I experience artistic paralysis in one of two ways: either I am flooded with a stifling lack of confidence or pelted with ideas too quickly to execute all of them. Usually, I feel both overwhelmed with ideas and a lack of confidence that I can successfully execute them. When I feel this way, it’s easier to just ignore my current project and focus on getting up-to-date with my shows on Hulu or mindlessly scrolling through Instagram. This is artistic paralysis and it’s something I wrestle with almost daily.
I’ve managed to incorporate a few rituals and strategies for overcoming artistic paralysis into my life. I spend a lot of time learning how to cope with these feelings, accept them, and let them pass through without taking hold in my mind.
1. Avoid Instagram, Facebook, Etsy, Pinterest. Or anywhere else you go to connect with other makers and crafters. I find that these portals can trigger my artistic paralysis because I follow “successful” makers who sell more work than me, have more followers and stockists than me, and consistently create beautiful pieces. Comparing yourself to others, especially through a highly curated medium like Instagram or other social media platforms, is almost always toxic. I try to take social media breaks everyday, but I’ll avoid it all together if I’m in a particularly fragile mental space.
2. Go somewhere timeless. Find a place where, when you look around, you can’t tell what century you’re in. It could be a walk near the river, sitting on the beach, or lying in a meadow staring up at the sky. Leave your phone in the car too. Give yourself the time and space to enjoy the world.
3. Indulge in a medium that is not your own. Whether this means reading, visiting a museum, or learning a new craft from a friend, spend time engaging with a creative pursuit that you can enjoy without the pressure of doing it well. Also, you may find yourself inspired to bring something you learned or experienced back to your own work.
4. Practice honest self-care. Sometimes self-care is yoga, a long walk with my dog, or making a smoothie. Other times, self-care is delicious greasy Mexican food, binging on Netflix, or taking a nap in the middle of the day. Usually, I try to pick two from the first list and one from the second list. That way I get the confidence boost that comes from doing something good for me, then I get to do something that feels good for me.
5. Do something for someone else. I’m a consummate homebody, so making my home a little more livable for my boyfriend and dog are my preferred methods of altruism. I’ll do laundry, take my dog to the park, or cook dinner. You’ll feel accomplished afterwards — which is important when you can’t bring yourself to even look at your artwork let alone finish it.
6. Reframe your art as a practice. If you make your art a practice, something you do for yourself, then you don’t have to worry about making something that will please anyone else. Framing your art as a practice gives you the space to experiment without doubt because you are doing this exercise to build your skills and deepen your relationship with your craft. If I get too focused on creating for others, then doubt will overcome my creativity, and I will find myself unable to make anything.
7. Meditate. Sometimes I feel like making my art is pointless because it lacks a clear point-of-view, or it’s too derivative, or I just generally lack talent and have no business trying to build a creative business. These negative thoughts are crippling to the artistic process, so it’s important to figure out healthy coping strategies to keep them from overwhelming your mind. When I feel overcome with negative thoughts, I can relax and take a step back by visualizing myself on a cliff looking down at the thoughts as they pass through my consciousness. This meditation technique empowers me to observe a negative thought and then let it pass without allowing it to take hold and deepen its roots within me where it creates the artistic paralysis.