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Getting UnStuck

Getting UnStuck

Tammy June 8, 2006 1 comment

Kitchen_splash_full Kitchen_splash_detail Hand-made tiles, kitchen splash full and detail, by Tammy Vitale of Tam’s Originals

What do you do when you’re stuck?  Is being stuck just an artist’s thing, or does everyone get stuck now and then on projects, at work, with new ideas, following through with old ideas?  Is what we define as "stuck" merely a stage in a process?

At the moment, I’m feeling stuck and it’s mostly from overwhelm (see my post June 6).  I have found every excuse in the book for not getting into the studio (which I must do today – at least get a load into the kiln.  I have 4 torsos waiting and they take up a lot of drying space when they’re waiting).  Most of this if from thinking about moving and starting to pack to put our house on the market.  It’s also about downsizing.  The payoff is Husband is closer to work and I get some breathing space for art.  What I’m giving up is a house and yard I love.  We have found another loveable house (no offers yet, we’re still in the clean up this house stage) – once a "few" changes are made.  Still, change is scarey, nothing is certain and reframing all of this as an adventure is taking a lot of psychic energy.

A great side advantage of cleaning and packing, however, is revisitng books I’ve forgotten about.  Several on art will be given away, but before I do that, I browsed and found some thoughts on being stuck (at the moment glued in place feels more descriptive, but, in order to follow the theme, we’ll just use "stuck.")

"…I want to make clear that I don’t believe in creative blocks [i.e., being stuck], because after teaching for many years and painting thousands of paintings, I have never encountered one.  Since it is taken for granted that they do exist, let’s talk about this most famous ghost.

"A block is experienced as feeling blank, with no idea of what to do.  Even the smallest stroke feels dry and empty, and no desire is left except to quit.  What worked before doesn’t satisfy you.  You feel discouraged or frustrated or you simply don’t care about anything.  It has been described to me as running into a brick wall.

"What we call blocks are transtion times.  Sometimes they are intimidating, but when you come down to it, a block is simply a time of change.  Something drastically different from what has been painted is trying to emerge, and you are pushing it back down, consciously or unconsciously.  You feel blank because there is too much inside and the pressures gives the illusion of emptiness.

"This is a time to break the boundaries set by the self-image, to find the crack in the wall.

"There is a moment in every painting [or creative endeavor, or life – for what is life but a creative endeavor?!] when we don’t know where to go or what to do next.  These times are very important, because they tell us something is being born.  When we don’t know what to paint, we generally think that there is something wrong, and sometimes we panic.  But it is by facing the emptiness that creation arises.  To be creative is to become more familiar with the sense of being a little lost.  If we are always full of what we want to do, there is no room for the new…By facing difficulties, you reveal yourself to yourself, and the mystery unfolds…What is really creative is bound to be a surprise because it’s something you couldn’t have thought of.

"Boredom, frustration, and tiredness are not indications to stop; they are signs that you are not doing what you really want to do." (Michele Cassou and Stewart Cubley, Life, Paint and Passion:  Reclaiming the Magic of Spontaneous Expression) [emphasis is mine]

What do you do when you get stuck?  "hit the wall?" can’t sit still yet can’t find the next step?

The antidote is pick a place and do something.  My favorite antidote is to make soup.  When all else fails, even on the hottest day of summer, making soup focuses my creative energy (this is a "from scratch" endeavor), doesn’t take much thought, and nourishes me bodily, mentally and spiritually.  After I fix the soup, I find one of my pretty bowls (bought for just such an occasion), turn on music to fit the mood (rock, blues, celtic – whatever works in the moment), light a candle, turn off the lights (if it’s evening), and spend some time with the heat, the flavor and the satisfaction of having at least followed one thing to completion.  Afterwards, I pick one small thing I can do to move toward unglueing myself.  Today I will do one kiln load.  This requires some glazing (I have a deliverable), but mostly just placing the 4 torsoes in the kiln and turning the kiln on.  This simple act will give me two torsos to raku next Friday with friend Dhyana (my raku buddy), and two torsos ready to be finished and hung. 

Then I’m off to get a cut and perm and have my toes done (the hair thing, like retail therapy, is a huge indication of the stuckness of this particular spot.  If all else fails, do something with your hair).

More discussions/postings on The Gender Knot yesterday (June 7) over at myspace.  Shan, at Thick Paint, has posted more on the "what is art discussion" (her June 5 blog).

Thought for the day:  "On the subject of sexual harrassment, for example, men’s renowned ability to solve problems can suddenly take a holiday as they look to women to tell them what to do and what not to do.  Many men complain that they don’t know the ‘rules’ anymore and can’t seem to figure them out.  It’s as if sexual harassment were some kind of female mystery that only women can understand.  For some equally mysterious reason, although men control every major social institution, and although this is supposedly based at least in part on their superior powers of making objective sense of things, they can become surprisingly slow when they enter the alien territory of ‘women’s issues.’  They often retreat into a kind of earnestly sincere ‘not getting it’ or ‘I’m just not good at that sort of thing."

"Denial is a reliable defense serving all forms of oppression."  Allan G. Johnson, The Gender Knot:  Unraveling Our Patriarchal Legacy


  • Joined:
    2009-10-19 15:07:50
    Sara Leeland
    June 8, 2006

    I LOVE the quote about 'stuck' being a signal of transition time — and a time to cut through the working 'self-definition.' What I think it does, if you transition well, is root you ever more deeply in a fresher self-definition. Americans are still insecure people …. all of us with memories only at most a couple centuries deep of what we left behind. That may be why we cling so to ideas of 'what America is' forged in WWII, when we rose to world-power.

    In your desire to simplify life by cutting commute and by focus on art — you could think of yourself as part of a larger cultural movement….to do this action.

    However it goes, cheers from me!


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