Art hell is a state of mind…and a negative one at that. It is the opposite of ‘brimming over with ideas’. It is contrary to having the satisfaction of creating what you want and feeling deep contentment. Rather than being in control, you know you are out of it.
Art hell is my term but it may also be known as artist’s block, writer’s block or creative block. It doesn’t necessarily mean that there are no new ideas; rather, that you don’t want to do any of them. When little seedlings of ideas germinate, a big foot (like on Monty Python’s Flying Circus) stamps from above and flattens them.
It is when you can’t trust your artistic judgement. You finish a new piece and you don’t know if you love it or hate it. Is it that this drawing has gone beyond your usual boundary and you haven’t caught up? In other words it could be ‘the shock of the new’ therefore you can’t yet evaluate it. Or is it simply a picture which failed to thrive all along. You actually don’t know. You can’t tell one way or the other. Probably yes. Probably no.
You ask yourself ‘what do I feel deeply about right now that I wish to work on next?’ Honest answer – ‘nothing’. You can have files and files of new material but they don’t elicit any emotion. Within those photos you took are compositions for new drawings. You will see them later when the current bout of art hell is over. But while you are in it, the critic within says NO.
It isn’t depression or anxiety. It isn’t life threatening or a real crisis. It is only art hell. It need not be feared for it is always temporary. You don’t have to do anything. You wake up one morning and, just like that, your optimism is back. Until then, well, you’re in it.
In the meantime you go for walks, garden, clean the house, read, write miserable entries into your journal, see a film, have coffee with friends and whinge to long-suffering husband.
Art hell and I go way back. I can even remember it from high school; in fact, since ‘art’ was a subject. It wasn’t a subject in primary school. So, as far as I can remember, art hell hadn’t really developed then. It grew enormous at art school but settled back down to just being part of life’s natural cycle since then.
Oh – but for one exceptional day at Karori West Normal School when our teacher decided that our class would have a whole day of art and craft. He brought in so many materials; driftwood from Makara Beach, shells, paints, papers and cards, string, glue, wire, printing equipment – you name it. I felt under so much pressure to produce something good that I remember it as one big art hell day. Maybe my first one?! I was nine. Happily, some parents complained. They didn’t want their children wasting time on art for a whole day. So it wasn’t repeated.
Certainly writing this down has helped to ease the current bout of art hell. I think perhaps tomorrow it will be over. Until then…I wonder what’s on TV?
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