Trying to force creativity

“What inspires you?” vs. “what inspires you to actually get off your ass and work?” are two totally different questions: the first one is easy: basically, everything. Okay, that’s cheating, I know, but really, sometimes it feels like it’s coming from all directions – other people, their art, their music, their love stories, stumbles and embarrassments. Being a sponge is easy – soaking up things you love – it’s the wringing out that we so often find so difficult.

I get stuck in creative ruts all the time. I fall into the habit of overthinking: wanting to make only ‘perfect’, ‘polished’ work, to make statements, to be clever and poignant and everything that my favorite artists seem so effortlessly to be. It gets so that some days I’d rather not pick up the brush because then, at least, I won’t create more chaff.

Then I’m reminded that lots of the artwork that I love so much – much of the stuff , the people I love so much, is because of the flaw, because of the fragility, imperfection and fleetingness of it/them. Going into the creative process with a single-minded goal and rigid expectation denies the opportunity for surprise.

The book Zen and the Art of Archery by Eugene Herrigel was suggested to me years back and it deals with the problem of trying very, very hard to… not have to try at all. Pah! What a joke! But it’s a good read. This small book illustrates, through the personal account of the author pursuing knowledge in Zen through the up taking of archery, the art of letting go. The relationship between artist and art is dissolved, and the author carefully addresses his struggles with the nuances of his Zen teacher and the Japanese culture:

“So I must become purposeless… on purpose?” (p. 35)

When I feel like I’m all used up and don’t know what to draw, I pile up a stack of paper, get out my ink, and sit down until all the pages have something – anything – on them. You can try this too. You don’t have to think or plan anything out, and it doesn’t matter if you aren’t happy with all the drawings – actually, that would be amazing! Rather, you will end up getting work out of your system that hopefully is a surprise even to you – no pressure – and it will be fun. I promise.

What inspires you to work?

How do you get out of creative ruts?

5 thoughts on “Trying to force creativity

  1. It’s comforting to know that someone who I think has perfect art all the time struggles creativity like the rest of us hehe 🙂 I’m often in a creative rut. Sometimes getting enamoured with something new will get me out. In the past I’ve picked up the dictionary and randomly chosen a word to illustrate. But often I will wallow in my rut and jealously look at other people’s ‘perfect’ art.

    • Haha, thank you. I do a lot of wallowing too, but try to work for long blocks of time later to make up for it. I’ve never tried the dictionary exercise before – it sounds hard! There are so many words I don’t know.

  2. I would like to try this when I get back home … I think it’s a great idea for getting stuff done … I often feel like I have nothing, no ideas or anything, and this seems like a great way to just … create. Now I try to write down or draw any ideas that suddenly come to me so that I have a bank of things to choose from if I’m stuck. Thanks for sharing, your ink drawings are beautiful and full of life!

    • I recently started doing this, carrying a notebook around and writing down ideas to use later. I think it’s great to be inspired by everything and ideas come at you all the time, but when it’s time to sit down and actually make something I draw a blank. Since I’ve had my notebook, it’s been easier.

      Also, if I don’t know what do draw, I usually start with something nerdy/gaming inspired.

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