Tuesday, November 6, 2007

It's blank and it's scary

I'm going to talk about something everyone has experienced from time to time: Blank page fear.

Some people call it "new sketchbook fear", "white canvas fear", "empty notepad fear", but it all boils down to the same thing: A fresh clean space is looming before us and we don't want to mar the surface.

I experience this about once every couple of months when I buy a new Moleskine sketchbook. These books are so well made and so pretty that opening the cover and putting pencil to the first page is something of a fearful moment. Why? Because I don't want to ruin that page with some horrible doodle or half-baked idea.

Therein lies the problem. Many artists, be it designers, writers, illustrators, painters, 3d modellers, musicians and so forth are paralysed by the notion of failure: The all powerful mistake.

From the outset this is ludicrous. I buy the sketchbook for the very purpose of filling it with mistakes. I'll repeat that: I buy sketchbooks for the very purpose of filling them with mistakes!

Some smart cookie once said we learn from our mistakes. Another more well known one said “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.”. So why do we still fear failure if our mistakes are what make us better?

Sir Ken Robinson has a theory and I tend to agree with it (watch the talk, it's amazing). Our culture has developed into an industrial mindset of failure being the worst possible thing you can do. Education can kill creativity by instilling the notion that mistakes are useless and should be avoided at all costs.

So how do we get past this? Fear ultimately does one of two things: It drives us or it halts us in our tracks. Let's look at that in the light of the sketchbook example. I can either draw something or not. Not doing anything leaves a blank page and i've learned nothing. Doing anything at all means i've done something either good, which I can be proud of, or horrendous, which I can learn from.

Digital art programs and writing applications means we almost have no excuse for not at least trying. I've halted many times in Photoshop with a slate of blank pixels and then thought "It doesn't really matter what I do since I can always try again or paint over it."

Trial and error should be the norm of creativity. Why let little things like mistakes get in the way of your creations?

1 comment:

Rebeccak said...

Hehe, inspiration comes and goes - ultimately you do the things you feel the necessity to do because you just can't not do them. There's no positive / negative value attached to whether you do or don't do something specific (like drawing) - ultimately you are the only person to which this activity or non-activity matters, and the dedication you have or don't have defines your commitment, from the inside out. There are just moments when you get a little wind in your sails and you just try. You can't really force your own will.