There are many times in the course of an artist's life where they just cannot work, the reasons may be external or internal but it is a phase that must be ridden out or overcome.
In the past few years I have had quite a few conversations with artist friends who have stopped working due to life circumstances. Chatting with a friend who is getting a divorce, after listening to her concerns and stories about the kids, the house, her plans for the immediate future, I ask how is your work going. "My work!? I am not working." I suggest that this is probably temporary, and she replies "I don't miss it. I think I'm finished." I thought to myself - oh no you are not, but of course I did not say that.
I have a friend, a really great artist, who is a single mom with two children, one adolescent and the other pre-adolescent, she is so busy with raising them ("they suck the life out of me") and her work responsibilities,that she has not done any art work in a while. One day she spoke of her frustration, I promised to harass and encourage her to get back into the studio. Subsequently, we have gone together to open studios and openings to inspire and and encourage both of us. In going through a series of open studios, one day we met up with a woman of advanced years, still active still producing fantastic work. My friend discussed her distraction and frustration. The wise woman counseled my friend, telling her, it is still all there and will come out when you are ready. She told her start small, just some little activity, don't reach for high art, just start where you are and pretty soon it will open back up for you.
I have been through those stages, I worked a full time job while in a marriage that demanded a lot of my time and attention, had a baby, went through a divorce and raised that wonderful child. Sometimes all you can do is put the creative process on hold and find satisfaction in what life brings you and know that your life experience is nourishment for the time that will follow.
I did start back in the studio slowly and increase as time became more available. And by that I mean I grabbed time, made time, disciplined myself to work when sometimes I wanted to read a book or watch TV. I am not a saint or a hero, I just wanted to get back to painting.
Time, attention, energy and focus, is what is needed for making art. People who do not make art, do not understand the level of energy that is absolutely needed. Physical, emotional and mental energy are all mandatory. No, you can not use time in the studio to relax from a long hard day at work or at life.
The solutions to being blocked are as varied as the artists experiencing and working through a block.
In my own life I have learned that sometimes I just can't work in the studio. I carry ideas in my head, sometimes I sketch, sometimes I take photos of something that inspires me at the moment, so I can have it later when I have the time and energy and focus needed to work.
I can tell you that when I lived in the city and had my studio in my living space, I was literally living in the studio, I had to go out to get away from the art I was working on (and then I carried it in my head). When ever I was stumped, not knowing where to take a painting, or how to begin, I would just sit with the painting, sitting and looking, sitting and thinking, or sitting and reading (whatever the book of the moment was) or just sitting. Waiting to find the entry point to working and solving that problem.
I am less likely to do that these days, as there are more partitions in my life these days. Now when I go into the studio there is always a period of acclimating to
that environment. What is constant is the presence of the work in the back of my mind when I am not looking directly at it.
Artists know that you must have the right balance to begin to work ( not a perfect balance , none of us will live long enough, you make do with what you have .
Still when the balance goes off because of external factors or one's emotional reaction to life, and you finally have some time carved out to work and you come up dry, the reaction,more often than not, is to throw up your hands and worry what has happened? "How can I get back to my work?" Or to give up "I can't do this anymore."
This reaction to external factors, is a variety of artist block.
All great artists draw from the same resource: the human heart, which tells us that we are all more alike than we are unalike. Maya Angelou
I suppose there are as many reasons to paint as there are painters. For most of the painters I know personally, the act of painting is a means of making sense of the
the shared journey of existence. And when that external shared journey is full of overwhelming events, well you get overwhelmed.
The recent past has been particularly trying for many, and I have seen many postings and heard many discussions among artists saying they have no idea how to proceed.
Last week when the events of the external world asserted itself, I needed to find an internal space from which I could face the world, from which I could do some work.
Lots of mediation helped.
Still, when I decided to get to work, I found that I could not continue with the paintings that were in progress in my studio. Sitting and waiting was not going to work this time. I decided to take a hint from that wise woman and start small. I also decided to work on something that was not trying to expand the work to places I had not explored yet, but to stay with comforting... images of sky and cloud.
Nothing ground breaking here. But sometimes healing is the order of the day.