How Too Much Thinking Can Affect An Artist’s Creativity

by | Jun 25, 2008 | Blog | 5 comments

The most common complaints I hear from students and fellow painters have to do with too much thinking. Our minds are so creative. Individual thoughts and experiences are utilized by our mind to make our artwork unique and personal. But that same mind can sometimes get in the way, creating mental static and keeping us from creating. It’s sometimes hard to distinguish between a valid need for a rest break and plain old stubborn mental static. Generally when my mind is acting like a lawyer making convincing arguments that create a stuck feeling, then that is the time I need to override the thought patterns. The best solution is to grab a paintbrush and paint anything – just paint – doesn’t matter what. The act of painting changes the program.

Here are some examples of my mind’s favorite arguments. “Sales are not happening right now so why bother? My work isn’t good enough so why bother? I’m too tired. There’s not enough time today to get anything done. I have too many other pressures that need my attention.” Well, all these arguments at the time might have had some validity to them (our creative minds only use good arguments). But there is always some time in the day to paint – even if only for an hour. And in that one hour generally all the arguments fall apart.

The over thinking mind uses its best legalese at choice moments in our process. When we are at the brink of something new and big, ready for a change or to expand, the mind gets a bit nervous (as it is wired to keep status quo and avoid change) and launches its best attack in the hopes of keeping us from taking action. Each of these times feels like frustration or creative blocks, and represent a prize moment in our passage towards the next momentous step. We can choose to give in to the arguments and stop our progress, or override the arguments and enter a new phase in our creative work.

As I mentioned before, the best way to end this nasty phenomenon is to paint anyway. But here are some steps to help switch the program. First, just notice that you are using legalese-mental static. Then gently acknowledge to your mind that you appreciate it’s efforts to help, but that you are OK painting and that new changes in your creative process are not life threatening. The more creative we are as artists the better the overthinking mind can use convincing arguments. Acknowledge how crafty our mind is but let it know you will be taking over.

Recently a student emailed me with the argument that she doesn’t have enough technique, so she isn’t painting. She wrote a whole page about it. This student has been studying painting for years and has more technique then most artists I know. Her argument should have received a prize it was so good, but what gave it away was the over arguing. If, however, she had asked a specific technique question – like how do I make this color more opaque – or which colors will give me a certain effect – then I would know she is searching for real information. But I could tell this was just another over-thinking moment, and that she just needed to paint to change the thinking.

The “not enough technique” is one of the most common arguments. I honestly believe that we only need a small amount of technique to get our message visible and understood. It’s in the process of painting that we discover the next technique, and add that to our creative “toolbox”. Even though workshops are good to take, and there are instructors with great advice, the next technique that we need is usually discovered on the spot with paints in hand. I like to take one or two week-long workshops a year to learn something new, but I have seen some students use workshops as an excuse to avoid working on their own, and making their personal mark. It is important to take time – several months at least – to create work on your own without any teacher or group influence. Too much technique is often overburdening (trust me on this one). All you need is a few paints and a brush and a clear mind, and a joyful spirit (usually found by turning off the thinking mind) and you can create the most superb paintings of our time.

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    It is wonderful right here. good research. I've been searched this kind of information for quite a while. thanks

  2. canvas paintings

    great words of wisdom, thanks for posting your thoughts

  3. Block Dog Art

    Insightful post, just the thoughts and advice I need right now and I think every artist needs every so often. I came across you blog by chance but the timing is right on, since I am heading to an out of town workshop and clearing my mind and keeping a “joyful spirit” will definitely help me get the most out of it. thanks

  4. Rebecca

    Thank you! This is excellant advice – just paint. As I start out in my path towards artist I’m finding it difficult to keep a focus, I get so many ideas, I drift from one to another, and I’m sure I’m not learning properly. But i’ll remember – just paint.

    And, yeah!, I can post a comment without being google. Wonderful!

  5. Regina

    Excellent post! Just this week my husband commented that he thinks some of my best work comes when I just “go for it”. These are those times when I’m exhausted or blue or bored… I just head to my art table and start to “play”. Then that critical voice really has no place since I’m playing. When I set myself free this way, I work intuitively and often add new techniques to my work. All that time spent reading/browsing art books such as your “Acrylic Revolution” feeds into that creative time. A bonus from this time is that I’m generally happier when I leave the art table, and more confident about approaching my projects.


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About Nancy

Professional fine artist Nancy Reyner’s blog about art, painting and creativity. Her career spans over 30 years. She lives in Santa Fe in the US. Subscribe below for free tips on art and painting.

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