier to
Sounds like sage advice to me.
It just might lead you to a different way of seeing things – and proliferation of manuscripts… paintings… [insert art form here].