Baby Steps | encountering roadblocks in creativity

I’ve often wondered why I hesitate or become anxious before beginning a creative task. In the domain I’m most experienced in, music, I think it’s because I’ve studied it for many years and I have high expectations for myself. While I always aim for quality when I produce music, I’ve observed that my reputation in this domain may be the cause of creative roadblocks. In an effort to maintain a high standard, one often takes fewer risks subconsciously appeasing the arbitrary expectations of others.

Baby Steps by Jennifer Trijo

I’ve battled hesitation and indecisiveness during my creative processes and so the past 48 hours of mindful creativity has been very insightful for me. I realised that the creative play of drawing has brought about a childlike liberation that has laid dormant in my confined processes of music making. Realising that I knew very little about visual arts meant that I took more risk and have adopted a growth mindset. There was no reputation at stake for me, and so I embraced exploration wholeheartedly, giving very little thought to the possibility of mistakes.

After sharing two of my lead pencil sketches, Mother Nature and Cups and Conversations, with friends, I began to feel comfortable with the process of using that medium. In order to remain mindful, I’ve chosen to introduce a new medium: watercolour. I know nothing about watercolour techniques and my finished artwork would likely not be considered a watercolour artwork by anyone experienced in this craft.

“The most common reason we hesitate when presented with the opportunity to express ourselves creatively is our fear of other people’s negative opinions.”

– Ellen J. Langer

In the interest of keeping my mindfulness high and my hesitations low, I proceeded with little regard for potential criticism. Furthermore, I chose my toddler as the subject. People often don’t introduce new elements this early when adopting a new skill but I had nothing to lose and I wanted to create joyfully so I chose to draw Jasmine. My one-year old daughter brings me great joy so I focused on the positive emotions of my relationship with her and tried to refrain from being self critical. Jasmine inspired this work which I’ve titled Baby Steps. Her vibrant personality deserves colour. She’s also a curious risk taker so she was the perfect subject for this creative adventure.

In her book, On Becoming an Artist, Ellen J. Langer acknowledges the difficulty of attempting something without knowing the outcome. Interestingly, “studies show that people form evaluations based on their own needs, but we tend to accept other people’s evaluations as though they were objective.” And she argues that evaluations, both from ourselves and others, can prevent one from being mindful. Langer observes, “evaluations work just like rules; they dictate our response. We avoid things that lead to bad evaluations, gravitate to those that lead to good evaluations. But following rules can sometimes lead to mindless behaviour that is ultimately bad for us.”

So much about art is subjective and our culture has created conventions around artistic styles and genres which have left some creators feeling bound to arbitrary parameters for fear of criticism. But what if we could liberate ourselves from such fear? I’ve shared several works already from my creative journal, a seemingly private document, which may never have seen the light of day if I’d chosen to conceal this entire psychological experiment. Over the past few days, I’ve felt a change in my creative thinking which I hope to transfer across to other creative domains. My hope is that my curiosity will always be stronger than my fear.

“If we don’t begin with a rigid plan, it is hard to make a mistake.”

– Ellen J. Langer

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