Artist’s Block and the Creative Struggle: Learning to Focus in the Digital Age
Artist’s block – if you’re an artist of some kind like I am, you most likely already know about it. Maybe you know a lot more than you’d like to admit, and have been struggling for some time without a breakthrough. But you are not alone. There are many, many artists who have been blocked for much of their lives. They live out other people’s visions, driving around with other people’s roadmaps, unconsciously singing along to the same old broken record in their heads of their parents or loved ones dictating what they should or should not be doing with their lives.
As a result, they live with a profound lack of inspiration, motivation, or direction in the artistic process, and in the rest of their lives. When they actually have the energy to get up and create, they cannot follow through, often leaving many projects unfinished while starting new ones. They can become creative dabblers who never achieve anything of consequence to themselves. They can become the frustrated “artiste manqués” who have so much to express, but cannot for the life of them find a way to express it.
And yet, even the most accomplished artists are not immune to the grip of artist’s block, as it emerges unpredictably and can persist for varying durations. This insidious struggle is rooted in the intricate interplay of imagination, self-doubt, and external pressures, creating a frustrating paradox where the very act of creation becomes elusive.
Why do we get Artist’s Block?
There can be numerous ways we artists get blocked. One factor is the overwhelming pressure we often place on ourselves to constantly produce innovative and meaningful work. This kind of self-imposed expectation (which is often born from other peoples’ expectations, like our parents) can lead to a fear of failure or a sense of inadequacy, ultimately stifling creative flow. Other, external influences, such as criticism, financial stress, or time constraints, can also contribute to this blockage. Moreover, the sheer volume of stimuli from the digital age, while providing a wealth of inspiration, can paradoxically contribute to a sort of creative paralysis, where we struggle to filter and distill our ideas.
In the end, though, it all boils down to fear – creative blocks emerge from a fear of committing to our visions, from a fear of success, or of failure, or of living outside the norm, or of letting other people down. As history tells us, living outside of the tribal agreements or mass ideologies of our cultures can lead to unexpected consequences, and sometimes very undesirable consequences. So, quite instinctually, for reasons based on survival, we usually try to fit in where we can.
However, we are artists, and we are not born to fit in – we are born to rock the boat, to paint outside the lines, as it were, in order to expand and to help evolve our cultures. Thus, this kind of struggle is an integral part of the mission a creative’s life. It’s par for the course.
Conventional Approaches to Navigating Through Artist’s Block
When we get turned around or find ourselves off-track, we often look for conventional ways of navigating through artist’s block that many artist coaches and teachers recommend. Such approaches usually come as combinations of patience, self-compassion, and strategic methods. We are told to find solace in stepping away from our work temporarily, allowing ourselves to recharge and gain fresh a perspective. Other ideas espoused by artist coaches might be engaging in activities outside the realm of art, like spending time in nature, reading diverse literature, or immersing in different cultural experiences, which can help spark new ideas.
Further recommendations include collaborating with fellow artists, which can foster an environment of shared creativity and mutual support. We’re also encouraged to recognize that artist’s block is a natural, cyclical phenomenon, and that our creative energies have a kind of ebb and flow to them, so we must embrace this and have patience.
A Better Solution for Artist’s Block
Personally, though, I don’t like to sit around and wait for my creativity to come knocking on my door when it randomly decides to come visit. And while any of the above approaches may work for you, I consider them to be more like bandages, because they don’t really get to the heart of the problem of how we’re actually blocked creatively – why we’re not really doing what we really want to be doing.
So, I have my own way of dealing with artist blocks that gets to the heart of the problem very quickly. It’s extremely effective because it cuts the root of the blockage – the fear.
How Does it Work?
Our blocks to creating, like all blocks and mental afflictions in our lives, come not from our circumstances, but from being spiritually ungrounded, off center, and out of alignment with ourselves and with our creative purpose in this life. Once we become out of alignment, our monkey minds begin to take the helm and steer the ship.
If you have meditated a lot, you might know how the mind usually has a lot going on under the surface that we’re normally oblivious to.
It’s much like your smart phone or computer, which, when you have all of these apps open that you’re not currently using, they eat up your battery pretty quickly and can really slow everything down. What happens is, your phone or computer is simply overloaded with too many tasks – too many ideas are circulating around in its tiny electrical transistor brain, pulling its attention and energy in all directions instead of on the task at hand.
Especially now, in the digital age, that we’ve become so attached to our distraction devices, most of us have way too many apps open in our heads and cannot focus on one thing for more than 10 seconds – which is one reason why meditation has suddenly gained fame across the Western world. Be that as it may, we have had our monkey minds long before social media and tv came about. We’ve been struggling to understand and tame our human minds since the dawn of history – and probably before that.
But the fact that we have these distracted monkey minds, or that we are bombarded by a constant stream of information, is not the real problem. The real problem with any form of creative resistance comes both from being out of alignment with our higher purpose and from not knowing how the monkey mind creates and stores thoughts and emotions – the thoughts and emotions that directly affect our ability to make decisions and to focus our attention.
Think of it this way…imagine you are walking across town, and you have a long way to get to your destination, and suddenly you feel a rock in your shoe. Your attention now switches to the rock instead of the destination. And your gait has gone off-balance, because you’re busy trying to angle your foot in a way so that it doesn’t hurt so much, pressing against the rock. You don’t really want to stop and untie your shoe and take it off and dump out the rock because you’re still trying to get to your destination. And so you pretend the rock isn’t there and keep walking, until you get blisters…and you go on and on this way until you finally realize the best thing to do is just to stop and take off your shoe and take out the rock.
This is how our artist’s blocks work. The stuck emotions take all of our attention and focus away from our plan to get to our original destination, and wreak all kinds of havoc and create a lot of drama and pain in the process. Meanwhile, we’re still not much closer to our destination.
But once we bring the thinking/emotional process to light, via going back into alignment and exploring the true nature of our mind, these negative emotions loosen their grip on us, and we are able to take out the rock – the root negative emotion. We’re then freed up and can much more easily make decisions and focus on whichever destination we choose, whichever task we decide to do, for as long as we desire to perform that task.
At this point, our knowledge of emotions and our ability to align ourselves with our higher purpose serve each other. When we become more centered in our being, we can more easily let go of stored emotions that no longer serve our desires and that often derail us from doing what we really want to be doing. And vice versa, when we understand these inherent emotional processes, we’re more able to align ourselves to our higher purpose.
For more information on how to break through Artist’s Block, get the book.