Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.— Pablo Picasso
Have you ever found yourself staring at a blank page, wondering whether you should stab it with a kitchen knife, or decorate it with your tears and snot? You were probably suffering from a creative block.
Some suggest that, in order to unblock, one should feast their eyes on a range of masterpieces (washed down with a stiff beverage or four, of course). A diet of excellence should satiate the creative soul, right?
Not in my experience.
While I love to stare — mouth agape— at good art and writing, it tends to worsen a creative block (“What have I done with my life? I’m a failure! I’m not good enough!“And so on.)
The only helpful remedy I’ve found is:
All You Can Eat Crap Art
These are the steps:
Visit an art gallery. Locate the room filled with stacked television sets blasting loud static (every gallery has one), and watch the art snobs speak over the televisions’ Chhhhhhhhhhhh as they stroke at their chin hairs while exchanging words like juxtaposition, paradoxical, existentialism, and chiaroscuro (generally expelled in one single breath). Tell yourself: “That sucks! I can do better than this!”
Read a successful blog, something that makes you cringe, like: My Year Of Acting On A Whim dot com. Work your way through the archive of unedited text, which may feel similar to performing breaststroke in thick mud. Note the gr8 spelling, the absent grammar, and all the other alarming interpretations of the English language. Perhaps the blog has landed a major book deal? If so, tell yourself: “That sucks! I can do better than this!”
Buy an overhyped bestseller, preferably by an author who releases a book or two per year. Follow the pursuits of Shallow Susie as she falls for the dashingly handsome Contrived Clint, who turns out to be the villain (dilemma!). Pretend to care about them while you endure 293 pages of predictable storytelling. No napping! Drink up every last drop of medicine. Then tell yourself: “That sucks! I can do better than this!”
Now that you’re stuffed with crap art, you probably feel like purging, getting violent, or writing abusive letters to publishers about their contribution to the oncoming era of Idiocracy. If it makes you feel better, go for it. Grind your teeth. Take up smoking. Throw things. Cry. Get drunk. Criticize everyone in your immediate vicinity. Text an ex. Play football with a toy poodle. Allow your frustrations to reach boiling point. Get it all out.
Okay, now let’s get real about something: maybe you can do better, but your work is not in a gallery, you blog is not wildly popular and you don’t make a gazillion dollars per second off your formulaic novels. Those artists are successful people … and you’re not. While the world eats up crap artwork in heaped spoonfuls, nobody knows who you are. Nobody cares.
But before you start kicking poodles again, remember that there’s only one reason they’re successful and you’re not: they had the guts to start a major project. They pushed past their creative blocks and their personal obstacles. They risked public humiliation by releasing their work into the world. They followed through with something that most people will only dream about — they made art. And the world, hungry for entertainment, welcomed their creations; good, bad, or wanky.
So let’s bring it back to the basics:
That’s it. Sure, it takes a while and it’s hard work. But everything else you’ve got going on — the doubt, the excuses, the creative monsters, the self-pity — is as significant as white noise blasting from a stacked pile of televisions. Treat it as static interference:
“I’m not good enough!” Chhhhhhhhhhhh
“I’m going to fail!” Chhhhhhhhhhhh
“My cat is sitting on my keyboard.” Chhhhhhhhhhhh
Tune out the unnecessary noise. Drink a nice hot cup of Harden The F*ck Up. Put pencil to paper, brush to paint pot, fingers to keyboard, eyeball to viewfinder, butt cheeks to canvas — whatever gets you going. Start. And do not stop until you reach …
Torre DeRoche is the author of two travel memoirs, Love with a Chance of Drowning (2013) and The Worrier’s Guide to the End of the World (due out September 2017). She has written for The Atlantic, The Guardian Travel, The Sydney Morning Herald, Emirates, and two Lonely Planet anthologies.