Friday, August 21, 2009

Artist's Blog on Artists' Block

I never gave much thought to the concept of the blocked artist because I didn’t think it applied to me. Once I am in the studio, I have no problem applying that first stroke to the canvas nor do I lack inspiration… in fact, I have far too many ideas and images wanting expression. However, I have recently learned that a blocked artist is one who finds it difficult to actually get to the studio… and that would be me! Friends are forever saying, “Quit doing all this other stuff and just paint would you? Paint, paint, paint!”

But “all this other stuff” holds as much interest for me as does painting; at least that’s what I thought until someone gave me the book “A Life in the Arts: An expanded workbook edition of Staying Sane in the Arts” (which I will read next) and discovered I just might be the proverbial blocked artist. Who knew!? And what is the cause of this blockage which, unlike my arteries, can’t be blamed on Ms. Vickie’s chips or 7 Layer Dip?

Although clinical depression or mania is no joking matter, I sometimes refer to myself as bi-polar, manic, having ADD, etc., in an off-hand manner. Well that may actually be the case, a prerequisite to being an artist, and here are several excerpts to illuminate the causes:

“Your intense, driven, and sometimes enthusiastic way of being may have a manic feel to it. This restrained mania may become one of your characteristic moods: your mind racing, hands moving, dreams vivid, art more alive to you… I attribute part of this manic edge to the fact that artists are gambling every day… Art-making is one of the greatest gambles of all. As Helen Frankenthaler, the visual artist, put it, ‘No matter how fine or meticulous or tortured a picture may be in execution, the risk or chance of its working or not working is always there, no matter what the method.’ It is a high-stakes gamble, after all, to work with all of your being on something that has so great a chance of failing.”

This could explain why so many artists who rely on their art for income are propelled to repeat past successes; safety and freedom from anxiety are not found in the unknown. The true artist in our midst, and there are few today, is not a formula painter, dancer, writer, poet, etc., and perhaps this is why I often block. Yes, I am a painter, but I wish to be an artist in many forms:

“You have the desire to honestly communicate the truth as you understand it. Frequently you’re the only one in your neighbourhood making such an effort. You’re the one who must tell your grandmother’s story, your father’s story, or your own story as best you can. And since the truth is frequently painful and rarely profitable, few except you are interested in championing it… Standing apart, holding your own counsel, attuned to both the beautiful and the moral, you are the one able and willing to point out the naked emperor, the stench coming from the closet, the starvation right around the corner, the colors of the far mountains as the eye really sees them...

There are cynical artists who withhold the truth from their art in order to gain an audience and make money, just as there are cynical clergy who preach while neither loving nor believing… Other artists will tell only a fraction of the truth of what they know to be true, or will alter or subvert the truth, because of self-censorship, a desire to be popular, or a desire not to offend. These are both manifestations of the impulse to have and keep an audience… Every artist internally debates this issue. Should he sing the equivalent of a jingle or the equivalent of a hymn?”

Copyright © 1992, 1994 by Eric Maisel, Ph.D.