AS a webcomic artist who has now produced over 1,000 pages of work with no hesitation, I should amend this article with the following summary:
Art-block is caused by a lack of creative purpose. Purpose is the best means by which a vacillating artist might finally become motivated again. Whether it's as simple as the need to capture a beautiful image, like a sunset with a loved one, or as dire as the need to communicate an imperative revelation before death, this purpose is the key to allowing the feeling of importance, which will allow artists to undertake as great a task as making art.
Avoid irrelevant information.
Understand your own desires.
Feel no shame.
We all get art-blocked at one point. "I don't want to draw" or "I don't feel like drawing this..."
By understanding what art-block is, we can take steps to avoid it in the future, and possibly even control its presence.
Let's start by removing the term "art-block" from our vocabularies for a moment. It is too vague and only describes its effect, not what it is. This doesn't help us except when we want to commiserate.
Now let's start to take apart the artistic process. If we can understand why we draw in the first place, it will help us to understand why we stop drawing.
The artistic process developed and culminated in homo sapiens sapiens, who had mutated large brains that were able to support complex social networks. Art serves as a tool not only for communication, but for solidarity. Art can be defined as the process of reaching outside ourselves, to make another self out of something that is not.
We probably have an audience or an effect on an audience in mind when we are spending hours creating a piece of work. Hour after hour of crafting detail and examining potential flaws will be put to the test when we present our work. When it is well-received, it is one of the better feelings in life. Conversely, a rejection of our work can leave us devastated. These two aspects of acceptance and rejection permeate the human social experience to its core. Will we form a group, or be denied one? Can we create something that other people can enjoy and use for themselves? Or will our work be too distant and inaccessible?
WHY DOES IT EXIST?
The term "art-block" hides psychological twists and turns. The subconscious is a very efficient place, working quickly and effortlessly to analyze what is worth spending energy on, and what is not. Take this news article for example. Perhaps you have already closed this window due to my excessive use of the collective pronouns "us", "we", or "our." This might have irked you but you are not quite sure why (it's my assumption of our collective state when this has not been firmly established beforehand--a "hostile takeover", if you will, of your social relationship to me). Or maybe you are suddenly paying attention because I have mentioned the word "psychology" and you are having a psychology exam later in the week (a subtle nod to upcoming threats and the strategies used to meet them).
In any case, your subconscious is an exact machine, deciding--based on past experience and animal intuition--precisely what will benefit you, and what won't, faster than you can think about it consciously. This was an important development in human psychology, because it freed up top-level consciousness to process increasingly complex social structures.
We may consider art-block to be a form of subconscious decision. We don't want to draw, because it is suddenly in some way not beneficial to us. Our job, as the top-level consciousness, is to figure out what triggered the subconscious to make this decision.
Because each case is unique, it will be up to you. But let's examine some sample cases.
1. "I can't draw because I don't feel like it. My art doesn't look good any longer." This is a common form of art-block: suddenly, work which we might have felt proud about is now giving us the doldrums. As a third party, I have witnessed some of my friends' art-blocks of this type, and I can say with conviction that I was not able to notice any change in their works from before or after the art-block. The change must then be in their own perception of their works. What has changed, exactly?
I could also call this the "beginner's luck" art-block, since it seems to work off of the same function. Perhaps you have played a video game and have been doing well, when suddenly you reach a point where your game ends. You try again and now, the game ends before you even reach the point you had previously gotten up to. This doesn't make sense! We have memory of this earlier, easier place already. Why did we make a mistake? Again and again you attempt to reach the part where you had first gotten up to with "beginner's luck". Occasionally you do reach it, but perhaps, the game ends a little beyond that point. Eventually, the game is conquered, but only after an intense memorization experience.
This process is analogous to the art-block mechanism. The "mistakes" we started to make were in actuality limits being tested. We got far the first time on our "beginner's luck" intuition--the ability to intuit a problem when meeting it for the first time; we got far the last time on our strategy and technique, a process borne of repetition and exploration.
As such, art-block in this instance will be a process of repetition and exploration for the artist. Just like in the video game, the "mistakes" that the artist is making are an exploration of the artist's limits in order to examine technique and procedure. It is a growth process: When faced with new, elaborate challenges, our intuition can only take us so far. When we can finally accept our technique as sufficient for beating that game, this art-block can be dissolved.
This process of internal critique may last quite a while. It can possibly be sped up or denied by acknowledging how it works. If we can't get a good feeling about our art because suddenly, it doesn't seem so good when compared to other artists, then step back. Take a breath. "It's okay. I think my skill is good, at least for now. Especially for now, when I have this big project to do... I can improve later. Right now, I have to be me: my skill, my technique." Saying this and believing it are two different things, but in synthesis it will help to eradicate this art-block.
2. "I don't feel like drawing any longer... [because the group of friends I was drawing with has gotten into a big fight] [because I'm moving away to college and I won't see my old drawing buddies again for quite a while] [etc.]" I've also experienced this art-block, quite more prominently than our first example.
As stated in the beginning, art is a communal process. We make art to share and to bring together. When that which we have brought together falls apart, it's natural that the vehicle for that community will also fall apart, creating this form of art-block. The cure is to find another group to draw for, or rather, another group to bring together. Finding a new audience receptive to your art will abolish this art-block in short order. However, this social scouting process alone may take some time. It might be sped up by using our art as a lure to attract those like us. That is, if we didn't have art-block in the first place. Some older art might be in order here: post the older art and let it do the scouting for you. Do you think it represents the current "you" well enough? Or perhaps there may be a way to bring your old group back together. Some art might be in order there.
We've analyzed art-block a bit and now have an inclination as to how it works. But sometimes, the technique that our art-block is using to keep us from expending energy on art can be elusive. It may be obscured by something we don't want to acknowledge, or simply too inextricable from the grasp of the subconscious. In such a case, we can employ some down-and-dirty psychology to use our bodies against themselves in order to take back control!
A. Pavlovian Inspiration
This is the sneakiest technique. It does require some setup. We will be using classical conditioning on ourselves.
1. Take some form of stimulus. Light, environment... Music is good, since it is accessible on command. Whenever you create art, play music, or activate whichever stimulus you have selected. This is especially important at the start of the artistic process.
2. Continue to play music throughout the art. Do this every time the art is attempted. If the music is the same every time, we will get a particularly strong effect from this pairing. (It will be a bit repetitive though. If it is the same type of music throughout, it should be OK.)
3. Continue to repeat this process every time the art is attempted.
4. Over several months, a pairing between art and this stimulus will be established.
During a period of art-block, exposure to this stimulus will bring out the pairing... and instantly suspend art-block! You have to be quick; this is a chemical reaction, and it will go away if you do not respond to the impulse to make art. (Or you may convince yourself that "I kind of want to draw now, but I bet it won't be worth it..." in such a case, ignore yourself, just sit down, and get to it. As you get into it, you will automatically feel better. Art-block works best as an incipient block; when we're already into the art, it will be more difficult to stop it!)
It is said that time heals all wounds. We can use the passage of time to decrease the influence of art-block.
If our art-block is stemming from something resembling example 1 (self-critique), it may be best to take a break from others' art for a while, and to just soak up ourselves. To regain confidence in our own art, about what makes it unique, our time and technique, may be just what the doctor ordered. For this period, do not watch TV or use the internet for the fastest effect. Something in your daily life may re-inspire you during this duration, something you might not have noticed before (because you were too busy paying attention to others' art!).
Money is the greatest motivator, because its potential is practically limitless. By exchanging art for money, we can realize some new possibilities, such as new art supplies or a subtle change in our life that can re-inspire us (like a new pet, or some new furniture). Not to mention cuisine. But business will support us and our art. It is important to indulge it sometimes.
There may be some Marxist concern, that using our art for money will lead to alienation. This is a valid concern, and to be honest, I don't have an answer to this, as I am currently wrestling with it myself. It may be best to engage in two different forms or venues of art at the same time, with one to contrast the other.
THE EFFICIENT MACHINE
Art-block is a complicated process. It prevents us from feeling like making art, because to put passion into something that we are subconsciously analyzing as ineffective would be a tremendous waste of energy--energy that could be used in gathering food or siring young. It's our job to undertake a little post-analyzation and figure out why our art isn't working for us any longer. Then we can start the repairs in spite of ourselves!
And when all else fails, give it time. The efficient machine will eventually beat that game!