Artist’s Block: How to Start After Life-Changing Events

Self-portrait - artist's block

Artist’s Block: How to Start After Life-Changing Events

This piece of writing is personal and therapeautic and probably shouldn’t be published.  But I’m into this idea of raw honesty lately, so I’m going to put it up, just like it is, pure writing.

I’m writing about what it is like for me to make a recovery from a very long period of artist’s block.  I am currently resuming studio practice, so I am in the midst of this recovery as I write this.  Like most of what I write, my goal is to represent my experience the way I see it, not to rank for some keyword on the search engines. So if you are here looking for platitudes or simple explanations, jump out now.

Attack of the Artist’s Block: How and why I stopped painting

For me, it was a confluence of events, combined with my own unique set of personal quirks that led to the day I decided to destroy all my existing works of art.  

Treading water to survive in Los Angeles as a new father, I had accepted a position in Tokyo and wasn’t willing to pay storage fees to house my paintings in LA while I was away.  I was not represented.  

A lack of confidence in the direction of the work (call it post MFA blues), also contributed to this fateful decision.  

In retrospect, I probably should’ve done differently.  I shouldn’t have destroyed my art. I should have gone to the MFA program I was accepted to but couldn’t afford, it would’ve been better for me professionally despite the fact that I would be saddled in debt for the unforseeable future. I could’ve learned from Mike Kelley, RIP.  Sadly, in many, many pivotal moments I sold myself short.  Instead of standing up for myself, I abandoned myself in those critical moments. How silly is that!?  

If I could do it differently, I would learn how to take a punch and keep on going, but that was then.

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I thought that disposing of this work and moving to Japan would breathe new life into me. Instead it did the opposite.  Too my surprise and dismay, I found, I still find Japan to be problematic.  Its leaden cultural rigidity is stifling, and the language is way harder than I expected.  

Consumed with the process of adjusting to my new life, busy with work and as a father, feeling defeated at trying to acquire the language and fit into a world that didn’t seem to accommodate my psychological shape, I stopped painting, collaging, assembling.  I just stopped.

Seven years later, I’m still in Japan, but I’m beginning to recover from the most intense case of artist’s block I have ever had..

What is it like to overcome artist’s block? 

Imagine resuming a relationship with a lover after seven years of absence.  Awkward is a word that comes to mind. The intimacy that was self-evident before is oddly shaped now.  The familiar touch of your lover’s skin feels different now, the contours are not quite how they were. I am in a different body now.

Painting early on, I would encourage anyone in this situation to give themselves complete freedom to just play with their media again, without though of outcome. Muscle memory is lost, hand/eye coordination needs to be re-built. You can expect some beginner’s luck, but to really get started with an art practice after a hiatus, you need to give yourself time. I am giving myself time.  

As I engage with paint, with composition, with figure and ground, subject and object, concept and how to depict it, or the absence of concept and how to avoid narrative, I make paintings that are anchored in my past.  One piece reminds me of something I would’ve done in highschool, another is like a series of work I did in my early 20s, and not all of it is good in the beginning.  Like priming the motor on an old lawnmower, I am bleeding off some fuel to flush the system before the real work comes, it seems this way at least.  

Emotionally, as in the analogy of being reunited with an old lover, it is intense.  I feel nerves igniting that haven’t ignited in years. There’s some pain to it, a re-wiring of the neurons in my brain perhaps, a triggering of a hundred subconscious memories. 

As I move through waves of visual effluvia and emotional turbulence, I begin to see a horizon.  I begin to remember everything that has come before and see a point of departure from the past, I’m not there yet, but I see the vista ahead of me.

At this time, a self-portrait is a requirement, if you ask me.  Look into your mirror and see yourself in your art.  Ground yourself in the present in your chosen media.

And the other thing is just to continue working.  Don’t stop.  Remove distractions and replace them with your practice. Get to know yourself again in the context of your unique expression.

The other critical point that I would address is to not compare yourself and your art to anything out there in the world at this point. You need to get connected to the stage that you are in and steer clear of trying to shortcut the process by emulating what you think the market wants to see. So what if you paint failures.  Jerry Saltz painted a ton of bad paintings.  He quit and found another way to do it. 

In Summary

If you want to start again, you can.  You just need to make art free of judgement in the beginning. Feel with all your senses and fly when the time is right.  Make work daily. Do something simple, do line contour drawings for twenty minutes everyday and try to work on a focused work for an hour or two everyday at the beginning.

That’s what I got for now.

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Andy

Andy

Staying transparent with daily practice posts and shares on whatever comes across my senses.

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