Monday, 29 August 2011


I've been thinking and writing about blocks for nearly two years now.  Recently I signed up for Kath Burlinson's 'Authentic Artist' three day workshop, and in preparation, I had to answer three questions about what I wanted to get from it. I wrote that what I wanted to explore now was 'process, blocks to process, fear, judgement, disappointment, a feeling of aimlessness. How to work freely, to stop judging, to develop acceptance of what appears. How to act on my hunches and ideas, instead of not taking them seriously (and then finding that some other person has made a whole career out of doing just that thing..). Also how not to feel that I have to push myself, to allow space.'

Then I looked at what I written, at that last sentence. And I remembered the words in the image above, from a book on creativity. The next sentence I wrote was that I wanted to explore 'the relationship between drivenness and creativity'. I've been thinking about it ever since.

Drivenness is part of the cultural fantasy of the artist's life. It's certainly part of how I imagined my life would be, in my early twenties - as I sat waiting for full-blown, obsessive creativity to claim me and start making me produce paintings in a continuous, internally- and endlessly-fuelled way. Strangely, despite my instinct and my longing, year after year, it never claimed me in the way I imagined it would. I thought about it sometimes, and wondered how I had got so distracted by 'making a living'. Sometimes I could see that there was a lot of creativity in my various different teaching jobs, and later in research. Sometimes I told myself that that would do. More recently, however, after my body pulled me kicking and screaming out of 30 years of compromise, I've looked back on all those years not as a mistake, but as simply weird and other. Something that , because it wasn't painting or music, was like an odd kind of detour, from which I was now recovering.

What I haven't been able to understand is why, now that I'm finally out and connected to what I want and need to do, I'm not just painting and drawing all the time. I've been assuming that it's because I'm 'blocked'.

Could it be that there actually is no block at all - that I have simply falled into an old habit of forcing, of expecting results, of thinking that I have to make things happen, now

Looking back over those years once again, I see an endless stream of creativity which, because of the constraints of employers and deadlines, was hugely productive, intensely productive, endlessly productive, six days a week, year after year. For 30 years. Folders full of lesson plans, filing cabinents full of module overviews and lecture notes, more and more journal articles appearing. Image banks of paintings and photographs (I once designed an introductory unit on Hinduism for an Access course, twice over, which taught basic Indian Philosophy via a chronology of miniature paintings and anthropological videos...). Box-files full of slides and talks. And all with pretty much never a pause, never a breath, much less a returning to the well. I've grown so used to moulding and pushing and shaping and responding and scheming.

Perhaps where I am is not sitting in the middle of a block at all, but simply a contented nothing. Set-aside. Learning to breathe again. Blinking in wonder at a world that might not have to be worked on all the time. These last few days I've stopped feeling a vague unease that my painting rythm has been quite broken since July. Released myself, just a little, from that old habit of pushing from the inside; the habit of noticing any a tiny throb of life and immediately feeling I have to fan it into a product. Just letting colour shape itself from time to time in my journal however it feels like it.

Over a year ago, I tried an experiment of 'stopping', vaguely aware that my mind, my desires, my intentions, seemed to somehow be getting in the way of something that was trying to happen. Jim wrote, at the time, that if you stop all the interactions, what's likely to happen is a great fat nothing, which I later agreed with, in terms of complexity and emergence (no interactions, no emergence..). But perhaps it's just a teeny bit of a problem to write about this creative process as if any of it might apply to anyone else. Complexity again. Without my particular history, a 'block', a sense of stuckness, or a period of non-productivity, would have a completly different meaning.


  1. Ahh yes I remember, and now looking again I notice that I qualified my comment by saying that slowing down need not lead to stopping, it all depends on the conditions of the slowing: the friction, the momentum etc.
    Slowing down is slowing down but stopping is only ever stopping when it has finally stopped surely. If it resumes then it was never stopped but dormant like a winter tree laying down a narrower darker ring of strength.
    I'm on the other side of the world at the moment and in the night sky there is a completely unexpected (to me anyway) cloud of deep black stretched across the milky way. It's faintly but noticeably darker than the darkness that makes up the rest of the night sky - the (less than total as it turns out) darkness I'm used to. In aboriginal cultures this is known as the head of the"emu" and it's part of a constellation of darkness rather than light.

  2. Yes,I was too lazy to go back and check exactly what you said, but I also remembered us talking about the Tao, so I knew that there was a further subtlety in what you said. I like your point about slowing down. Even though I've been wondering why I'm not doing a lot of painting now, I'm looking all the time, and taking photographs, and playing with my Tombow pens. There's something important about creating out of a quiet space, for me, rather than a driven, intention-filled one, which I haven't completely understood yet.

    Very jealous of you being over there. I remember a huge sense of space in Australia that I don't think I've ever felt here. A constellation of darkness. Brilliant. Or,in fact, not.

    Is this the darkness of set-aside?? Some kind of unexpected source, in the end more important than the stars that usually get all of our attention?

  3. Oh, What a pleasure to read on an other artist struggle and finding her way out of the "creative block" or too much freedom syndrome. I feel and realize that when I had a house to run, kids to take to music classes, tai-chi etc. and had so many chores to do, I was much more balanced with my creative energies. My work in my spontaneously set up studio, between cooking and organizing had so much better flow and my two different activities had fed each other energetically. My interaction with people were exciting, which they didn't always understand, but it all came from my joy of painting...seeing where I was going with a particular image or not seeing it joy I received from the people, their positive response to my exuberant communication with them gave me the energy and the inspiration to go back and continue daily for an hour or so my unfolding images. The rhythm between my creative expressions, of music, painting and sculpting for a good period of the time well balanced and thus made me happy as a person as a mother and as a partner to my man. I so can identify with your struggle with this imagined or self-created /subconsciously/ block,( which after a year of focus which resulted in six difficult and complex, structurally strict and deliberate images, with perfection to satisfy my desire for the aimed result) that sits on me for the past year and a half. I am creating nonstop in my mind, I am collecting data, I am planning, making sketches, but I also feel that all this is in order to avoid mixing out my colors and face all that is in me to express and finally throw myself back to that sea of delicious creative energy I so love. Our mind understands and realize and all that, but it all comes down to action. I am not waiting for inspiration, but my excuse right now worded as..: "waiting for the right energy". And compare to my previous life, my domestic life in Connecticut years past, this is a very different world, full of other activities, mostly running away from myself and my own private space. Why, I still have to figure out. But I wouldn't be surprised if it had to do with my social interactions and it's imbalances. Something equally satisfying to my old community that fed me energetically, spiritually and kept me physically fit. So many things that are responsible for the formation of a healthy artist. I didn't mean to write such a long comment, but reading your blog on this subject made me in a way feel better about it and made me conscious of this problem, kind of helping me to face the music. :) Thank you Tamsin! <3



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