Today it occurred to me that I have accumulated a backlog of unfinished drawings and paintings. Rather than follow a rabbit trail that spirals into self-sabotage and despondency, I decided to try to see it in positive terms. What if unfinished artwork is not a sign of being distracted or undisciplined but a necessary part of creativity?
I’ll never forget one time when I was renting a studio which, as part of a heritage building in Fremantle, had frequent visitors who came to look at the building as well as the art in the studios there. Taking advantage of the sunny morning,I was working on the front porch when a man and his partner greeted me and asked if they could have a look at what I was painting. I was working on an intuitive, colourful artwork which as far as I was concerned was far from finished. He told me he wanted to buy it “as is”. “Can I just tweak this bit?” I said, motioning toward a part of the canvas that looked halfway between a bizarre-looking bird and a flower. “No, I really want to buy it as is” he replied.
Later as we were talking I found out that his daughter had died tragically in a car crash. My son was also claimed by the roads just two before at the time. We each had this acknowledgement that grieving parents share; an unspoken “you also understand this reality of living through the unthinkable”. I realised just as his daughter’s life was unfinished, there was a poetic truth and melancholy beauty he could see in an unfinished artwork. Now more than ever, after losing my own precious boy, I am beginning to see that the true meaning of creating is not about product, but communication of ideas, thoughts and messy emotions. It’s about he communion and solidarity we share in being human and a bit broken and unfinished ourselves.
Art unfinished is raw and candid. It reveals the artists state of mind before it is erased through the fine tuning we do to create an image that is deemed worthy of the external gaze.
I decided to photograph my unfinished pieces, not only to reflect on them but also to validate them as meaningful explorations. They are pockets of inspiration, which is valuable whether bought to fruition or abandoned. They silently protest the mantra of productivity we have in our culture. They remind me that it is the process of creating, not the end result that holds the true magic. The magic of responding to inner prompts and being brave enough to try and sometimes fail.
The term-“artist block” is one that every creative person has heard, and carries with it a sense of frustration and artistic desolation. It’s a term that has been in the back of my mind, daring me to tackle it and rise above it.
Lately, I have simply surrendered to it, which runs counter-intuitive to the common advice given on the subject, suggesting that the artist should “just turn up” to their creative practise regardless. A kind of fake-it-til-you-make-it mentality. And there nothing wrong with that, it does work- I’ve tried it in the past. But I guess that’s not where I am at the moment.
I wanted to divorce myself of the label “artist” as part of my identity. Funnily enough, as I write this it occurs to me that perhaps this was necessary so I could grow as a person.
In December I ditched my studio space in Fremantle. In January I ditched my home studio, replacing it with a beautiful, funky lounge room. I decluttered all my art supplies, leaving me with just the bare bones-journals, pencils, paint and canvas. In March I ditched my gallery space in Fremantle. I gave away some artwork here and there, which has been liberating and kind of joyful, too. Ditching and giving. Throwing away the superfluous, gifting things that hold meaning and value.
I’ve just been finding the whole process of trying to sell artwork….soul destroying.
I still paint occasionally- only when I really want to- and I just set up in my dining room or outside. But mostly, it’s all about sketchbook doodles, writing down dreams, thoughts of travel and trying to find the still small voice again.
The below image is from my sketchbook, done on a plane trip on my way back from Bali.
Here is another work in progress. I am slowly wading through my artists block, and am hoping to create a body of work that shows the spiritual world interacting with the temporal…or at least creating landscapes that fuel the imagination for things that we don’t see with physical eyes.
So…on the topic of artist block, something that I have been mulling over a lot, to the extent that I sought advice on Google (sigh). The most worthwhile thought has been, ‘just show up, sooner or later your muse will too”. Good advice…but still not without frustration and self doubt; these re-occurring feelings as the artist waits for and searches for his or her illusive muse.
On the flip side working through this block has helped clear up old cobwebs. I am starting to have much more clarity and focus- this is a very big nod towards creativity being a healing agent. I’ve been thinking about a book I used to read quite often; “Art Heals: how creativity cures the soul” by Shaun McNiff. In this book the author likens creativity to a kind of priestly and intensely spiritual engagement, capable of bringing profound inner healing. This is relevant to creative block in the sense that it puts it in its place: we are all creative. Our creativity moves us beyond the temporal and into the spiritual- a place where the subconscious reigns. Therefore to be blocked artistically is akin to being caught up in the cares of the world. Our creativity, our muse beckons us beyond this. To find our muse is essentially finding connection with God, since (I believe)it is a force beyond ourselves that heals, nurtures and awakens.
I am not implying that overcoming creative blocks simplistic in a “just get in touch with God” way. It’s a precious process, we wrestle with our own psyche and who we believe god and creativity to be. When I look at art history it’s like a living pictorial story of how we have tried to understand the divine, the universe, ourselves. Creative blocks are perhaps the chopping board of ideas and deeper thoughts. It’s a very precious place.
On a lighter note. Below is a little painting I created tonight on a scrap if board, totally unconcerned about the final product; just enjoying applying paint, leftovers from my pallet. It’s a great example of how #1 working on more than one artwork at a time is good practise #2 when you are relaxed and don’t care if things work or not, things seem to work well!