Posts Tagged ‘creative block’

R U Blocked?

January 10, 2012

(courtesy of The New Yorker )

Wouldn’t it be convenient if a prerecorded message were made available to artists, something to guide them through the creation of a work of art, just as the viewer above is guided through the appreciation of the art?

Because there’s no greater “high” than spending a successful day painting (or writing or just being creative)… But when you’re blocked, it’s hell on earth.

When it happens to me, I rapidly descend into a foul mood. I’m touchy. Cranky. Depressed. I am so tied to my work, I  feel it defines me. I don’t think I’m alone in this.

When I lose my “connection” (i.e., when I’m “stuck” on a piece and just can’t move forward in any acceptable way), I often fear I’ve lost it — or never even “had” it to begin with.

Had what? is the question. Where does the “it” come from? Therein lies the mystery.

This past Saturday, I stood in front of the easel staring at my new painting — which was no more than an underpainting, in actuality, since  I’d worked on this piece only one time before Saturday. Then the holidays arrived.

Responsibilities and festivities, all of them good, took precedence…I’d sacrificed “the flow” that continuity bestows…and worried about what would happen when I finally got back to the easel.

I got lucky.

I’d been reading Milan Kundera’s latest book of essays, Encounter, a Christmas gift from J.C., on the train the previous Thursday.

What are these essays about?  “…a passionate defense of art in an era that, he argues, no longer values art or beauty,” says the liner notes.

From the essay titled “The Painter’s Brutal Gesture: On Francis Bacon,” comes this brilliant piece of insight I hope will help unblock you the way it did me:

“In his reflections on Beckett, Bacon says: ‘In painting, we always leave in too much that is habit, we never eliminate enough.’ Too much that is habit, which is to say: everything in painting that is not the painter’s own discovery, his fresh contribution, his originality; everything that is inherited, routine, filler, elaboration as technical necessity…Almost all great modern artists mean to do away with “filler,” do away with whatever comes from habit, whatever keep them from getting directly and exclusively at the essential (the essential: the thing the artist himself, and only he, is able to say).”

These wise words opened the floodgates. Suddenly, I knew what I had to do. I was high for the rest of the day.

I Love the Smell of Turpentine in the Morning

February 27, 2010

My new studio

Okay, the studio is actually in my apartment — part of our office-slash-spare bedroom-slash library (the spare BR in our 2BR).

We rearranged a few things, relocated my desk to the other end of this room (because it’s bad feng shui to work at your desk with your back to the door) and moved J.C.’s computer into the living room (a very pleasant room with lots of space and light and art and a pretty red area rug from Iran.)

I haven’t painted since moving this past October from L.A. to N.Y.

Now, it’s as if my missing right arm has suddenly turned up and reattached itself to my body.

Often such cases of pseudo-limb transplant are precipitated by a major life-change. Sometimes creative block or the lack of a well-lit space in which to work is to blame. All are frustrating and debilitating.

No matter what the source, once your so-called creative problem is resolved, the bipolar experience of sidling back into your work is best described, I think, by a Talking Heads song, called “Artists Only.”

Wry, laconic lyrics (by David Byrne) you cannot help but relate to when wrestling down the daemons of creativity.

Here’s a clip from a 1977 Talking Heads performance in Austin, TX:

Artists Only

I’m painting, I’m painting again.

I’m painting, I’m painting again.

I’m cleaning, I’m cleaning again.

I’m cleaning, I’m cleaning my brain.

Pretty soon now, I will be bitter.

Pretty soon now, will be a quitter.

Pretty soon now, I will be bitter.

You can’t see it ’til it’s finished

I don’t have to prove…that I am creative!

I dont’ have to prove…that I am creative!

All my pictures are confused

And now I’m going to take me to you

The new arrangement for our apartment essentially came about because of three reasons:

1) Studio porn for the visual artist: in the form of an inspirational birthday gift I received from my friend, B., called Inside the Painter’s Studio by Joe Fig:

You can look inside it at

2) J.C. had a dream, which envisioned a repositioning of both of our desks and my easel to their present locations.

3) Roberta Smith’s February 10th’s article in The N.Y. Times: Post-Minimal to the Max, which has infused me with hope that we non-post-minimalist painters are not irrelevant (or “dead” or moldering in some garret amid our stacks of paintings and neck scarves and berets and chain-smoking Gauloises and spouting “Beat” vernacular.)

As Smith writes in the article: “Museum curators need to think less about an artist’s career, its breakthroughs and its place in the big picture and more in terms of an artist’s life’s work pursued over time with increasing concentration and singularity

“They owe it to the public to present a balanced menu that involves painting as well as video and photography and sculpture. They need to think outside the hive-mind, both distancing themselves from their personal feelings to consider what’s being wrongly omitted and tapping into their own subjectivity to show us what they really love.”

If only.

Still, we persevere because we have no choice. We need our right arm!