Monday, April 15, 2013

The Dark Side of Light

Donna Watson, SILENCE, 10"x10", collage

I have taken a longer than usual hiatus from my blog.  I have been dealing with a larger art issue.
I have been coming to terms with the truth that I am deep in what is called artist's BLOCK.  I have been in this dark place for over a year.  Until recently,  I always denied that piece of reality and I think overcoming denial is the first step forward.

I have been struggling with health issues for 2 years.  I have gone from doctor to doctor, many blood tests, MRIs, bone scans, x-rays.  The chronic pain and chronic fatigue almost defeated me and took over my life style and art.  During this period, I became bored with my art work.  I wanted to search for a new series, a new content... something deeper and more meaningful.  But my brain was busy firing off pain pulses and I could not focus or concentrate on anything else.  Black. dark, empty.

 2 months ago I went to a new doctor.  I finally got a diagnosis and I decided to do everything I could to get my life and health back.  I went on a strict diet eliminating all white and processed foods, alcohol and chocolate.  I started a daily regimen of meditation, tai chi and yoga.

I am feeling so much better.  It turns out diet, exercise and meditation can have a huge impact on your health.  But I am still facing the devastating and all-consuming thing called BLOCK.  I thought that once I felt better my art would come back to me like magic.  Not so.

"Your creativity is folded into your life in a way that can not be quantified or qualified.  It is a simple premise, yet profound."  Susanne Carmack.  She wrote an inspirational essay on artist's block you can find here.     Her website is here.

Inside each of us
there awaits a wonder
spirit of freedom

she waits
to dance 
in the rooms
of our heart
that are closed
dark and cluttered

she waits
to dance
in the spaces
where negative feelings
have build barricades
and stock-piled weapons

she waits 
to dance 
in the corners
where we still
do not believe in our goodness

inside each of us
there awaits
a wonder
spirit of freedom

she will lift light feet
and make glad songs
within us
on the day we open our door of ego
and let the enemies stomp out
Joyce Rupp,  The Stair in my heart


Seth said...

I am happy to hear that you have begun to find a way to deal with your medical issues and it does sound like you are on the right track with the choices you have made. I feel deeply for you in terms of the artist block. We so often struggle with very brief blocks and few people speak about the struggle that happens when these blocks continue. You are not alone in that. I do hope that just as you ultimately have conquered your health issues, you will ultimately find what you need to do to unlock the block.

ZenDotStudio said...

I am so glad you have found a regimen that makes you feel better!! I too know how uncertain health can be a distraction and worry that zaps us of our energy and focus. Pain also can consume and tire. Then there's not much left for art. My Zen teach used to say, "ah, these bodies!"

I have spent long periods feeling frustrated and disappointed with my work. This is a kind of block too I think.

I have learned 2 things from working with health challenges and pass them along in the hopes they might strike a chord. Self compassion! Kristen Neff has many great talks on being compassionate to yourself, something most of us never learned.

My health has benefited from me seeing how much what I think, influences how I feel. That's been a big one, watching the subtle self talk.

Be patient and watch for signs of Spring, Donna. You have such a wonderful design sense and sense of style. Something wonderful is brewing in the underground well of your being, waiting to spring forth. And now you have the energy to bring it to life.

Great books! Several I have and a couple new ones I must check out!

Sending hugs your way!

Cate Rose said...

I'm so glad you're feeling better, Donna, and sorry you've been under a cloud for so long. I find your work incredibly inspiring, but I can also relate to your feeling of artistic stuckness. Hoping your muse returns soon. I think cleaning up/out one's channel, as you've been doing, is all and everything that can be done by you -- the rest is spirit's domain.

Valerianna said...

Oh, I soooo know this. I'm still dealing with a health issue, but have a treatment that is helping, but will take a while. The block part is really something. I'm through that now, but that was such an incredible thing. I was making "good" paintings, but I knew that they weren't the paintings I needed to make now. I got through the block by working and working. Doing something in the studio until a inkling arose to follow, and, after a few months of this, I've actually never been as aligned with my work as I am now. What was helpful the whole time was the understanding that I wouldn't know how to move forward until I did. And that proved to be so. I just kept surrendering to not knowing, but playing, finding what inspired me, and pushing through. I waited as well as worked at times, too. It seemed like at times I was sitting in this enormous mystery. It became uncomfortable, my identity was caving in. Sitting with the mystery is the challenge, or it was for me. The other side of it is deeply rewarding, but it takes the time it takes, and this was intense. Hoping you find inspiration and happy to hear you are feeling better.

Anna Mavromatis said...

All my best wishes for a smooth path to complete recovery and the beginning of a new creative phase.

Unknown said...

Donna, I do not believe there is an artist worth her salt who has not experienced this uncomfortable situation at least once in her life. It feels like I have gotten lost at sea when I am there. Keep swimming, trust that out of the fog of not knowing the next body of work will appear. Seems these times of loosing my way always lead me to dancing around the studio for the JOY of discovery - eventually. Keep swimming - or floating quietly as your heart dictates, and the way will unfold, you know it will!
Best wishes, sus

Unknown said...

Dear Donna. While I'm sorry to hear that you've been having difficult times, it sounds like you're coming out the other side of it now. Meditation has been a powerful and tender balm for me and others that I know, also taking exercise out into wild places or even the garden. I love the poem you finish your post with. Wishing you a gentle Spring time. Ax

ArtPropelled said...

Phew Donna! I hate the thought of you suffering from severe pain. What a relief that your health is improving. As for the block, I know how devastating at can be since it is art that "saves" us..... and if the art isn't flowing we feel lost. In my experience once I'm over a block a new exciting phase possesses me. It's as if the new has been brewing during the dark phase. I also find my mind plays a big part in keeping me bogged down.....worrying about not working and getting deeper and deeper into the mire. Once I take the pressure off myself (easier said than done :-) I begin to see little glimmers of light.

Glad to see this blog post. It's a start!It's always beneficial to read how other people get through the dreaded BLOCK. I've been enjoying the comments.

ArtPropelled said...

Another trick that has helped me once the will to work returns.... I call it the Twyla Box. Twyla Tharpe starts a project with an empty box to which she adds anything to do with a new idea. It sits in the corner and every time something comes to mind relating to this idea you pop it into the box. I fill my box with notes, sketches, magazine cuttings, books, wood, found objects, rusty wire, nails.... etc.

Lynn said...

Sorry to hear you've been going through all of this. I'm glad to hear that your health issues are finally being dealt with in a way that is working for you. The BLOCK will hopefully lessen as a result. So often artistic block is a reflection of other blocks within us. Be patient with yourself. I find that the harder I force things when they're blocked, the worse it gets. Wishing you well in this journey and hope that you come out the other side of it with a renewed enthusiasm and fresh inspiration.
And - your collage at the top there is absolutely stunning.

Barry said...

D- along with others I am sorry to hear that you have struggled with pain and ill-health for a long time - but also pleased for you that it begins to pass and good health begins to return. Ahhh - the dreaded inspiration-creativity block - the dreaded plague of all artists. And I guess we all deal with it in so many different ways. I'
m afraid I always turn to making something for me and that has brought me joy in the past - something that simply reaffirms my creative ability - and I usually to this to the surround sound of some of my favourite music. I hope your block passes but above all that you can create just for you. Go well. B

Fiona Dempster said...

Donna - they can be strangely lonely paths, searching for health responses and seeking the muse. Each one unfolds and reveals itself differently and it is wonderful that you are finding ways thru the health issues, gradually returning to a sense of balance and wellness, and wholeness too perhaps. I wish you gentleness as you find your way thru the dark forest of the block, and thank you for sharing.

Wen said...

we all have something to conquer, sometimes a few things, and conquer we must in order, not merely to move on, but to be born again. Look for new directions in your art too. These are birth pangs. Gather a pile of 'stuff' and just play. Do not try. Like in meditation, practice without expectation. blocks are gates.

CERULEAN said...

Glad to hear that you're feeling much better. Health issues can have a deep impact on our daily practise.
I agree with Robin that starting with an empty box might be a good idea. A daily visual journal, a note book , your own box of pandora etc.
Wishing you all the best, Eric

Judy Shreve said...

So sorry to hear of your health issues. It's reasonable to think you would use all of your energy to heal, leaving you with a well to fill for your artwork -- and thankfully you have found a path to health and wholeness.

For me - when stuck/blocked - I'll take a class using materials that I wouldn't normally use - then I'm less critical of myself and find just being creative opens the door.

Best wishes and healing thoughts to you as you move through this transition. And remember these transitions can often lead to beautiful new work.

Marianne Hall said...

I ditto all the favorite quote from Art and Pain goes something like, "you will begin to work when the pain of NOT doing it is greater than the pain of doing it". Terribly paraphrased.

I recently finished a long course with Jean Houston and she spoke of this time of quiet. She said all artists go through it. It is an incubation period. Not to rush it. We will do our work when it's ready to pour forth. I say this with many years of blockage under my belt. Healing Blessings you you Donna.

Cris Winters said...

My huge sympathy, Donna, for what you have been experiencing. I went through a life-altering illness a few years ago, and learned so much about the world, inside and out. I have been enjoying your art for several years, and I look forward to your next inspiration.

the sugar nymph said...

Donna, sadly it seems all of us artists face a blog at some point. Thank you for courageously talking about what has been going on with you. When I am creating I find that this insidious little thought comes into my head 'what if you can't think of anything else to make after you finish this piece?' I have dealt with this little demon my whole life. I have come to realize that the only way to deal with it is when it arises is to say - Leave! Go! And keep on working. Hopefully what ever is blocking you will leave very soon, so happy to hear that you are feeling better. I very much enjoy your blog and look forward to reading it.

deborah from collagewhirl said...

As someone who has had (more than!) her fair share of blocks, I find that the results of continuing the work, even when it's frustrating, are often highly productive--in retrospect. Now when a block occurs, I prefer to think of it as "transitional", which somehow makes it more bearable. Looking back at my transitional work, I can see what has led up to the current ideas that I'm excited about.

I'm very glad to hear you're feeling better now, Donna!

Ruth Armitage said...

Hang in there! Thanks for sharing your struggle.

Sand Hill Art said...

Just find time now and then to let us know you are still here; you have friends and admirers who love your blog!

Jann Gougeon said...

Thank you for sharing this, Donna. I believe sharing our vulnerability moves us forward. I love everything about this post ... your work, the books (I have all but one, as I too search for the "solution" to these blocks), and that wonderful poem!

Olga Norris said...

Now that you have made your way through the darkness of pain and quest for cause and cure, you are facing a desert wide and seemingly empty. Perhaps your concentration on the details of regaining wellbeing for the moment have exhausted your muse's vision who is temporarily resting her eyes, closed under slices of cooling cucumber. Worry not. Be well.

Leslie Avon Miller said...

Beautiful post, and beautiful comments, rich with possibilities. I know you will find your way.

Mo Crow said...

Donna I hope you are feeling better by the day!
here's a very inspiring rave about the good things that can be found "Into the Unknown" by the whimsically wonderful Australian artist (although many call him a cartoonist) Michael Leunig
& here's some more about him
he's been a constant inspiration in honouring every moment no matter how trivial or banal it may seem...
good luck !

Carole Reid said...

Donna, Just reading your post days after you wrote it and while I'm nodding my head knowing where you are as I have been there too myself. Life can sometimes really just suck! Fortunately you are strong and brave and curious. Take care.

Unknown said...

Donna I'm so sorry to hear you have been dealing with chronic pain issues. I know this journey and can attest to the many ways it can contribute to the block of creative flow. Good for you for taking the empowering steps you have. And thank you for sharing so transparently with your online community.

Velma Bolyard said...

healing takes incredible energy and commitment, be kind with your making self. you are making.

Jo Reimer said...

Thank you for sharing your life with us. As I've read your post and the responses I feel like we're all part of a great community of like souls, all having had the same experience to some degree, and all attesting to the joy of coming out of it. You don't need my advice... I really have nothing to add, except that I hope your time in this darkness will be short. Pain and block are such stiflers (is there such a word?) of creativity.

Lucky Dip Lisa said...

I hear you. I am traveling a similar path.

Thinking of you and trusting that when the time is right your spark will ignite again, newer, bolder and brighter.

Francine Vernac said...

J'ai vous ai lu, relu plusieurs fois. Comme si mes mots (étrangers) ne pouvaient qu'être impuissants. Je m'incline devant votre travail sur vous-même.

Je persiste à trouver dans votre oeuvre une expression qui touche l'âme, qui me touche.

Aucune évolution, je crois, ne se fait de manière linéaire, en ligne droite. Ce qui semble être du piétinement nous permet parfois de reprendre pied.

Pour cela, il faut laisser au temps le temps de retrouver la santé et avec elle, de renouer avec la création.
Cette difficile patience!

Eve said...

Hi Donna,
I was pained to hear about your struggles. I recognize a couple of your books, as they are in my "go to arsenal" when I get stuck. If I may I would also suggest Twyla Tharp's book, The Creative Habit. And Elizabeth Gilbert's Ted Talk about creativity, genius and the muse. I found it very inspirational. Have bookmarked it and watched is many, many times.
I suppose we have to go through these dark passages to grow. I'm excited to see your next chapter.
Eve Ozer

mano said...

dear donna, I wish you all the best!

juliaD said...

Hi Donna, Thank you for sharing your thoughts, the darker ones and the light that shines through ...I have been dealing with health issues very similar to yours, and I too have felt the block, which for me was feeling sad about my own belief that I cant do anything as easily (energy wise) as others...I have had to deal with other artists that I attempted to keep up with, while still dealing with not having the stamina they did, accuse me of being selfish, because I wasn't able to do everything they could....I recently wrote in my journal, a sentence that has struck me with new energy..."Whatever I want to do, I can easily achieve...The emphasis for me was "want"...I'm learning to let go of the "have tos" and allowing myself to play and do only what I want to do now....and keeping up with trying to do things just like others can, is not important to me anymore, because ultimately no matter how hard you try, everyone else will think what they want to think about you, (most of it wrong), and you cant do anything about it.
x Julia

Angi in hana said...

hi donna, i just stumbled on to your blog, the instant i saw your work i felt at home, then to read about your block and health issues i have to say i am exactly there with you, i feel my block for 2yrs now! but i just keep stumbling around and i find someone like you that totally inspires me and just the knowing that i am not alone is for some strange reason, comforting. i will be back and i send you tons of aloha from my little part of this island. aloha, angi in hana

Don Madden said...

You are a wonderful artist. I am confident that your health will improve and your creativity will return.

annell4 said...

Dear Donna I am sorry to hear that you have been struggling with "life." Perhaps that is the key? Stop struggling, accept. And like anything else, one step at a time. Baby steps. Go to work without expectation. Believe in yourself. Remember Matisse when he was sick, he created the cutouts. Wonderful. I think when we don't have much time, much space, when we do not feel well. Think small. What a challenge, how to create small works that are distinctive. I'm pulling for you. How about taking what you like and adding other things? Leaving what no longer works for you.

RosieK said...

Your words are familiar - be gentle with yourself and welcome back