Staring into space…
There is a feeling of wanting to do something so much, but just not finding the groove for it. A thread of psychology says that getting in ‘flow’ is one of the most critical mental health and well-being behaviours. Those of us who are lucky enough to lose ourselves regularly in chasing a photo, playing a tune, pursuing a life drawing, or knitting a garment can empathise with this. It’s a chance to switch off by switching onto something needing our attention; a particular concentration.
It’s a blow if you can’t tap into that level of thought, concentration, and mojo because of a lack of inspiration.
Luckily, artists have been experiencing this for a long time and have come up with many ways to garner new inspiration.
Photo: Artist in His Studio By Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn (Dutch, 1606–1669) about 1628, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. www.mfa.org
I’ve tried to think about this scenario and help myself out of it over time. I realise it is part of the ‘peaks and valleys’ of the creative process with ups and downs.
So, how do we get out of the valley?
In striving to find suitable approaches for myself, I’ve reflected on a two-pronged process, or maybe it’s two faces of the same coin. This is about when to look inward and small and when to look outward and expansive.
Searching for inspiration and creating blocks is an area I found challenging and lonely because you feel it personally. Historically, I also think it’s been a dangerous area for people to talk about the creative block, most prominently associated with the writer's block, where there were disastrous consequences for the family of a breadwinner writer who was paralysed by a creative block.
Getting through or over creative blocks is part of the practice and resilience of being an artist, and we all need to develop our strategies.
Inward and Small
This is the chance to take a personal, reflective approach to both ‘taking it back to basics’ and self-care.
If there is a block, it is keenly felt. It is wise not to layer negative feelings and thoughts on top of something that is already a strain. Be kind to yourself. Give yourself attention, peace, and space to heal and move on. I was definitely thinking about recharging and reflecting when I was doing my Illusion series.
A block also provides an excellent opportunity to spend time with your work. This can be borne out by productive methods, looking back over your back catalogue, considering the individual pieces or series, and thinking about what was working and what wasn’t. Gently start to amass thoughts about how you want to return and what you value for future projects.
Reflection can also be focused on the physical making: going to the fundamentals of your artistic style can get you back into the groove. Starting with something you know you are good at, whether that be subject or technique, can reduce barriers to the feeling of having achieved something. For me, this could be walking down the street and scanning for interaction or scene to photograph, as I did with my series Illusion. For others, it could be going to a favourite view and soaking it in with your eyes and your camera, trying to better or replicate your last photo taken there, compare the seasons and be thankful for that special spot.
These points relate to the tried and tested approach of introducing limitations and working parameters. With a more limited ‘palette’, there are fewer decisions to be made, and you have to work with what you’ve got.
It’s also worthwhile in creative slumps to take a practical approach and divert your attention to other tasks that still feed into your practice. This could be revisiting the images on your website, changing the order, or remaking your portfolio PDF. These are all things you will benefit from later, when you get out of the valley, so it is time well spent.
Outward and Expansive
It’s essential to have a counterpoint approach. If one doesn’t work, try the other. This can be especially true when you are in a creative block and irritated with your work or thoughts. It can happen.
Look outward: seek new inspiration and stimulus. For example, this can mean hastily exploring online archives, immersing yourself in the back catalogue of a new film director, or allocating an afternoon and a pot of coffee to hours leafing through your photography books.
Photo: Page out of Life photographers book by Zamri Baseri. https://www.flickr.com/photos/30871351@N00
Try to catch the ‘one thing leads to another’ hook. If you take away the pressure of thinking about your work, you open up to curiosity in someone else's photography, or even something outside of our discipline. You may catch a line of inquiry that has more to do with social ideas, history, or politics.
The internet works well for this breadcrumb situation because there is so much interconnectivity. Social networks are helpful. Once you see work you are interested in, you can discover who that photographer is following; the likelihood is there will be some correlation in your interests.
Conversations with others also lead to a rhizomatic branching of ideas. The nicest thing about speaking to another human being is that you can tap into their thoughts, knowledge, and day-to-day experience. You also get the benefit of being cheered by human contact and reminded of the world at large. I find this always helps me put my creative block into perspective.
Photo: Rhizomatic Tree of Life by 'Fragments pictosophiques/ Jef Safi. https://www.flickr.com/photos/36764355@N00/148932088
Photographer and visual storyteller based in Bangkok
BRYCE Watanasoponwong is a Thai-Australian photographer and visual storyteller. He is interested in producing a narrative series that evoke emotion and make a personal impact. Becoming more involved in how is photography is... read on