Wednesday, April 4, 2012

How to Conquer Your Creative Demons

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Creative Block. We've all had it. I'm trying to work through it as I write this sentence -- negative thoughts, distractions, rationalizations, avoidance and procrastination all dance before me, trying to get me to do anything but write. It's a beautiful day. I should be outdoors gardening, not hunched over my keyboard. But here I am. I sit down, drink coffee, play with my cats, play a couple of games of Scrabble Blast, and eventually start to write. Everything else melts away and I am magically "in the zone."

In his 2002 book, The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles author Steven Pressfield defines the powerful enemy that keeps us from doing what we should be doing, and names it Resistance:

"Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance. . . Resistance is the most toxic force on the planet . . . To yield to Resistance deforms our spirit. It stunts us and makes us less than we are and were born to be."

Just how powerful does Pressfield think this enemy is?:

"You know, Hitler wanted to be an artist. At eighteen he took his inheritance, seven hundred kronen, and moved to Vienna to live and study. . . Ever see one of his paintings? Neither have I. Resistance beat him. Call it overstatement but I'll say it anyway: it was easier for Hitler to start World War II than it was for him to face a blank square of canvas."

Pressfield takes the reader on a journey through the many manifestations of Resistance, from self-doubt and procrastination to fear, identifying and offering advice about how to overcome them:

"Grandiose fantasies are a symptom of Resistance. They're the sign of an amateur. The professional has learned that success, like happiness, comes as a by-product of work. The professional concentrates on the work and allows rewards to come or not come. . ."

I found Pressfield's short chapter on Resistance and Fundamentalism particularly interesting. While he may be over-simplifying, I think he's on to something: 

"Fundamentalism and art are mutually exclusive. There is no such thing as fundamentalist art. This does not mean that the fundamentalist is not creative. Rather, his creativity is inverted. He creates destruction. . . To combat the call of sin, i.e., Resistance, the fundamentalist plunges either into action or into the study of sacred texts. He loses himself in these, much as the artist does in the process of creation. The difference is that while the one looks forward, hoping to create a better world, the other looks backward, seeking to return to a purer world from which he and all have fallen. . . When Fundamentalism wins, the world enters a dark age."

The following video shows how one artist got over her creative block.

The War of Art is packed with wisdom, wit, humor and advice, and delivers that kick in the pants we all sometimes need to get off the couch and get to work. Whether you're an artist, writer or entrepreneur, whether you read this book cover to cover or pick it up and read random bits, The War of Art will help you recognize and work through your creative demons.

Click here to purchase The War of Art from

Upcoming at Offramp Gallery

March 4 - April 15, 2012:
John M. White: Recent Works
Opening Reception: Sunday, March 4, 2-5pm

May 6 - June 3, 2012
Chuck Feesago: Retention

Opening Reception: Sunday, May 6, 2-5pm

May 6 - June 3, 2012
Opening Reception: Sunday, May 6, 2-5pm

June 24 - August 5, 2012
Lou Beach: Stories & Pictures
Opening Reception: Sunday, June 24, 2-5pm

1 comment:

  1. I found the quotes about Hitler's artwork and fundamentalist thinking interesting. I don't think that either of the authors contentions are necessarily true, but they are possibilities.
    Hitler may have been frustrated by a lack of inclusion; his art was not on the cutting edge, nor was it so technically amazing that it would have garnered enough interest that would have brought fame or fortune. Given the era, Vienna, and Austrian culture, which is extremely hierarchical, he would have had to have been perceived as a creative genius to gain entrée into the the part of the Viennese art world that he wished to part of. Google images has many images of his drawings and paintings, should anyone be interested in seeing the plainness of his work. In any case, that he was not accepted into the Viennese art world probably had something to with what he ultimately became and there are so many other factors that likely had more to do with the formation of his character and madness, that the authors commentary comes off as flippant and unlearned.
    Fundamentalist thinking does tend to be dogmatic (duh) and the result of that is often exclusivism, but again, that's not always the result of closely held beliefs. Dogma is dogma, whether it's religious, scientific or ? I think it could be said that there were great artist's that were dogmatic in their beliefs and that that alone did not bar them from being either great or productive artist's. Creativity, and the expression of it, is far too complex to be broken down into such simple terms.
    Resistance could be viewed as part of process of creating, rather than something that bars creativity. It seems more important for an artist to understand his or her own process than to become stuck on being stuck. It may be that resistance is simply part of a cycle that leads up to the creative act.