Monday, June 1, 2015

It's Back...

...finally. It seemed like it would never come. I felt adrift, frustrated, empty. And scared. What if I'd lost it for good?

I hadn't used the word "artist's block" to describe my situation in many years. Because I don't know if I believe in artist's block. In her audio narrative "The Creative Fire," Clarissa Pinkola Estédescribes this period of infertility as a metaphorical death, one that is necessary for the creative soul. She describes the cycle of our creative nature as a:
"...quickening, birth, a rising of energy to a zenith, and the beginning of entropy and decline... and then again a death, and then another incubation." 
I love the way she speaks of the creative process as being part of our nature, and how we need to get out of our own way to give this process the respect it needs.

Throughout my life, I noticed the pattern of birth and decay repeating over and over again. I went to art college in New York City, and returned home to Rochester for the summers. I passed the time lazily and lamented to my parents that I wasn't making any art. They always told me, "You need to rest."

My parents' sage advice sunk into me all through my growing years, but as an adult I have had to learn to manage my own cycles - and the drive to produce can be intense. "I don't have time to rest. I should be doing something." Last year I focused much of my energy on making a living through my art. I spent more of my creative energy strategizing ways to sell my art, as opposed to making it. This was necessary for me to do, yet it was exhausting.

I have a special relationship with my art. To me, it's a communion with the side of myself that understands truth, beauty, and what makes life meaningful. It's the part of myself that I trust most and feel safest with. This is probably the reason why I don't feel the need to socialize or hang out with friends all the time. To me, art is my friend, my guide. So when I feel like I've lost my connection with it, it's like I'm losing one of the most important relationships I have.

We endured a harsh winter. For several months after Christmas, my body and mind felt sluggish. I was in hibernation mode. I let myself rest through most of January and February. I dabbled and experimented with a few different mediums. At times I wanted to push myself harder, but knew I shouldn't. I created a new sketchbook to help me get back into the habit of creating again. Part of me wanted to be like all those successful artists who proclaim that they draw everyday.

But I don't draw everyday. And you know what? I don't want to. I think the advice to draw or do something everyday can be very helpful and perhaps necessary to some people. And I'm sure if I did it I would improve my skills. But I don't think it's necessary for everyone, or at least not at all times or stages of growth. There, I've said it. Sacrilege. 

I don't think that that the purpose of art is to constantly be producing. I think that some of it must come from a deeper drive. Several years ago I listened to an interview with author Zadie Smith. She said about writing: "I think you need to feel an urgency about the act, otherwise when you read it you feel no urgency either. So I don't write unless I really feel I need to..." I love that. There must be a reason that you bring something new into creation. If I created all the time just for the sake of feeling like I'm prolific or valid as an artist, I think there's something damaging in that. Yet I also want to keep the creative channel open and do things for fun. There has to be a balance.

In February I took a mixed-media collage class to try to get the energy flowing again. And I produced some things that I liked. But I didn't feel the excitement that comes with that deeper urgency.

As the months passed, I was busy with teaching and doing my bookkeeping and taxes, and then Spring came and I thought my creative energy would return. I did a few new things, had lots of ideas floating around in my head, but nothing seemed to catch or compel me. 

"What is wrong with me? I've lost it. I've just lost it."

This past week, I complained to family and friends about my "artist's block." And through those anxiety-filled conversations, a truth came out. At first, I needed a long rest. And perhaps the timing just wasn't right. But wrapped up in that was a sneaky little fear.

Last year at my printmaking exhibition at Rivermont Studio, I got to see everything up on the wall at once. While I was proud of what I'd done, seeing it all together like that firmed my resolve to go in a new direction. I wanted to tell more stories with my art, to be more personal. I wanted to include more human figures, to incorporate the written word. I wanted to explore complex compositions, to create larger, more dynamic works. I wanted to expand my color palette, to understand the very nature of color interactions and use them successfully in my work.

Let's just say it was a tall order. And one that crept into my psyche, whispering "Everything has to be meaningful. You can't do anything like you've done before. It has to be so much better. And people have to really like it." 

I create art for all kinds of reasons. It's a necessary expression of my thoughts, heart, and soul. It's a meditation for me, a way to center and calm myself. At times it becomes a habit. And really, I just enjoy it. While primarily I aim to please myself, I'm always aware that I'm creating for an audience, especially since I became more serious about making my living from the sale of my art. So stacked on top of the goal to create utterly breathtaking and meaningful work was the worry of having to sell it successfully, which can warp things awfully if you let it get to your head.

I knew I had to get back into making art again, or find another job.

Recently, I called up my mom and she told me "Do the easiest thing." I decided to take her advice. The easiest thing was to finish up some of the things I started, and to expand upon works that I'd already created. I also referred to some advice in Samantha Bennett's book, "Get it Done." She recommends that when procrastination paralyzes you, aim to get a C rather than an A. 

And so I'm grading myself with a C. Or maybe a B. But definitely not an A. And it feels good. Maybe it's okay to create stuff just because I think it's pretty and because I enjoy it. Maybe that super-amazing stuff will come in time if I let it percolate a little longer. 

And so, it's coming back. An inkling of that urgency to create. That fresh, exciting Springtime of Creativity. It's a gentle energy, not overpowering, but I know it will gather strength as I keep up the practice of creating again. 

It never left me, after all.


  1. Aijung, I have admired your creative spirit and loved your art for so long. And now I find myself grateful for and centered by your wise and gentle words to yourself (and by sharing them, all of us). Thank you for the ways your words will stick with me and come back to me as I continue learning to allow for rest and urgency to cycle in my own life.

    1. Hi Melody! Thank you, and it's great to hear from you! I'm so glad you found this post helpful. I think it's all a process of forgetting and remembering why you create and what makes you happy. I hope that you find ways to enjoy the cycle even if it's frustrating sometimes! I also highly recommend listening to The Creative Fire. You can find the audio CD or download here: and at (and other places, I'm sure). Be well, love aijung