Artistic states of block and flow are infamous and strike fear in creative people. Just after the end of WWI, Jackson Pollock shocked the world in 1947 with a subtle artistic innovation, emerging from a block of his own. His art studio was an old, messy farm shed littered with paint cans, brushes, and canvases, nothing else.
Flowing Rivers of Color
After a period of block in his painting, Pollock broke through ingeniously. Unable to achieve the ultimate abstract vision he held in his mind using conventional strategies, he tossed the traditional vertical canvas on his shop’s floor, puffs of dust flying up around the white square. Focused, Pollock made familiar tools foreign, canvas and paint, body and brush, rivers of color, entering his work, embodying the process. Paint flew. Pollock was the painting, the painting Pollock.
He wrestled with the flat canvas, dancing around the perimeter, trouncing in the red and black swirls and splotches, yellow and gray patches spotting him head to foot. He armed himself with multiple buckets and brushes, a can of paint in the left hand, brush, arm, and left hand merging into a single instrument, dripping, slapping, and flinging color against the white.
Pollock worked fast, the vision of the work etched in his focused facial expressions. He entered a fluid zone, where all was color and creativity. His passion flowed like small rivers of red and yellow, filling the blank space with the process of art.
Pollock’s famous drip paintings fundamentally disrupted the art world, and his creative brain was declared ingenious.
What was happening in Pollock’s mind? Cognitive studies suggest that the zone of creativity, in whatever medium of expression, reside in the same brain region. The right brain is typically associated with creativity in both art and writing, and in fact, Susan Sarah points out that “writers have an inexplicable, irresistible compulsion to express themselves via the art and craft of writing — often with a right brained, spontaneous, creative approach.” Pollock’s creative flow likely came from the right hemisphere of the brain, just as your own brain when in the grips of flurry of words that you cannot write on the page quickly enough.
Rivers of Words Erode Writer’s Block
The process of Pollock’s work inspires a writer. All art possess overlapping processes that elevate humanity, even when both artist and observer are driven into the deep. Unfortunately if we are inhibited by a block, inspiration disconnects, and neither writer nor reader benefit. Writer’s block is a serious cognitive state that all authors fear.
I ruminate over writer’s block often. Too often. Focusing on the block rather than the flow can be counterproductive. While the brain experiences moments when the words will not flow, the writer determines whether a momentary dry spell becomes a serious issue or forces innovation. A writer is blocked if she ceases to write, but if she links words on the page, though imperfect, she presses toward genius. Focusing on maximum flow naturally reduces or eliminates writer’s block, but ironically, the web is full of tricks to overcome the block. The better approach is to really examine how and when you flow, maximizing the environmental and mental factors that free you to write.
To focus on flow, you must shift the emphasis of your thought processes. Pollock reveals the artistic process as the essence of creation, not the product, or finished painting. Process is action, and product is passive. Looking at a painting close up, this is what you see in Pollock, the creative process captured, still alive with movement, texture, and color. You are not looking at a painting, you are looking at painting.
Writing lessons learned in Pollock’s living paintings
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Now it’s your turn. What are your thoughts on writer’s block and flow? What inspires your writing flow?