Artist’s Block

I’m sure most of us, photographers and other visual artists, have come across the artist’s block: not knowing what to create, tired of one’s own work that looks so mediocre compared to others, struggling with executing an idea, thinking of an idea etc. How to overcome this?

This happens to everyone, including myself, and all the fantastic artist’s you have come to admire. Here’s my advice coming from experience: don’t think about creating. Give yourself the opportunity to recover and do other things. Think about other things or don’t think at all. Go for a short hike, read a book, go have a drink with friends, listen to music, do something that you enjoy doing, without any thoughts on the thing you’re struggling with. What I’ve experienced is that the best ideas always come when I’m not focusing on it. When I’m doing something completely different. Creativity is the ability to create relations with other seemingly unrelated things. If you then happen to find the intersection between seemingly different skill or knowledge areas, then you have found something that’s almost always unique. But then you NEED to do other things first, think about other things or just empty the mind.

For example: I’ve been doing pure black and white photography for years and I never did any toning. Until very recently when I started to get into split toning. Now I’m completely addicted to it and I find that my artistic expression has become more effective, emotional and personal. How did I make that change? I was watching movies, a lot of movies, just to relax and because I love a good movie. And even though it wasn’t the first time I saw a movie with a specific color grading, at some point it just hit me how much specifically color graded scenes in a movie, contributed to the meaning of the scene. It was a simple eye-opener. And from there I started working on something similar to color grading but then for photography. And subsequently I’ve developed a new method for subtly split toned images that I haven’t yet seen anywhere else (which of course is not a guarantee it is completely unique).

A distracted mind is a mind prepared to be inspired

I recently read a relevant article on Nautilus how much time some famous scientists, writers and other artists spent on a daily basis on their scientific and artistic work: roughly around 20 hours per week. Charles Darwin for example would only work 4 hours a day and the rest of the day was spent on hiking, resting, good food and other things.

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14 Responses

  1. Zen mind, Beginner’s mind – by Shunryu Suzuki. He maintains that the beginner mind, the ones of those that do not have previous experiences, are more inclined to see things as they are.

  2. Love the related article on Nautilus, it certainly shows how we can grab the easy answer (10,000 hours) and gloss over the most important parts – focused practise, sleep and play. Thanks for this article Joel.

  3. Funny Joel as I was just in the process of studying the Photographers Block and how to get out of it. This requires an understanding of how you did get into it in the first place. To get out doing something else or even ‘nothing’ (if that is possible at all) is one of the ways out as you described. But there are more ways but some of these advises that I found are contradicting and in conflict with each other like avoid “GAS” (gear acquisition syndrome) and on the other hand… try a new piece of kit. Anyway I try to finish my essay on this if I wil not suffer from the Writers Block.

  4. Joel, this is very timely as I am also going through a tough “photographer’s block” for a few weeks now. I have started to delve more into macro photography as a way to stretch creatively. I have some ideas that will hopefully translate from my normal landscape and architecture work into the macro world. Thank you for continuing to inspire.

  5. You can only put fresh water in to an empty glass ,,,get rid of the shit ,,,and leave the comfort zone ,,,the new expierence starts with you , be the water ,,;D

    greets Joannis

    btw ,,,,B & W Fine Art is in the Moment the new way ,,,,and Mrs..Gospodarou was the Eye Catcher for me ,,,but your backyard Looks comfortable …

  6. Sorry ,,,first ,,english is not my first language ,,,this indicates sometimes ,,a bit confusion ,,,;D

    with Backyard i mean ,,,all what’s behind the Frontpage .

    Greets Joannis ,,,,,have a nice day

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