I am going to write about my understanding of the creative cycle, how I define it and how I think it works. This is based on my own experience as an artist. The reason I think this idea is important is that grasping the undulating and repeating nature of this cycle could help you sustain your energy as a creative person for this most demanding of work patterns.

What is the creative cycle?

I think creative work happens in an undulating cycle – as shown in the diagram above. Sometimes ideas just seem to flow, at other times things slow down, stop or even seem to go into reverse. I think this is natural and possibly universal. I believe it happens in all creative endeavours. I think it’s innate to being human. I am talking here about energy, the supply of ideas, hope and purpose in your creative work. It’s what happens when you work on your own ideas probably because your own work is bound up with your idea of your self.

You might have noticed this in your work. I know I do a lot of cleaning up in my precious studio time that on the face of it seems like time-wasting or messing about. I reckon I do this putting-off-till-later activity when I could/should be producing things in order to get back into sync with my own creative cycle.

Here is a diagram showing the structure of the creative cycle as I experience it.

As I hope you can see it is a sequence that revolves in a tumble and can repeat ad infinitum (or as long as you carry on). Note that the main axis is not time in this case but progress and that for part of the cycle (it feels like) it goes into reverse.

In my view there are four phases in the creative cycle, I identify them as follows:

High

Aka: Inspiration, Excitement, Ideas, Flow, In the Zone, Progression, Germination, Invention.

The high phase is also probably everyones favourite part of the cycle, it’s fun, it’s exciting, it makes you feel vital and full of energy, ideas flow fast and effortlessly. This stage is marked by optimism and flaws in your plan can easily be ignored in favour of speed. This is likely to be the ideas stage and possibly the start of a production phase of creative work. At this stage your idea is likely to seem AWESOME and in need of rapid realisation.

Fall

Aka: Loss, Fall, Decline, Slowing, Barriers, Roadblocks, Second thoughts, Problems, Diversions.

All good things come to an end, this is also the case with a creative high. In my view this is a natural waning of energy not unlike being out of breath after a run. This state can also be induced by a problem or a diversion of some kind that interrupts the flow of energy and requires a review, a re-think or a pause to take stock. This stage feels like someone rained on your parade, just when things were really motoring, along come these doubts and problems that are only going to get in the way. At this stage your enterprise is going to seem flawed to some degree which is likely to feel disappointing.

Low

Aka: Confusion, Disintegration, Depression, Sadness, Disappointment, Stuck, Becalmed, Standstill, Struggle, Review, Re-assessment, Rest.

This part of the cycle is the most difficult and has the most painful feelings attached to it. This is the point at which it is most important to remember it’s an integral part of the whole, that this is a phase you need to go through. At this point any problems will tend to be in the foreground so they are most likely to come to your attention and seem larger than life. You are likely to feel confused, indecisive and dissatisfied, so it’s important to be patient and not beat yourself up for being here. Waiting, resting, may be the most important things to do at this stage. Behind the scenes your mind has to process all the problems and questions and your feelings about them. It’s easy to feel things are falling apart at this stage and that the endeavour at hand is fatally flawed. This could of course be true, it does happen, but the states of mind associated with this chapter in the story mean this may not be the best moment to make a decision. At this stage your plan is likely to seem hopelessly ill conceived or deeply flawed.

Patience and self-belief are the qualities you need to profit from this phase. The difficulties of this stage mask it’s purpose and usefulness. Your feelings about your project will probably have changed a lot and this may help you get a new perspective on it. You are also likely to loosen your attachment to and (ego) identification with your original concept and this may help free up your approach to it which could get things moving. This stage is difficult but it’s also rich in ideas, this is the shadow aspect of the creative cycle, here be dragons as they used to say, going through this unmapped territory means you have a story to tell, could you use it in the work? This part of the process is most likely to make you wiser, and remember, everyone goes through something like this.

Rise

Aka: Recovery, Gathering, Gain, Growth, Organisation, Building, Thinking, Relaxation, Problem Solving, Re-charge, Re-design, Restart.

This is the stage where your ideas are consolidated or revised, where you gather the intentions, materials and resources that will allow you to move on. This is also the moment at which you refine ideas to the point they are ready to produce. From here your scheme is likely to look redeemable, with problems that can be solved.

Repeat

This is a cycle so at this point it all goes round again …

Why is the creative cycle important?

The only reason this is important is so you can remind yourself at any point in the cycle that each phase will come round, there is nothing unexpected about these stages, however much you might like to linger in the high, knowing it will recur can be helpful in not only surviving the other parts of the cycle but getting value from them rather than thinking of them as a waste of time.

The improvised nature of a lot of creative work means it can be exciting but it can also use a lot of energy trying things that don’t work out, those failures are going to generate difficult feelings, understanding the creative cycle could help you see that there is a pattern to this work, that there is progression but it’s not obvious at every stage.

Reference links:

My Failures by Jeremy Deller

The 4 stages of creativity (skip to the video)

Getting lost in the woods, creative work is non-linear.

 

This idea is an integral part of The Artists Space talks, individual sessions and workshops. This article © copyright Simon Fell  2017, all rights reserved

 


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I have developed a one-to-one session and a workshop for artists, it’s called The Artists Space. The first sessions took place in June in Brighton. I want to write about how this evolved. The workshop or sessions are about taking the time to reflect on your practice and discuss the issues that concern you – with a fellow artist or group of artists. This idea came to me as a synthesis of different threads of ideas that have run through my career as a visual artist and designer.

 

The first of those threads is my concern with the social and political relevance of practicing art. When I was at art school (1974-6 Fine Art at Leeds) it was very hard to see how what we were doing fitted into the time and place where we lived, it appeared to exist in a vacuum and be separate or even divorced from most peoples reality. This was the hey day of conceptualism and while I found myself caught up in those ideas I also felt myself not quite believing in it, not feeling it was something I could do wholeheartedly.

 

When I was at Leeds I used to struggle with a profound lack of confidence in the value of making art. In order to make anything at all I had to wait until I had a strong idea and make it quickly before I was overcome with doubt again. I identified myself as an artist from my earliest memories so my time there was pretty difficult and envisaging a career as a sculptor or artist was fraught with contradictions.

 

It was this complex of feelings and ideas that led me into becoming a community artist. After volunteering briefly at the Deptford Albany I got a job at Paddington Printshop in West London working with campaign groups designing silk screen posters and leaflets. This was my dream job at the time, combining as it did creative work with political and social awareness and working as part of a team.

 

The other thread came into my life around this time (mid 1980’s) when I joined my first men’s groups. The men’s groups were a response to the fact that so many women were joining feminist women’s groups and gaining support, knowledge and strength from the practice. The men’s groups also put me in contact with psycho-therapy as many of the participants were trying it out as a response to the underlying problems that were coming to light in the men’s groups which clearly did not have simple solutions.

 

I have supported myself with art/ illustration/ design related jobs for the whole of my career now and a few years ago decided to become more focused on the art aspect of this. It’s worth mentioning here that through my own psycho-therapy sessions my understanding of myself as an artist has changed over time. I am now much more at ease with myself as a creative person and value the opportunities I have to exercise that creativity through my craft skills and ability to think. Organising myself to make more of my living through this skill combination is another matter and an ongoing challenge as I am sure it is for most of us. One of the pieces of advice I got more than once was to curate or get involved in organising shows and artists in some way. This never seemed very practical for me so I have not taken that advice literally as yet.

 

I have done several years of personal psycho-therapy and psycho-analysis and this has had a profound influence on my thinking both about my life in general and my practice as an artist. Psycho-analysts of all kinds (there are many varieties) work by listening to their clients in a holistic way, that is they listen to what you are consciously talking about and for signs and messages from the unconscious mind too through sub-texts and dreams. This means that they see people as much deeper and complex entities than most of us present to each other in our daily interactions. The unconscious mind includes shadowy and primitive aspects of ourselves that we have learned to screen out most of the time but which influence us frequently but in ways that are hard to see.

 

It is this perspective which led me to think that I would really like to use my own rich and varied experience of maintaining a career in the visual arts in a constructive way that involves other artists. So I have devised a workshop programme that will give artists the space to review their own paths and compare and contrast their experience with others in the same area of work. The workshop will consist of exercises that open up discussion and ideas about the true diversity of artists practices – we will not be doing psycho-therapy although I do hope that the event will have a therapeutic effect on the participants.

 

Find out more details about – The Artists Space 


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So here I am sitting in a gallery full of art invigilating so the public can have access to it whenever they want to.
I am finding that the context of this big white space (No Format gallery in Woolwich, London SE18) is a great way to look at the work and allows discussions to start. The gallery environment is a reflective one, with plenty of space and a timeless quality that makes it a refuge from other concerns, it’s almost like a retreat, it has elements of a place of worship in a secular mode. The staging of the show is not precious though, it’s pleasantly informal and physically accessible.

I am finding that I tend to develop a fantasy of how the show will go, how a steady stream of enthusiastic visitors will flock to the show, how people will be curious and enquiring and tell all their friends. Needless to say these ideas keep bumping up against the reality of an exhibition in a quiet London suburb in part of a regenerating industrial area that is transitioning from old uses and industries to new populations and start-ups. It’s a dynamic area with all kinds of interesting businesses, organisations and individuals all ferreting away to establish their niche in the economy of the capital.

One issue the show has thrown up is that of selling things. It is obviously desirable that we would make some sales of the artworks in the show and it remains to be seen if this will occur at the time of writing. There are other possibilities though and this is part of my thinking about revenue streams for artists, that the more diverse and sustainable revenue streams we artists can establish the more chance we stand of making our work sustain us so we can spend more time involved in it. To this end I have organised postcard sales at the show. This is hardly revolutionary, nor will it pay the rent in itself but as an idea it points the way to allowing income to flow in our direction not only from those rich enough to have sufficient disposable income to buy original artworks but from a much wider market that wants a reminder of the show, some token they can take away, something more than a memory, something tangible to hold on to that reflective secular space that our work represents and inhabits. In this case I think these sales may be more important symbolically than they are financially but it is an issue I will be addressing early on in the next show I am involved in.

Some other thoughts about exhibitions:
1 Wear a badge at the PV
Put your name on it and your twitter handle, this makes it easier for people to start conversations with you and to connect in a real way with people who you have only encountered online up until now. These things are not cool I am sure but they could really help those of us less gifted in the social department.

2 Weather
The English weather is such a major factor in determining how many people are out and about and likely to turn up at an event or not. I think you have to learn to suspend your expectations until after the event. This is an emotional impossibility of course, expectations build up as matter of course and adjustment of some kind inevitably follows, it’s another of those recursive patterns that keep turning up everywhere I look now.

Recursive


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This will be the first time I have used this blog in the way it’s meant to be used, as a log of a project, or in this case an exhibition. I am showing in the ‘Recursive’ show, curated by Jane Boyer at the No Format gallery in South East London this October.

This blog is part of the way I became involved in the show. I targeted my promotional tweets to a few artists and curators I was following including Jane. She later got in touch with me with an outline of the show which was actually initiated by another of the participating artists Hitomi Kammai.

Working with a curator is a new experience for me, it’s a nice contrast with working on my own and it brings me into contact with new and different ideas and approaches. Sometimes it’s a negotiation or a trading of ideas and intentions other times I just have to remember to communicate what I am thinking.

Having a show to look forward to is changing my thinking and behaviour, to some extent it’s a focus, it’s a fixed point in time so I’ve got to get things prepared and I have to get myself ready. I guess it helps you take yourself more seriously as an artist when you get to show your work to an audience. My shows have now been so far between that this one’s giving me a greater sense of delivering the work to the point where it’s ready to be seen. It feels more like a launch than taking something to market which it also is. I am trying not to get carried away with the expectation of selling things, but my fingers are crossed just in case.

The show is called ‘Recursive’ which is a interesting twist on the concept of repetition and is defined thus: “Relating to or involving the repeated application of a rule or procedure to successive results in time” I see recursion as a cycle much like the creative cycle where you go through a series of stages which do not all feel like progress but which bring you back not to your starting place but to a place where you have assimilated some learning, thus you progress if you are lucky, but not in a straight line.

Recursion is also a term used in artificial intelligence where a robot goes through a cycle of experience and learns from it so that the next time it goes through the cycle it is better informed and can do it better.

So what does recursive mean in terms of my work? In ‘Autobiography”, which is a series of nine, wheeled ceramic vehicles there is some repetition in that each one has four wheels (producing the wheels was certainly a production line). Beyond that point the piece takes mass production as a theme with variations, each vehicle is as different in character as possible, the very opposite of actual car production where the variations are extremely constrained by commercial considerations. In the recursive model I would be learning from making each vehicle, incorporating what I learned into the next cycle of making – which is exactly what happens all the time with tacit or craft skills like clay modelling.

Repetitive obsession is really common among artists. I think if I had more time to spend in the studio I would make a lot more iterations of the same idea than I do currently, just to help work out the technical and aesthetic issues each idea brings up. I seem to have started working faster and more roughly to aid in this. It’s partly because I think I am becoming less precious about the work, I no longer think it’s very important that each piece proves that I can do my job, it’s more important that I get the idea across and often the fastest way of getting it down has most authenticity about it, the most freshness.

This is an eternal conundrum, so often the sketch is the best stage of a work.

Recursive at No Format Gallery,
London SE18 Oct 9th – Nov 2nd

 


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Recursive blog post 02

 

This will be the first time I have used this blog in the way it’s meant to be used, as a log of a project, or in this case an exhibition. I am showing in the ‘Recursive’ show, curated by Jane Boyer at the No Format gallery in South East London this October.

 

This blog is part of the way I became involved in the show. I targeted my promotional tweets to a few artists and curators I was following including Jane. She later got in touch with me with an outline of the show which was actually initiated by another of the participating artists Hitomi Kammai.

 

Working with a curator is a new experience for me, it’s a nice contrast with working on my own and it brings me into contact with new and different ideas and approaches. Sometimes it’s a negotiation or a trading of ideas and intentions other times I just have to remember to communicate what I am thinking.

 

Having a show to look forward to is changing my thinking and behaviour, to some extent it’s a focus, it’s a fixed point in time so I’ve got to get things prepared and I  have to get myself ready.  I guess it helps you take yourself more seriously as an artist when you get to show your work to an audience. My shows have now been so far between that this one’s giving me a greater sense of delivering the work to the point where it’s ready to be seen. It feels more like a launch than taking something to market which it also is. I am trying not to get carried away with the expectation of selling things, but my fingers are crossed just in case.

 

The show is called ‘Recursive’ which is a interesting twist on the concept of repetition and is defined thus: “Relating to or involving the repeated application of a rule or procedure to successive results in time” I see recursion as a cycle much like the creative cycle where you go through a series of stages which do not all feel like progress but which bring you back not to your starting place but to a place where you have assimilated some learning, thus you progress if you are lucky, but not in a straight line.

 

Recursion is also a term used in artificial intelligence where a robot goes through a cycle of experience and learns from it so that the next time it goes through the cycle it is better informed and can do it better.

 

So what does recursive mean in terms of my work? In ‘Autobiography”, which is a series of nine, wheeled ceramic vehicles there is some repetition in that each one has four wheels (Producing the wheels was certainly a production line). Beyond that point the piece takes mass production as a theme with variations, each vehicle is as different in character as possible, the very opposite of actual car production where the variations are extremely constrained by commercial considerations. In the recursive model I would be learning from making each vehicle, incorporating what I learned into the next cycle of making – which is exactly what happens all the time with tacit or craft skills like clay modelling.

 

Repetitive obsession is really common among artists. I think if I had more time to spend in the studio I would make a lot more iterations of the same idea than I do currently, just to help work out the technical and aesthetic issues each idea brings up. I seem to have started working faster and more roughly to aid in this. It’s partly because I think I am becoming less precious about the work, I no longer think it’s very important that each piece proves that I can do my job, it’s more important that I get the idea across and often the fastest way of getting it down has most authenticity about it, the most freshness.

 

This is an eternal conundrum, so often the sketch is the best stage of a work.


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