By Raymond Turner
Have you ever sat down in front of a blank piece of paper or a computer screen to create your magnum opus, design a graphic, or write a letter/ blog article only to realize after a few moments of the blank screen staring back at you tauntingly, that you have…nothing? No inspiration. No ideas. The heavens are not pouring forth showers of golden rain and the river of inspiration is bone dry.
You have just encountered what every person who sets out to create something experiences often, if not daily: the infamous “creative block.” It doesn’t matter if it is a work that will be put on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, a custom brochure for your business, or a recipe for dinner. You and I were made to create and to feel creative. But sometimes the process of getting ideas out into the open can be extremely frustrating, even causing some to break out with hives!
As I daily psyche myself up to jump through this ring of fire, I have become convinced that a “block” is often the mind’s attempt to push us beyond what we already know (or think we know), or have already done. In a world with so many options at our fingertips, some would think being creative is an easy task.
Contrary to a world of possibilities in the vast open road before us, ironically, there is a different way of thinking that will lead you to a reservoir of untapped ideas and creative output. This creative route will lead you away from the barrage of sound–bites and quick half-baked ideas; but if you miss the mile marker because of its simplicity, you will continue rainbow hunting in an uncreative wasteland, frustrated and believing you are just “not the creative type.” This method of getting the mind to chew on itself does not happen by gathering huge amounts of information or more inspiration. This breakthrough happens by embracing the limitations you are given; or, by imposing your own limitations on the work at hand until it forces your mind to think in new directions it would not have gone otherwise.
We see this concept of embracing limitations, and how it can lead someone to produce his greatest work, embodied in one of the most famous artists in history, Michelangelo. The story goes that Michelangelo had heard about a big block of marble eighteen feet high that was sitting around in a yard. He went to the town hall to ask about it and was told that the mayor had promised it to several sculptors, one being Leonardo da Vinci. In any case, he was told the best thing to do was to forget about it because it was worthless.
Another sculptor, Simone da Fiesole, started to carve a statue from it and began by drilling a big hole right through the block, chipping half the stone away from front and back of the hole also. A dozen sculptors went to look at it and they all come back either angry or nearly crying. Before Fiesole, it had been a beautiful block without any flaws. Michelangelo knew the story and asked to go see it.
He spent a long time at the stone, walking around it, taking measurements, and standing in front of it in deep thought. As soon as he was home Michelangelo started drawing and making a little wax model of a David, which had been da Fiesole’s subject. When he was sure he could carve his figure out of the botched block, he asked the mayor, Soderini, to give it to him.
He carved the David, according to Condivi, though few believe this, in eighteen months and “extracted the statue so exactly that the old rough surface of the marble [and da Fiesole’s chisel marks] still appear on the top of the head and on the base.”
Inducing limitations can often force the mind to grapple to find a solution it might not have been stretched to find otherwise. Some examples of self-imposed limitations might include setting your own time limit on project; using a different editing/design software that is simpler than what you would normally use; using fewer effects; only using certain colors; using less resources than allocated, etc. Sometimes too many options can have the opposite effect by paralyzing us with mental overload and we don’t know where to begin!
It is said there are two types of people in the world: those who hear the word “difficult,” and immediately say “it’s impossible;” and those who hear the word “difficult” and say, “it’s only difficult…not impossible.” Just like Michelango, you and I are often faced with a daunting “block” or creative task in front of us that appears too looming to scale its sheer vertical wall. And this oftentimes with a deadline already imposed on us! You can do it. Unrelenting focus on the piece of marble in front of you, and imposing limitations to force your mind to think “outside of the block” will result in some incredible new breakthroughs for you. Remember what came from a ruined block no one else wanted.
In the next article we will look at some of the specific “chisels” that will give shape to your masterpiece. You are an artist. You are incredibly creative. Get to it and create! The world is waiting.
Raymond Turner is our Project Manager Mogul. Before coming to Newton, he was a producer, director and professional drummer. Raymond and his wife Maria have two children. In his free time, Raymond is big into sports (wii sports that is), reading, drawing, composing or drumming.