More Thoughts on "White Page Fright" / by Jeannine Cook

Having blogged about the situation that all artists encounter, sooner or later, of having "white page/canvas fright" and being unable to get going on creating a piece of art, I discovered that the blog resonated with people. 

What I had not expected was to find that Eric R. Kandel, in his superb book, "The Age of Insight" (about which I have previously written), indirectly addressed this situation.  Discussing why unconscious thought, or distracted thought, helps creativity, Professor Kandel cites studies carried out by Ap Dijksterhuis, a Dutch social psychologist, and his colleague Teun Meurs, which show that we all work best in terms of creativity when we don't consciously think about the problem.

Three groups of people were asked to perform various mental tasks, lists of activities or places, for instance. The people had to generate the lists immediately, after a few minutes of deliberately thinking about the lists or after a few minutes of being distracted by doing something else entirely.  Surprise, surprise – the groups all made the lists required, but the group that had produced the lists after being distracted, and thus being made "unconscious thinkers", made lists that were far more creative, interesting and full of differences.

So all those "strategies" of tidying up one's studio, taking the dog for a walk, ironing shirts, or whatever - are totally valid means of becoming creative. Artists have found all this for themselves, but it is interesting that carefully quantified studies validate all these strategems for becoming creative.  Professor Kandel details out the many insights into unconscious processes happening in the brain, and how it all works (pp.470-71).

As he states,  "distraction, letting the mind wander, may not only encourage unconscious (bottom-up) thought, but also, as evidenced by the emergence of a new solution, recruit a new top-down process from memory storage."  In other words, relax - the inspiration will come for that next work of art - when you least expect it.  But it will come - just trust that wonderful complex brain of yours!