Last week I picked up an unfinished painting in my studio that had been sitting beneath a pile of completed pieces for a couple of years. I don’t know why I’d never gotten around to finalizing it, but for some reason, my piece had suffered from some major neglect. Oddly enough, within only a few hours the piece was complete, and what followed was a triumphant sense of accomplishment. I fully enjoyed myself and the work progressed with such ease. Quite a stark contrast to the guilt I felt (for years) for abandoning the project mid-stream.
What I came to realize is that sometimes it’s good to give creativity a break. The challenge is giving yourself permission to step back and take that much-needed breather without feeling the guilt or condemnation from labeling yourself as “lazy” or a “quitter.” If you don’t empower yourself to press pause on the process, you’ll run the risk of being too emotionally invested in the piece.
In college, I had a painting professor that could sense when an artist was becoming frustrated and putting that negativity onto canvas. He would quietly slip behind them, lean in and say, “You need to step away from the canvas.”
It’s important to understand that you can never take a “one-size-fits-all” approach to your creative process. As an artist, you have to maintain flexibility and adapt your methods to best serve the project. I know there are times when you just need to push through whatever barrier is standing in your way and get on with all things creative, but there are also instances when your process needs time, distance and space.
Sometimes the best thing you can do when you’re creatively stumped or frustrated is to walk away for a while, and re-approach when all the angst is gone and your project feels more like an attractive stranger than a needy boyfriend or girlfriend. I’m not saying it won’t be difficult. It will. It will be awkward and you’ll most definitely feel clumsy. But in your defense, you can always use The Seinfield Technique. “What’s that?”, you ask? Well, let me ‘splain.
The Seinfield Technique is what I’ve dubbed the brilliant break-up strategy employed by the character George Kastanza on Seinfield. In true satirical form and in order to keep things from getting too messy, he’d end the onerous relationship with the classic line, “It’s not you, it’s me.” Other viable contenders would be the “I just need some space” defense or “I think it’s a good idea for us to step back” directive. No matter which vehicle you choose, don’t be afraid to take control of the creative relationship. You and your project will both benefit greatly from it.
What’s amazing in the separation scenario is that it proves the old adage to be true: absence does make the heart grow fonder. And what’s even more amazing is that it’s as if your creative problem solver continues to work on some kind of subconscious level…working out kinks in the flow, troubleshooting problematic elements, and resolving baffling conundrums. It’s as if it continues unravelling the proverbial knot even as you think you’re taking a break.
In the least it might be good to have a good ol’ heart-to-heart DTR Talk with your creative self. Defining The Relationship you have with your creativity provides clarity, understanding and a sense of freedom. The added bonus is that you’ll have a restored capacity to receive fresh inspiration!
Don’t let your muse bully you around. Step up to the challenge, take ownership, and liberate yourself from the guilt of having “works in progress.” There is no true progress without embracing the process (even with all it’s quirky idiosyncrasies).