Not everything here on Project Discovery is about hard facts and scientific evidence, some of it, like this, comes from personal experience. That being said I have a nagging suspicion almost every artist has "asshole brain" in one way or another. In fact, I think everyone just might have. So let's take a moment to properly complain about this phenomenon and maybe we can help each other out.
Sound familiar? If you are a fully dysfunctional artist it should! (I have yet to find a fully functioning artist) Before we get started let me summarize the different archetypes of insecurities, fears, frustrations and general asshole'ish (?) brain things I encounter. Let me know if any sound familiar:
- Everyone else is better
- I'm a fraud! In reality I suck!
- I cant think of any cool stuff. I must not be creative at all
- You keep doing the same thing over and over, that's dumb
- If you miss 1 second of possible painting time the world will leave you behind. No play time for you!
- Nobody saw my stuff, this must mean its terrible
- I don't think you have your own style. Wow, boring much?
- Hey look at that food thing on TV! Bet you want it now, especially because you cant get it because it's like 1 AM and you are still working. COME ON! Every. single. time
Now there are many, many, many more (luckily?) but most of them are derived from the big hitters above. Whichever one of those is loudest or the most frequent they all have one thing in common. Whether you like it or not they exert pressure on you. You exert pressure on yourself. I know you don't want to but you are making life more difficult on yourself than it has to be. Trust me, I know. It is my main struggle. I can go from being super happy to feeling bummed out all because of that little voice in my head. This mental energy drain is bad. Real eye opener right?
Here's the thing, we all have a reserve of mental energy. In the previous blog I talk about potato brain, a type of atrophy which occurs when you don't receive enough stimuli. The same effect applies, the lack of input drains your mental energy. The level of mental energy you have, which is comparable to physical energy, determines how long you can focus, how much resistance you have to negative thoughts and so forth. Long term negativity and lack of input can therefor seriously harm your creative process and breaking out of it isn't easy. One of the key things that helped me fight this is to recognize "drain triggers". I'm sure there is a fancy real world word for it but I'm not that smart. When I realize what's going on I try to identify how big of a impact it's having on me, so I treat it like a weather prediction. Level 3 mental storm coming! (and now I'm worried that sounds way less cool than I hoped it would...) Anyway, once you realize what's coming you can prepare. Everything has counter measures, such as taking a walk, doing something else like read a awesome blog (Yeah, I went there) play a game, get some "organic fruit and vegetable smoothies" or you know, donuts. Hopefully your solutions won't be unhealthy for you so maybe work in a gym routine in every once in a while*.
So why take this stuff seriously? Why get all touchy feely with yourself? Because if you don't you can break down and stop working all together and not have a clue why. "Art block", more like "I dont know myself well enough so I cant really figure out whats wrong and therefor not fix it-block" You can get stuck but the least you can do is know why. The pressure we artists put on ourselves in ridiculous, mostly because of our insecurities and, the overwhelming notion that art, aside from the few lucky ones, is not a profession that yields you great and consistent income. You have to fight every single day to stay relevant like B rated comedy shows. And boy do we know it. If staying relevant and therefor employed was just about being good at art it'd be one thing, but it's not about that anymore. It's about how relevant you can stay in a competitive environment. A signature style that has to resonate with the taste of the masses combined with a nice personality and brimming with originality. It's like constantly living in one of those American drug commercials where people constantly smile, laugh and hug their dogs even though they are on a ridiculous amount of medication and are apparently not worried that the side-effects of the sleeping aid causes hallucinations and halitosis!
So yeah, the pressure is huge. I feel it, you feel it, and I bet our non artist readers can relate. For art however there is a upside. In a way that pressure can push us forward and motivate us into getting better at what we do. Turning pressure into thrust is highly important. Work on finding the "drain triggers", develop a part of your brain that is better at kung-fu than the asshole part and kick it's ass every now and again. Don't let the pressure break you, turn it into thrust and use it to soar to great heights (this is a metaphor, do not jump off of shit.) Vent excess energy so the thrust doesn't move you so fast you tear apart. Get outlets, make sure you don't get potato brain and please, please, be honest to yourself.
Here is a list of stuff that's perfectly OK to do when you feel the drain trigger come on. This is stuff I do, maybe you can get some inspiration from it too:
- Call a bad day a bad day and stop painting. Tell your friends you have a bad day, they can help!
- Start playing games that make you feel better. Like, set an AI to 100% idiot mode and then trash it. Stupid computer... walked right into my rocket.
- Make apple crumble
- Offer me some apple crumble.
- Take a walk and think about nothing else. <- this one is impossible. Thinking Dark souls 3 is hard. Pfsh
- Take a long shower and think about the problem. (90% of the time this is composition for me btw)
- Watch a movie that's in the same genre as what you are working on.
- Drink "organic fruit and vegetable smoothies"
- Work out**
- And most importantly, hang out with your boy/girl friend / regular platonic friends. Ask them how they are doing and ask if you can help them with something. Not being stuck in your own head and not thinking about yourself is easiest when you genuinely want to help someone else. Bonus, it feels pretty good.
So. Sit back, relax. Don't blow up. You're doing just fine.
* I never go to the gym and personally think it might just be the worst thing ever.
** seriously, I never do it. Sweating next to a bunch of strangers who are also sweating and might want to talk to you? Really? I don't need that in my life, it's stressful enough as is. Kthnx.