Making art again after a big gap in time will use up a lot of mental energy because the brain has to work harder at things it’s less familiar with. Add to the mix feeling you’re not ‘good’ at art and it won’t be long before your brain sabotages your efforts. Most people talk themselves out of continuing via listening to the negative voice in your head (the ego) that judges every mark you make. It gets louder if you pay it any attention and will never leave you completely, even if you become a prolific artist.
Winifred Gallagher in New: Understanding Our Need for Novelty and Change explains “The first step in stretching your experiential boundaries is to override your brains strong tendency to conserve energy by conducting business as usual. One of its favourite economies is to rely on familiar, sloppy but efficient categories and stereotypes: “I’m no good at sports/art/travel,” say, or “That kind of person/activity/place has nothing to offer me.”
As you can’t get rid of those sloppy negative stereotypes thoughts, the goal is to find a way to gently ignore them. Understand that the brains default is to be efficient by conserving energy and that shows up as the negative voice questioning what you’re doing. Thank the voice for it’s concern — “It’s okay I’m no good at art, because I’m having fun and I’m improving each time I try,” — and turn your attention back to making art. With time and practice the voice will soften and will loose its tight grip on your creative potential. Don’t trust that the judgemental voice knows what’s best for you, it’s just following autopilot intructions.
Do you ever feel your life switch is permanently fixed to ‘on’ mode? That you are constantly in a state of movement and ‘doing’? Taking regular breaks is not sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength. Recognising you’re not a robot and your battery has a more complex recharging system is vital for maintaining your health and immediate future wellness. Scheduling in ‘off’ time in advance give you permission to fully embrace the state of ‘not-doing,’ and slow things right down.
It may look like you’re wasting time when you unplug from your gadgets and simply stare at the clouds or sit on a log, but gentle, effortless spells of reverie, or free-form musing and daydreaming, are crucial to your mind’s healthy functioning and your productivity. The bottom line is that without these rest periods, particularly in our fast-forward world, your brain can’t learn, remember, and integrate your thoughts and feelings properly. Restorative downtime allows you to drop your game face and sink into your innermost thoughts and feelings with no particular agenda. Your mind is liberated from the constraints – and gadgets – that tie you to the present. – Winifred Gallagher, New: Understanding Our Need for Novelty and Change. [emphasis added]
When making art, it may not feel like you’re working ‘hard’ or being productive – which is what we’ve been socially trained to output – but you are using your brain in a way that requires a different kind of ‘effort.’ This is especially so for beginners when navigating the tricky waters of your art not being good enough, fear of judgment and wading through the regular uncertainty (side note Daniel Gilbert in Stumbling on Happiness talks of “our relentless desire to explain everything that happens may well distinguish us from fruit flies, but it can also kill our buzz.”).
Breaks are just as important as time spent working on something. If you’re working intensely on one project, it may help to shift to a less energy-taxing, small art-making exercise. Barbara Abercrombie in A Year of Writing Dangerously explains shifting between two forms of art making: “Gaining perspective on your own work is like studying a painting with your nose pressed up against the canvas. Sometimes it helps to switch to another writing project and let things rest.” This idea of ‘turning your painting to the wall’ and letting things settle before returning with refreshed eyes can be as important as actively working on it.
Abercrombie encouraging stepping away from work as “Sometimes to write you need to do more than just appear at your desk – you need to take care of the part of you that dreams and imagines and creates. Reading can usually do this for writers, but sometimes you also need to watch films, listen to music, go to an art museum, or see a play. Or just sit outside and soak up the sky.” Try to regularly switch to your off mode not only to recharge, but also to see what your subconscious uncovers without any effort required from you.