The concept of Writer’s Block is a common one. A writer stuck for ideas, short on words, and not certain where to start. Artist’s Block is the all encompassing version of Writer’s Block, covering all creative artists. Take a photographer, for example. As with a writer, a photographer may have a steady stream of assignments. Work which keeps them active and helps to pay the bills. However, any artist, whether making a living out of their art, or practising it as a hobby, wants to pursue their own projects alongside their day job work. This is where the dreaded block can strike.
Alongside the ‘day job’, I work to develop my craft, and use photography to create art. However, there are times when I’m hoping to spend my day creating, but the ideas run dry. At these points, I turn to ideas generation techniques.
The technique I use most often is to stop focussing on my creative challenge and allow my mind to drift. I do need to be in the right environment in which to practice this. Ideally, somewhere I can switch off from external distractions and write ideas down as they come. Some indirect methods I find helpful include playing music, walking, reading, writing, and learning. These activities all require conscious thought, while other issues are able to sit in the background, allowing ideas to evolve.
Another method I find successful for generating new ideas for artwork, is to enter the strange world of hypnagogic sleep. Hypnagogic sleep is that state of consciousness which lies somewhere between being awake and asleep. By entering this state but setting up a means of waking before entering a full sleep, images from the semi-conscious state might be recollected and used to inspire ideas and creation. In a safe environment this is an ideal way to explore one’s subconscious yet retain ownership of the process.
Nathaniel Hawthorne described with eloquence the state between being fully asleep and being fully awake in his short story, ‘The Haunted Mind’ (1835). “…. you find yourself, for a single instant, wide awake in that realm of illusions, whither sleep has been the passport, and behold its ghostly inhabitants and wondrous scenery, with a perception of their strangeness, such as you never attain while the dream is undisturbed.” Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Haunted Mind (http://pinkmonkey.com/dl/library1/gac012.pdf)
The hypnagogic state has been used by many notable thinkers and artists, including Ludwig Van Beethoven, Richard Wagner, Salvador Dali, Sir Isaac Newton, and Thomas Edison. Dali would sit with a metal bowl in his lap, and a large spoon held in his hands, which he clasped against his chest. As he drifted into the early stages of sleep, the spoon would drop into the bowl and he would wake. He would repeat this process, keeping himself in a place somewhere between being awake and asleep. While drifting, his mind generated thoughts and images which he would translate into the surreal art for which he is known.
If you are looking to ways to generate ideas, it is important to recognise which is the best time of day to harness your own creative muse. Although I tend to get up early to catch the sunrise, my most creative output is at night. Recognising this means I can plan my time towards new idea generation at night, rather than forcing myself to try this during the day and find I am less successful.
Some of my own more artistic projects are available to view on my website. In many cases, the ideas have come to me as small undeveloped thoughts, which I’ve grown into larger project ideas. Artist’s Block can be a pain, but it doesn’t mean the ideas won’t come. Switch off, drift away, and see where your mind takes you.