Just what IS “artist’s/writer’s block?”
People assume us creative types can sit down at any time and turn out works of art, chapters of books, verses of poetry & song lyrics just automatically because we decide to do it.
Unfortunately, that is not the case.
There are many times I sit here, all eager to create something, but nothing comes to mind. I stare at the blank paper. I become intimidated after five minutes if the paper has remained blank that long. It then becomes a battle between my urge to put something on the blank paper & the blank paper’s evil intention to remain blank.
What can we do when artist’s block strikes?
I had a really cool art teacher in high school. His name was Mr. Masunas (he’s on the right, fittingly as Obi-Wan). I well remember my freshman year when he and the other two art teachers (including my all time favorite, Mrs. Mimi Yanta) dressed up as Han Solo, Obi-Wan (Mr. Masunas) & Leia, the iconic characters from Star Wars: A New Hope, which back in 1977 was simply “Star Wars” & everyone had seen it at least 4 times (I saw it 6 times before it left the theaters).
Mr. Masunas was OLD. He had white hair, a short white beard & us teens were worried he’d keel over one day in class, but he was cool. He could relate to us & that really impressed us. This is what he indirectly taught me about artist’s block. I say “indirectly” because he never gave the class a lecture about it. We sat at hexagon-shaped tables, so 6 to a table (obviously, as hexagons are six-sided). He would walk around looking at our work over our shoulders. Sometimes I’d be stuck in the “block zone” and I would be staring down at a blank sheet of paper, illustration board or canvas. He would then begin asking me questions.
“Do you have anything in mind?” ~ sometimes I did, but most times when I was blocked I had no clue. If I had an idea he would ask further questions that would spark my inner muse and I would end up at least starting a new piece before the end of the class period that day. If I was blocked, however, this is the approach he took.
He still asked questions, but they were weird questions. He would say, “oh, so you’re blocked, well alright then. What did you have for dinner last night?”
I’d give him a weird look and he’d say, “no, no, I really want to know.” So I’d tell him. He would then ask me if my mom was a good cook. Yes, she was. The best.
He would then ask me if I ate the cafeteria food earlier that day or if I brought my own lunch; and if so, what did I bring to eat? At that point I’d ask him what did food have to do with Art, but he would smile and say, “just humor me.” So I’d answer the question.
Next, he would shift gears and start asking me about movies I had recently seen. “Seen any good movies lately?” Then he wanted me to tell him what I thought about the movie, what did I like best about it. Then he’d nod and say, “now you can create something,” and he’d walk off.
I would then look back at the blankness of the paper or canvas; and, suddenly without warning an idea would pop into my head! Then I’d run with it and by the end of the class period I was well on my way to creating something.
I never understood as a teenager what he was doing, but as an adult, now I see.
Inspiration, or the Muse, whatever you want to call IT, that thing that gives us ideas of what to create, it lives within Distraction. If you’re feeling stuck or if you think your art has fallen into a stylistic rut, distract yourself. Don’t just sit there staring at the blank page feeling intimidated. Get up. Dance. Go for a walk. Have a snack. Call a friend. Watch a bit of TV. Read a few pages from a book. Perhaps clean the house a bit. Whatever you can do or think of to take your mind off of that sensation of being blocked, do it.
You will return to that blank page with a fresh perspective, perhaps a whole new angle, and you will create something that you would never have thought to put to paper if you had simply sat there staring at that blank page.
Remember, the blank page is not your enemy. It’s your friend, your open invitation to be creative.
~ Nefer Khepri, PhD.