Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Artist Slump

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copyright 2007 Stacy L. Rowan

I have found in my years of being an artist that two things can push me into an artist slump. One is finishing a breakthrough painting or drawing. By breakthrough I mean a work that is better than any I had created previously. The other cause is realizing that my vision outpaces my skill level. In other words, being able to "see" the fabulous piece of art I want to create, but not having the necessary skills to be successful in creating it.

I think the problem with both of these events is they inspire fear or create (self-imposed) pressure. The breakthrough piece surprises me with how good my work can be. That surprise is followed by the feeling of pressure, created by wanting to repeat the success, and fear that the success was somehow a fluke. When vision outpaces skill, of course, the fear is that the skill will never advance enough to allow me to create what I see in my mind's eye.

What I think is funny is that visible growth can sometimes stop me. (Although truthfully it is more of a pause, because I always come back to creating.) Producing a painting that shows growth in my technical skills or visualizing one that represents growth in my creative skills is more fearful than producing something which shows no growth? How counter-intuitive is that? Stagnation is more comfortable than growth?

Do you think that changing my point of view - celebrating the growth instead of focusing on the fear - would stop a slump in its tracks? It's an interesting theory and definitely worth a try. I'd love to hear opinions on this topic from other artists out there.


Jennifer Rose said...

When I manage to draw something that shows artistic growth in anyway, it does make me stop for awhile because I think, what happens if the next piece is not as good as the last. But just like you I don't stop long, or at least try not to stop drawing for long.

Celebrating growth of any kind might help, because any advance in your art is a good thing and should be seen as such. It might not stop the slump in its tracks at first because its hard not to be afraid that future art will not improve, but after awhile you might not even have that little pause, and just go to the next piece of work and take what you learned from the last with you.

Maybe if you focused just on the art as a stand alone piece and not how much better a piece is than the last?

Regula Scheifele said...

I hear you Stacy - and know what you're talking about.
For me it's mainly the 'virtual painting' that holds me back: thinking about and visualizing what I want to paint, how to do it.... and then not really doing it because I've already gone through the process. In my head. Silly, isn't it?
In regard to growth stopping you: celebrating will surely help (and is well deserved!). And maybe not fighting the fear that follows but embracing it and using the energy to get one step further on your way.
It's like in school when you're promoted to a new level: of course everything seems far more difficult, but only because you reached the next level. You've earned it and might as well enjoy the new challenges!
I certainly enjoy watching you on your way!

Mary said...

You have a very interesting point here Stacy. In my case a successful achievement with my art does cause fear to the point of taking my sleep away when thinking of the next step but I think this is in a way good because it forces you to keep moving and not stop in spite of thinking that your next step might not be as good as your last. I think the important thing is not letting yourself, stop.

Stacy said...

Thank you for the thoughtful comments everyone!

Jennifer, your advice of not comparing and judging is good and can be applied to much of life. I'll try to keep that in mind. :)

Regula, interesting what you said about the visualization process. I find picturing the finished product energizes me to get started. It makes me curious to see if I can create what I envisioned. But with art I am finding the mroe I learn the less I feel I know. :D

Mary, I agree that the secret is to keep moving. I find the more I do art the more I want to do it. The same is true for other things like exercising, reading or shopping. Lucky for my husband art normally wins over shopping - except for shopping at the art supplies store!

Sue Johnson said...

Stacy, Absolutely, focus on growth. I think fear governs too many of our actions keeping us stuck instead of moving forward.

I recommend a wonderful little book, "The War of Art" by Steven Pressfield. With great humor and sensitiviy, he addresses facing fear, resistance and avoidance in our creative life.

A quote from the book: "Are you paralyzed with fear? That's a good sign. Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. Reember our rule of thumb: The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more we can be sure that we have to do it."

I have so many ideas for works that I feel Ill never get them all done and some days it seems not worth even starting because Im so overwhelmed with, of all things, possibilities.

But, because I know I must, I hold myself to a standard of doing some work every day and, happily, more days than not I succeed.

Denise Mennella said...

Hey, you'd better get out of your blogging slump! Dad is reading ou blogs and starting to complain when we haven't updated. When he was telling me to blog about the horse at the wedding, he mentioned that you really haven't blogged in a while. Just a heads up from your favorite sister....

I have to go get medicine to doctor my LAME horse now.

Anonymous said...

Stacy - sorry I am late, I was in a slump HAHA
I can't say that I feel fear. Not sure that is good after reading Sue's comment. After a breakthrough piece I have to step back chew it a while. Takes time to ingest it. As I write this, I realize that it isn't fear of the work, for me it is fear I will be denied the chance to make the creation. So before that happens, I just won't start. Won't be in the position to allow that to happen. Now that is even sillier.
I have witnessed what putting one foot in front of the other has accomplished. After doing that for a year, I am amazed.
Having a picture in my mind, I use the tools that I have been taught and I continue reaching to produce that image. Never settling for anything less is the answer. I think we far too often give up before our creation is fulfilled.

The price of success: dedication, hard work, and the unremitting devotion to the things you want to see happen
F.L. Wright

Babysteps Stacy.

Stacy said...

Thanks for your thoughts Sue! I'll check out that book the next time I am at the book store or library.

Denise, tell Dad that this isn't a blogging slump. I only ever post once or twice a week. So no harrassing comments allowed from the peanut gallery. I hope Shelly is feeling better. After all, you have a craft show to prepare for!!

Haha Robin - good one! I love hearing everyone's comments on this topic. I find it so interesting that each of us have different things that stop us. Makes sense I guess, but an interesting discussion none the less. By the way, I think F.L. Wright should have addded patience to the list!

The Vegas Art Guy said...

Focusing on growth never hurts. I've also found when I hit a slump to switch gears. It always shakes the cobwebs loose for some reason. Since you work in multiple media it's going to be easier for you to drop the WC and pick up the pencil. Since I do mainly pen and ink I switch subject matter and go between b/w and color. For a change go to the calligraphy section on Wet Canvas and try the Celtic knot tutorials, talk about a new challenge! LOL

Stacy said...

Hi Greg! Thanks for your comment. Switching gears is another good suggestion. I find when I'm working in watercolor, I am often thinking about projects in graphite, charcoal or pen and vice versa. It's that grass is always greener thing I think. But I don't have the patience to try a Celtic knot. Admire them - yes, create them - no. LOL

The Vegas Art Guy said...

I did a little corner of one for fun and it came out great. Since I stipple big knots are out. But a small pattern would be just the thing for this desert rat to get his stippling fix with dotdotdotdotdot...

:lol: It's not really an addiction I can dotdotdot stop any time I want to!

Africantapestry said...

Stacy, you've raised a question we all struggle with and I have to agree with Sue. I think fear is for me the biggest cause of slump, (and not always only art wise). And it shows up at my door in many different disguises - fear of not doing it good enough, fear of not being good enough, fear of failing, fear of actually succeeding then what, fear of not having enough time, sometimes I can't even give it a name, but by now I know it is some kind of fear.
If I don't discipline myself and take it head on, I can fall so deep into a slump that you might as well start writing my memoirs. I don't think something like waiting for inspiration has a real place in art, it is simply admitting where you are and START doing it, doing anything, as long as you not do nothing. To me, inspiration does show up after I've started doing it. It almost shows up as a reward.
Thanks for starting this debate, I enjoyed reading all the viewpoints and I'm learning from it!

Stacy said...

Greg, you can't fool me! Stippling IS an addiction!! I've done it and there is something about dotdotdotting that makes me not want to stop.

Ronell, funny how we all feel fear, but when I look at work done by other artists like yourself, I can't for the life of me see what they have to be afraid of. LOL That's why I love discussions like this. It proves we are all normal and gives us new ideas on how to keep moving. I'm glad you found it useful too.

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