Tips On Overcoming Artist’s Block
It can be an overwhelming feeling when you hit a wall and just can’t seem to shoot anything interesting. Or maybe you just don’t feel inspired to shoot anything at all. Every artist goes through this phase, the term artist’s block comes from writer’s block and it can last as long as it takes for the subconscious to work itself out of its slump. Sometimes life events will trigger artist’s block: a failing relationship, a sudden death of a loved one, moving to a new city, losing a friend over a petty situation. Depression can swing two ways: it either lights a fire in us to fight through it and avoid the pain by throwing ourselves into our work or it can shut us down and not want us to even see the light of day, let alone the light on set.
I’ve suffered this affliction many times throughout my career. In the past, death has been so tremendously painful that I have gone into denial by shooting non-stop. Of course, we can’t avoid the process that our emotions need to take to heal from such catastrophes so sometimes the block will happen a year later after the death. Sometimes, blocks will just come. For no apparent reason, you’re just stuck.
Dark periods in our lives can often lead to tremendous transformations in our art if we can sit through the feelings of despair and then pick ourselves up through our own willpower and strive to get ourselves out of this bad patch. I think it’s true that we can’t expect to grow without some pain or frustration because we would never have a reason to push ourselves if everything was happy and wonderful and we produced amazing images every time we set about to do so.
Below you'll find some tips that I have used in the past to overcome artist’s block. Some may work for you in the here and now, some you might be able to use on the next block. Although it can be a terrifying feeling that you think will last forever and thoughts of giving up photography will start to creep in, rest assured that they are indeed temporary and you just have to take action to overcome them.
– Sometimes it’s the fear of the block more than the block that’s holding you back. Sometimes you just have to pick up your camera and start shooting. Pretend you’ve been given an assignment or a job with a deadline and even though it may feel like you’re forcing yourself to shoot, do it any way. The action will at least spark the old feelings of satisfaction that you used to get from just shooting and that may be all it takes to get out of the block.
– Take your camera out and shoot something Un-fashion. Shoot your weird musician friend or your crazy sister with the purple hair and Grateful Dead tattoo. Shoot the kitchen or go out and shoot the neighborhood. Just keep your eye working so it can remind your brain that you still know how to frame and you can still “see” light.
– Try a different camera. If you haven’t tried a medium format camera, go rent one and test it out with a model you’ve wanted to shoot. You might fall in love with the new format and then find yourself trying to figure out clever ways to afford this new baby, but that’s a quality problem and it might just be a way to kick-start your creativity. Or take your film camera (remember those things?) and just go out and shoot whatever you feel like. Go to the skate park and shoot skateboarders.
– Breathe. Remember to just breathe. We can’t all be brilliant 100% of the time. Pick up a book and read it. Download those movies I’ve been writing about and watch them. Sometimes different mediums will jolt you out of your dark phase.
– If it gets really bad, sign up for a class or workshop. Sometimes the structured environment will help stir your creative juices and sometimes being around a group of other like-minded artists will help as well.
– Take a trip. Even a day trip. Grab your favorite camera, one lens and go somewhere you’ve never been. Even if you take one picture, you’re seeing a new place and getting a new perspective on things.
I happen to be suffering from artist’s block at the moment. I have literally had to kick myself out of bed, brush myself off from my pity party and force myself to do something. Mine can get pretty bad, I can get fairly self-destructive when I’m not producing art. I am now walking to a local coffee shop in the mornings and sitting there with my sketch-book. I’m so fucking bored with photography at the moment that I am now mapping out a sculptural installation piece that has nothing to do with fashion photography. The idea of doing something new and working with a totally unfamiliar medium is getting me inspired again. I know from the past that these blocks don’t last forever so I’m not locking myself up in the fear of them. I know that by being pro-active, it will help get me out of it. If you’re having one now, just take it easy on yourself and know that it will pass. If you’ve never had one in your life and you want to continue to discover yourself as an artist, you can refer back to this post at a later date. That’s all she wrote…I’m off to sit in a coffee house with an old-school sketch-book and watch all those hip kids write Hollywood’s next blockbuster on their Mac books. Til next time!