The "Artist Slump"
Every so often we artists can find ourselves in a creative slump. We might be between projects, dealing with personal challenges, or in the middle of a project and just stuck. Every artist deals with these hang-ups differently, but today I would like to share my approach for working through the dreaded "slump." If my slump is at a non crucial time, then I do not mind just stopping my creative practice for a bit to recenter myself. However, sometimes I will hit a wall in the middle of a project or series that has a deadline. During my master's program I had trouble finding my niche. I knew my interests, but needed to organize a method of working, and set clear goals. Mostly, I had to keep producing work because of the tight time constraints at university. My solution, was to try a different approach related to my topic every week. Even if I did not like the results, I would write a summary of my week's experiments, and make reflective notes. On weeks that I really struggled or maybe could not produce work due to the winter weather, I wrote out my thoughts about the visiting artist lectures we had in class. I would try to relate their topics to my ideas, but mostly it function of this was to keep me in a working routine of thinking critically and looking for solutions. This approach resulted in a large binder filled with notes, drawings, research, some pretty awful photographs and some weird experiments; all of which led me to the method and visual theme I would use to make my portfolio. At my lowest points I resorted to an activity taught to me in a workshop by contemporary photographer Brooke Shaden. This activity kept me shooting even when I had no idea what I wanted to do, and helped me to produce images during weeks which otherwise may not have resulted in any work completed. The activity is an easy chance game. First, make a list of different categories and assign each item in the list a number. For example if you're not sure where you want to photograph, you may make a location category list. For example:
1. The school courtyard
2. In the city center
3. In the park
4. In the greenhouse
Or perhaps you need to know what kind of photograph you want to make. 1. Abstract
4. Still life
You then take small pieces of paper and number them so you have enough for each item in your categories (one paper will say "1," one will say "2," and so on.). Once that is finished you can choose your shoot criteria for the day. Crumple the numbered papers and select them blindly.
Following our example, if I first select the paper with the number "4" on it and then select the paper with the number "1" on it, I would set out to make an Abstract photograph in the greenhouse.
The best part of this activity is that it can be as vague or as specific as is needed. Any categories can be made to fit any situation. Do you have a fashion photography assignment due next week? Maybe your professor has said you need five images, using back lighting on models; but what else? Maybe you should write out categories based on different styles? Or different designers? Or different accessories? There are many possibilities. To help visualize this process there is graphic I have made below, showing examples of two lists I could have used when making some of my MFA work. These are quite specific lists and were formed after I had a clear objective and visual style for my portfolio, but helped to progress my workflow. Being a visual learner, I find organizing and planning easier when I make lists that incorporate imagery. Hopefully this little activity can help jump start the creative processes the next time a slump creeps its way into your practice.