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Old 03-19-2012, 07:32 PM
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amichael amichael is offline
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Rebuilding imagination

I have a relatively unique (I think) dilemma in that a decade ago I was put on a drug called Effexor XR for depression and anxiety and then discovered, several years later when all art ceased, that I had lost my ability to imagine. I also lost the desire to to do art, and the patience to sit for long hours working on one thing, but those I have gained back.

I thought I could be content doing what I do now, using reference photos and challenging myself to make the resulting artwork as ultra realistic as possible. It has satisfied me for the past 6 months but there's been a growing feeling that something is still missing, that I have part, but not all of my artistic ability back.

Of course the missing ingredient is still imagination. Pre-drugs I had no end of it, I daydreamed constantly, draw my ideas constantly, and now that it's gone I don't know how one even starts to get it back. I guess I feel like you either have imagination or you don't and you can't grow an imagination when there's nothing there sparking ideas. I literally can't even imagine what something might look like when someone describes something to me.

If I can't get it back then I will be content with what I have - the ability to do realism with photographic references. But I'd like to at least try to get it back, even if it takes years. I hope so much that I haven't irrepairably damaged my brain taking those stupid drugs... ok so they saved my life at the time but what a trade off...
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Old 03-19-2012, 08:18 PM
fritzie fritzie is online now
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Re: Rebuilding imagination

amichael, this sounds like a cause to bring to a doctor who actually specializes in this area. Mood-affecting medications are known to affect creativity, which has been a complaint of many who have taken them. On the bright side this means that there are medical people who have likely worked with their patients on how to recover the specific artistic or imaginative capabilities they have lost.
Most people have ways of getting their creative juices flowing, but these techniques may not work as effectively when there is an organic reason, such as an effect of medication, at issue.
Have you talked recently with a doctor about this?
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Old 03-19-2012, 08:43 PM
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amichael amichael is offline
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Re: Rebuilding imagination

I would do that but I haven't found a doctor, after moving interstate several times, that I'm comfortable and happy with yet. I have my doubts that they could do anything at all though - after being in the medical "system" for half my life now I have very little faith left in any of them. Thanks for the idea though, and if I do find a doctor that I can trust, I will bring this up with them and see if they have any insights.
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Old 03-20-2012, 09:11 AM
fritzie fritzie is online now
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Re: Rebuilding imagination

You might go to the website for the Mayo Clinic and pose your question, noting the specific medication, dose, and dates of taking it. Questions there are answered by medical professionals.
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Old 03-20-2012, 08:38 PM
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Re: Rebuilding imagination

"Imagine" by Jonah Lehrer is a book that just came out (interview on NPR).

Artists study art but don't always study creativity or imagination.
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Old 03-21-2012, 12:08 AM
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Re: Rebuilding imagination

Could you try surrealism? The juxtaposition of the unexpected? Something like that? I am not even sure I know what imagination is, so I wouldn't know if I "lost it." I've been working with the idea of pre-visualization-- visualizing usually through drawing what my final project will look like. Even then, the drawing is not like the sculpture. Too many accidents and Improvisational things happen while constructing it. Not all these things are imagined in advance. Some things happen while doing art. Why not allow "found" occurances-- that is "experimentaiton"-- guide you? Just walk in there with your eyes open, expecting nothing and letting chance set something in your hands. I feel that all artists suffer burnout and this is a time for a change. I am not saying you have burned out, but psych drugs have created "artificial" burnout, so I think you should treat your problem more like a writer's block.

How do you get unblocked?
Try a new process.
Try a new subject or medium.
Take a trip somewhere.
Open yourself to something you have never seen before.

Things like that...
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Old 03-21-2012, 11:10 AM
AllisonR AllisonR is offline
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Re: Rebuilding imagination

Your story freaks me out. As I am on meds, low dose, and I suppose, yes, they block the crazy highs and wild ideas, but I guess that includes creativity. I also have SEVERE distrust for the medical community. Though I think emailing the mayo clinic is a good idea. Or a hospital that specializes in unique medical problems. You don't have to take the advice if they have any, but its worth a shot.

I find that the more creative ideas I have, the more I get. When that part of my brain is not used, I get less and less ideas (which is rarely a problem for me, I have the opposite, just saying.) So I would get the creative ideas flowing at the very simple level - at the level you can right now. It might be bad. You don't have to show anyone your efforts. Trash them later. But do it, and hopefully as you start to get that part of your brain back, it will expand to bigger and better ideas. It is a viscous circle. I think it may take you time.
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Old 03-21-2012, 07:52 PM
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Re: Rebuilding imagination

Thanks, lots to think about here, I appreciate the input
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Old 03-22-2012, 01:29 PM
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Basalt Basalt is offline
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Re: Rebuilding imagination

This is a normal phase for any artist. Sounds like you fell into what I call "The Trap". You had some down time, focused on the lack of motivation you had, which only increased your lack of imagination, and the cycle continued.

It happens.

Basically you just need to stimulate your mind, change your thought process, find a way to shock yourself (not with electricity or in a dangerous way), just get out of your comfort zone. The best part is: YOU DO NOT NEED A DOCTOR TO FIX YOUR IMAGINATION.

Here are some ideas:
1)Take a trip to a new city, make a point to see some crazy architecture.
2)Go to a museum, installation, gallery, an in person experience.
3)Copy another artist.
4)Read some mind blowing philosophy you can barely understand (Heidegger, Tao Te Ching)
5)Find a new artist for inspiration
6)Ancient artifacts
7)New medium
8)New People

Edit: The more you think about your lack of imagination the worse it becomes.

Last edited by Basalt : 03-22-2012 at 01:32 PM.
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Old 03-22-2012, 04:20 PM
fritzie fritzie is online now
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Re: Rebuilding imagination

I suggested the Mayo Clinic, because I think that some drugs have known side effects and ways to circumvent them. In fact there has been a lot of recent research about how to counter or avoid the negative effects on creativity of some mood-changing drugs, like drugs used to treat bipolar disorder. While it cannot hurt to try strategies conventionally used to overcome "blocks" that are not chemically induced, I think it would make sense to find out what people have discovered for effects that are chemically induced.
One scholar in psychology who has written extensively about this problem of medicine-induced dampening of creativity is Kay Jamison of Harvard University, I believe.
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Old 03-25-2012, 11:42 PM
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Re: Rebuilding imagination

Aside from the advice to seek help about the drugs, Allison's list works. Here are a few other things that can help to stimulate creativity and ideas.

1) Draw, doodle, scribble and write when you first wake up - before you feel up to doing anything. This half asleep state is one where the creative right brain is most likely to bubble up new ideas. Don't try for perfection, just let your hands and mind wander with whatever comes up.

2) Try timed gesture sketching. This will improve your ability to draw from life anyway. It doesn't matter if they come out well. If you don't finish when the timer goes off, reset it and try a different sketch of the same object. Doing the same subject repeated times from photo or from life, especially from life, can seriously improve your grasp of that subject. It also helps you loosen up and discover what's important to give the likeness.

3) Try a medium that doesn't allow detail, like working with pastels or oil sticks, painting with a very large brush, anything where you have to get it down in large bold marks. Again, this helps develop ideas.

4) At any time of day, jot down any idea you get. Keep a small unlined moleskine or other art journal in your pocket. Accept ideas that interrupt other things you're doing. Get them down so that you can remember them later. This trains your unconscious mind to expect ideas to be appreciated and used.

5) Remember ideas that mattered to you, major projects you didn't have the skills to complete, times when you had a lot of ideas. Develop these by remembering them, build up to doing some of them. When you see something that reminds you of one of those ideas - maybe it was painting a waterfall or being able to do a baby's face justice or an animal you love - sketch or jot down the idea. Pay attention to it.

The important thing in this is to pay attention to any ideas you do have and consciously open the door to new ideas with things like the quick sketching, doodling and so forth. Accept ideas unconditionally. Don't be critical of them and don't invest days of careful realism into them as soon as you get one. If you start paying more attention to your ideas, they start to come more often until the good ones start showing up in ever more refined form.

Then start doing some of the preliminary methods many of the North Light books and ArtistsNetworkTV videos recommend - thumbnail drawing, value planning, notans, color studies. Do multiple versions before settling down to do a major piece.

Explore hard and soft edges and focus. One of the problems of meticulous detailed copying is that it'll make paintings over-detailed with diffuse emphasis. They tend to look stiff and lack depth. I've been there. If you keep the most detail and the most contrast in a good focal area and work looser and less contrasted with less intense colors as you move farther from that, with an interesting eye path leading to the focal area, then the paintings will start coming out a lot more powerful.

That's a leap I started making a few years ago and it's made a huge difference to me. It came in part from deciding that I wanted to sketch more and master fast sketching.

Oh, another one.

6) Choose mediums that are easy and fast. Brush pens, hard pastel sticks, watercolor pans with a water brush, charcoal or pastel pencils, stuff that's clean, portable and easy to use with little cleanup. Make it easy for yourself to get down any idea you have. Keeping light gray, medium gray and dark gray brush pens handy for value thumbnails is great. Keeping a pocket watercolor set with a water brush like the Sakura Koi set handy is a great way to do quick color studies. Or a small tin of artist grade oil pastels like the Caran d'Ache Neopastels - they blend well and have a great texture.

Sketch and wash with watersoluble pencils or colored pencils can be good for this kind of quick easy rendering too. Or markers. Just get something that is compact, easy to use and takes no prep or cleanup, just grab what it is and open an art journal or multi media sketchbook to use it. Work small and loose, get down the gist of what your idea is, like taking notes more than trying to do a finished painting.

With stories every time I get an idea for one I write up an Ideafile. This can be anything from a short story idea to a novel idea, and the good ones come up more than once.

The issue of drugs reducing your creativity is a tough one. I suspect these practices may help even against that by creating new brain pathways. Habits can alter your brain as much as drugs sometimes, and a habit of doing something creative often for very short periods of time, paying attention to the slightest creative impulse and rewarding it with activity will help those pathways become reflex, something that feels as deep as instinct.
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Old 03-30-2012, 11:41 AM
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Re: Rebuilding imagination

Try to remember being a child, what it felt like to imagine. Play, pretend in some other area and just maybe... the wonder will come back.

Be kind to yourself.
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Old 04-01-2012, 01:50 PM
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Re: Rebuilding imagination

Talk to your doctor, a psychiatrist about getting on a new medication. Tell him or her about your concerns about this situation. I am not a doctor, of course, but it is possible you are on the wrong med for the way your artistic mind works. Have you tried any of the SSRIs? I wonder why they put you on a, SNRI instead. Did you also have anxiety?

I had major concerns about this before I went on medication for my depression as well. I am on an SSRI and have not had problems. I had to go through a couple until I found the right one however.
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Old 04-02-2012, 01:29 PM
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Re: Rebuilding imagination

Are you certain that your lack of imagination is due to the meds? Perhaps it is a result of the depression itself? Depression can steal your light and energy, even your ability to imagine or picture things.
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Old 04-29-2012, 07:38 AM
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Jennobean Jennobean is offline
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Re: Rebuilding imagination

Hi,

Warm greetings to you. I would just like to encourage you to carry on - you will find your creative self again.
I also started creating art after a long break and found myself at a loss.
I've discovered that imagination - like art - responds to a disciplined approach. . . .
  • Determine to explore different ways of approaching a particular subject.
  • Brainstorm with words, images, feelings, associations, textures, mediums, and analogies.
  • Look up how the subject has been approached in the past. You will be surprised just how many images and perceptions reside in you.
  • Also, try loosening your technique. Blind contour drawing is great for doing this.
Don't give up - believe in yourself. Art is a process - not a destination.

kind regards,
Jenni
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Last edited by Jennobean : 04-29-2012 at 07:40 AM.

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