I’ve had a number of conversations with artists recently about the nature of creativity, how it works and what they can do to improve their own creative abilities. Often, it seems, artists have a burst of energy and interest when they find an idea that resonates with them on a number of levels, and they explore it for some time. Eventually, however, it begins to run thin for them, and this can be worrying and frustrating.
The first thing to remember is not to worry about it – annoying as it is, it’s a very common experience, one shared by many people and especially those who work in creative endeavors for a living. It doesn’t mean that you were a ‘one trick pony’ or that your inspiration is gone – it just means that you need to take time, take stock and give some thought to what happens next.
In some ways the situation is similar to ‘artist’s block,’ which we’ve discussed before on this blog, except that in this case it’s not that there is something preventing you from getting on with something you’re engaged in. Rather, there’s a level of uncertainty about where you should be going and what you should be doing next.
When this happens, it’s generally worth thinking back over your recent work. Perhaps there has been a theme running through it, or you were guided by a central concept. Work out what the fundamental shared element was, and then have a brainstorming session about it; associations, possible developments, opposites. Often you’ll find that there is more to it than you had thought, and that there’s more to be said and done, though maybe in a slightly different direction than before.
If, on the other hand, you really feel, on consideration, that you simply have no more interest in your earlier theme, accept it. This can be somewhat bittersweet, as we often get attached to the ideas we work with for some time, but of course you can always choose to return to it in the future if new changes in your life mean that you find more to say.
When seeking a new source of inspiration, it can be useful to keep a consciously open mind. Anything at all can be the starting point for your next direction – including things you come across in daily life which have no obvious connection to art or any themes you’ve touched before. When you’re reading the newspaper, watching TV, talking to neighbors, shopping and going about your daily life, there should always be a little awareness at the back of your mind of what you’re seeing and doing, watching out for something to strike you.
It’s worth sitting down and thinking about areas that interest you – not necessarily ones which are directly related to art, but which have some meaning or fascination for you, perhaps even some you would be interested in researching a little out of pure interest. Don’t be shy about putting down things that seem wild and unlikely to go anywhere – it can be extremely valuable to have as much choice as possible. When you come back to your notes a little while later, you never know which idea will spark some new connection in your mind that you will want to follow up.
An important aspect of finding your path is simple hard work. Even when you don’t want to sketch or paint or spend any time in the studio, it’s vital that you keep your skills sharp and your creative mind alive by getting work time in when you can. It may be that a number of the things you try during this period will be dead ends – don’t be embarrassed or concerned about that. It’s part of the process to working out where you want to go next. Don’t be discouraged and don’t give up – everything you try gives you more knowledge and takes you a step closer to where you’re headed.
What do you do when you’re wondering where to go next in your art? Let us know in the comments!