鈥淚f you hear a voice within you say you cannot paint, then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced.鈥滭/em>
Vincent van Gogh
Creativity killers. They鈥檙e the Kryptonite of any artist. And, as we鈥檝e all experienced, sometimes it can seem like there are more reasons not to paint than to pick up that brush!
So how do you keep these dark, marauding gremlins at bay? How do you stand up to them, look them in the (metaphorical) eye and tell them you won鈥檛 鈥 just won鈥檛 鈥 be beat?
The answers are simpler than you think, but you鈥檙e going to have to brace yourself for the long haul, soldier. Because tackling creative anxiety and slaying those creativity killers is something every artist has to learn with. In fact, our hang-ups and doubts are part and parcel of who we are.
1. I鈥檓 Just Not Good Enough To Be An Artist
How many times have you heard other people say this? In fact, how many times have you said it yourself?
As artists, we鈥檙e wracked by self-doubt and creative anxiety every single time we start a new project. You know the drill by now. You know you want to be more creative, your heart is telling you that you need to be more creative and your ever-practical, ever-logical mind is telling you that you鈥檒l never make it as an artist unless you, erm, actually do some work.
Yet, despite the best wishes of our hearts and minds, there鈥檚 something even more powerful lurking in the shadows like an evil clown 鈥 a creativity killer called 鈥榙oubting your own artistic abilities.鈥橖/p>
Where does this creativity killer come from? And how can you send it back to evil clown land? The roots of self-doubt often stem from early experiences where people have reacted unfavorably or indifferently to your art. And, as a creative person, you鈥檝e probably built these unfortunate early experiences up into something they鈥檙e not.
In some ways, your own worst enemy here is the same imagination that helps you come up with awesome art ideas in the first place. Interestingly, this very topic was the subject of research carried out at the Surrey Institute of Clinical Hypnotherapy in the UK. After studying 328 people who were prone to anxiety, specialist Paul Howard found that a large amount of these (88 percent), described themselves as creative.
How can you stop this creativity killer in its tracks? The answer lies in letting go of past 鈥榝ailures鈥 and forgetting about them. So your teacher in Seventh Grade said you don鈥檛 have what it takes to be an artist? So what? They鈥檙e not here now 鈥 it鈥檚 just you and a blank canvas. Just start creating something 鈥 anything 鈥 and don鈥檛 worry for now about what anyone else thinks.
Don鈥檛 sweat it if your drawing or painting doesn鈥檛 come out right. Treat each new project as a way to improve and move on. In art, there are no 鈥榝ails鈥 – just opportunities to learn more and keep progressing. You may not have perfected how to draw a mouth perfectly yet, but you will. There鈥檚 no doubt about that.
Fear and art go hand in hand like colors and canvas. The most important step you can take is to realize this: If you鈥檙e scared about a project, you鈥檙e already on the road to starting work on it. Even the world鈥檚 most successful painters, musicians, authors and actors feel petrified by the prospect of going on stage or releasing a new project upon the public. In fact, some actors have even been known to turn down roles that didn鈥檛 fill them with anxiety. Why? Because they knew the project wouldn鈥檛 excite them if it didn鈥檛 scare the hell out of them first.
Pic courtesy of Giuliano Maiolini
2. I Just Don鈥檛 Know What To Paint
Not knowing what to paint or draw is another all-powerful creativity killer. You ask yourself questions such as 鈥榃hat should my art be about?鈥 or 鈥榃hat am I trying to represent?鈥橖/p>
Here鈥檚 our advice: Stop thinking about it and start making marks 鈥 the rest will follow in due course.
If you鈥檙e completely stuck for what to draw or paint, here鈥檚 a great suggestion that鈥檚 never failed us in times of creative anxiety. Here鈥檚 what you do:
- 聽Take an A4 sized paper envelope (or any other large envelope).
- Leave your house and go on a hunt for interesting objects to put in it. These can be anything you like 鈥 discarded candy wrappers, drinks cans, an old piece of rope, an abandoned child鈥檚 toy etc.
- Keep going until the envelope is full of stuff and then return home to your workspace.
- Cut a square or rectangle in the envelope so you can see the random collection of objects inside.
- Paint or draw what you see. You can even angle a desk lamp to give you more contrast between light and shade.
This may not sound like much, but trust us on this. Not only will this help improve your drawing and painting skills (especially if you鈥檙e depicting things and textures you haven鈥檛 painted before), it鈥檒l also help you work out dramatic compositions. Feel free to shake the envelope up if you don鈥檛 like what you see 鈥 you鈥檙e sure to hit upon an interesting combination eventually.
Pic courtesy of Erin Stromberg, Smithsonian’s National Zoo
3. I Don鈥檛 Think I鈥檓 Clever Enough To Be Creative
People often associate creativity with genius, but scientific research suggests otherwise. In fact, studies have revealed that once a person鈥檚 IQ is just above average (around 120), there鈥檚 no link between the two whatsoever.
This research is also backed up in studies by Andrew and Gaia Grant, co-authors of the book Who Killed Creativity? ,who analyzed 300,000 Torrance scores (devised more than 50 years ago by American psychologist, E Paul Torrance) and made some interesting findings.
Amazingly, they discovered that although IQ scores rose in line with creativity scores until 1990, there has been a sharp decline ever since. It seems this decline is strongly linked to creativity in childhood, meaning that those pencil scribbles you made when you were five years鈥 old can say more about your future artistic ability than your IQ.
We know what you鈥檙e thinking here: But what about all those artistic intellectuals 鈥 the philosophers, the dudes who founded new art movements and came up with radical ideas? It鈥檚 true that all these people were highly intelligent individuals, but they were also highly creative individuals who let their imagination run free in order to come up with awesome ideas.
Don鈥檛 let this creativity killer get the better of you. You don鈥檛 have to be a genius to be creative, but creativity can often bring out the genius in you!
Pic courtesy of Erin Murphy
4. Everyone Else Is So Much Better Than Me!
We know the feeling. It鈥檚 a classic creativity killer. You鈥檙e looking at the work of fellow students or well-known artists and you鈥檙e thinking: 鈥楬ow can I ever compete with that?鈥橖/p>
Here鈥檚 the thing: It鈥檚 not a competition. Everyone鈥檚 art is different and everyone has a different way of seeing things. Rather than judge yourself against the work of others, try and take some positives from it. You like the way they鈥檝e painted the eyes in that portrait? Look at how they did it, study their techniques, and then apply these to your own work.
Don鈥檛 worry about originality. Every single form of art is derivative in some respect 鈥 it鈥檚 jusy how you take those influences and make them your own. No matter how many techniques you learn, you鈥檒l always be able to put your own spin on it. It鈥檚 what makes you, as an artist, an individual. Who knows, you might even inspire the people who you think are better artists than you!
Pic courtesy of Erin
5. My Work Is Never As Good As I Want It To Be
Here鈥檚 another classic creativity killer. In fact, it鈥檚 possibly the most difficult one to beat. How come? Because, in many ways, it鈥檚 true.
So what can you do about it? Here鈥檚 the thing to bear in mind. You鈥檒l probably never be 100 percent happy with the work you鈥檝e produced 鈥 not then, not now and not tomorrow. However, rather than being a bad thing, this is actually a very good thing – it鈥檚 what inspires you to move on to the next project.
It鈥檚 been said by many artists that 鈥榓n artist rarely finishes his work; he merely abandons it鈥? What does this really mean to you? It means that each 鈥榝inished鈥 project is the start of a new one where you can take what you鈥檝e learned and use it to create something better or different.
In many ways, the day you鈥檙e truly happy with your art is the day you stop making it. After all, if you鈥檝e learned everything there is to learn, there鈥檚 no point in doing any more, right?
As you almost certainly already know, no-one ever reaches this stage. There is always something new to inspire you or a different way of looking at things that you hadn鈥檛 noticed or considered before.
This doesn鈥檛 mean you should quit working on a project just because it鈥檚 not turning out right, though. It鈥檚 important to keep fighting on, correcting elements of your painting that don鈥檛 work as well as they should and re-working things until you reach a certain stage of satisfaction.
Remember you鈥檒l never be completely satisfied with what you produce. There will always be a color you could have made brighter, or a brushstroke you could have made different. The key lies in getting to a stage where you can live with what you鈥檝e created, but feel ready to take this experience onto your next project.
What鈥檚 your biggest creativity killer and how have you beaten it?
Let us know in the box below!