Inspiration, or lack of it, is a fear and concern for almost all artists. If we’re not feeling inspiration right now we fear we’ve dried up and our days as an artist are past. If we’re awash in inspiration we may feel overwhelmed.
I’m mostly going to discuss the lack of inspiration, since that is what we typically fear.
If “the muse”, or whatever your view of inspiration is, doesn’t seem to be hanging out with you, what can you do? My experience is be patient and spend your time wisely while you’re waiting.
Open yourself to stimulus. Take a walk. Read a book. Watch a training video. Look at another artist’s web site and/or blog. Visit museums or galleries. All these things can energize you and refresh your spirit. We are all different in our makeup, so what works for me might not work for you. That’s OK. Keep trying things until you find something that pumps you up.
When your “normal” work doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, it’s a great time to do some of those personal projects you have wanted to get to for a long time. Do something different. Something outside of your normal style or subject matter.
It’s a complete no risk venture. If you decide it is a complete failure, fine. Now you know. Write that one off and try another. Jay Maisel once said “If it’s not working, go have a good glass of wine and then try something else.” But if you love the results maybe you have learned something new about yourself. Maybe it will stretch you and even take you in a new direction. Doing something is better than doing nothing.
If you are a traditional landscape photographer, try something like street photography. It will be so different that it will make you reevaluate a lot of things. If nothing else it should be refreshing.
Do you pride yourself in tack sharp, crunchy, high detail shots? Great. I love that, too. But spend some time doing blurred images. Do handhelds at slow shutter speeds, even introducing intentional camera motion. No, really. Try it. You may see whole new opportunities and new creative possibilities.
I have talked before about exercises like going out with one lens. Give it a try. It forces a new thought process on your creativity. You will have to reevaluate some things about your composition and style. Some of them may influence changes. But even if not, it is something fresh and different that may energize you.
A sense of wonder
My work is strongly influenced by a sense of wonder towards the world around me. Honestly, sometimes I don’t feel it. The wonder and inspiration is gone. What can I do? I can’t make interesting images if I don’t feel excited about things.
One thing is to give myself permission to acknowledge that I’m in a slump. I am very lucky to be what is called a “fine art” creator. As such, I don’t have to perform on schedule. Clients do not contract me to create something to their specification at a certain time.
That is not accidental. I spent a long career working for other people and having to be driven by external demands. When the opportunity came, I re-molded my life to give myself freedom. I realize this may not be possible for you, but I’m being honest about my situation and the options I have.
Giving myself permission to not have to create takes a lot of pressure off, but not all. I really don’t like not feeling wonder. It is frustrating and sometimes scary. I get impatient, wanting to move on NOW. Part of what I have realized is that patience has to be balanced with action.
Confidence to wait
Over many years of experience, I have learned that inspiration will return. It is important to develop the confidence that you are creative and that the feelings will return, probably even better than before.
If you were creative in the past it did not just get used up. Creativity is not a fixed quantity that you exhaust. It is a skill and an attribute of our wondrous minds. But life is cyclic. You have ups and downs. sometimes you have to just “hunker down” and ride it out. That implies being content to wait, to be patient. You can do that if you believe it will come back.
I believe there are things we can do to open us up to allow the creativity to flow again, but we cannot force it. If we try to force it we will get frustrated and disappointed and afraid. It will seem like the more we try to make it happen the further away it is from us.
Giving yourself permission to not have to do the greatest work of your career today does not mean sit and not do anything. Action is important.
Put in the reps
As I said earlier, I believe there are useful things we can do to open ourselves to feeling the inspiration again. Things like going for walks or going to museums or looking at the work of other artists. And creativity exercises can help to stimulate our subconscious.
But a simple and often overlooked thing is to “just do it”. Practice, practice, practice. Put in your reps. Don’t worry if you are not producing masterpieces. A great basketball player will spend hours a day in the gym just shooting baskets and practicing layups. That is not “game level” intensity. But it trains the muscles to do the right thing. That builds confidence and mastery over time.
At this point, though, don’t overthink the problem. That will make you freeze up. Let it work itself out. I often quote Jay Maisel. One of his quips is “Don’t overthink things in front of you. If it moves you, shoot it. If it’s fun, shoot it. If you’ve never seen it before, shoot it.”
I find that when I make myself get out and do something, it is like the basketball player who can do well in the game because he did the practice. For me, the click of the camera shutter is a kind of magic. It is a sound I subconsciously associate with creativity and making images. Things often start to flow, even when I did not feel “in the mood” going out. Even if they don’t, it is good for me to be out practicing.
So inspiration is not the end all. No inspiration does not necessarily mean just sitting in our room moping. Get up, get out, do something. If you are moving and taking action you are much more likely to start feeling inspiration. You don’t have to do your best work every day.
To close with another Jay Maisel quote: “If you are out there shooting, things will happen for you. If you’re not out there, you’ll only hear about it.”
How do you deal with slumps of no inspiration? Let’s talk!