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CRAFTS : How to Chisel Ideas From a Creative Block

March 18, 1993|ZAN DUBIN | Zan Dubin covers the arts for The Times Orange County Edition

Some people clean the shower. Some iron. Some pay delinquent doctor bills. Creative block does have its benefits.

But that profound reluctance to knuckle down, that irresistible need to do almost anything but stitch a quilt, throw a pot or paint porcelain can be frustrating, demoralizing and depressing.

And it certainly isn't exclusive to fine artists or novelists. Crafters suffer too. They say that it's a lot like facing a blank canvas or empty computer screen and that it usually comes on like an asthma attack when it's time to come up with a new idea or design.

"The fear of jumping off into the unknown causes that block," says ceramic artist Randy Au of Costa Mesa. "It's a fear of failure.

"The word perfectionist probably originated with (creative) people. We're so critical of ourselves; it's obviously a lot easier not to do anything (when you think) it's not going to be perfect. The block comes because you're putting so many demands on yourself."

The stressful feeling that constant improvement is imperative can lead to creative cramp too.

"There's this fear of not being able to do better than what I've done before," said Becky Ninburg, who takes jewelry courses at Cal State Fullerton. "I put a lot pressure on myself (and assume) that everyone else thinks I should be better" with every effort too.

The Muse malaise can even strike in the middle of a project, said Rene Megroz, a woodcarver from Laguna Beach.

"You might be working on something and it looks fine to you," Megroz said. But "then you start doubting it. You think, 'How will it look to someone else? Will I make a fool out of myself?' "

Creative block can last from a few minutes to a month, crafters say. Avoidance tactics vary as well.

Instead of sitting at her work table, Ninburg recently "cleaned the mold off the top of my shower."

Au typically reorganizes his countless bottles of paints and glazes.

Megroz leaves town. "If I don't have any good ideas," he said, "I don't have the inclination to do anything."

To overcome creative block, Ninburg likes to call a fellow crafter for a pep talk. Au might talk to himself ("I go, 'I'm still a creative person, and I have the creative tools to make something' "), read a good book, walk on the beach or allow himself to take a longer break.

"There has to be a limit on it, though," he said. "You can't take an endless vacation."

Megroz exerts old-fashioned self-discipline.

"I usually just force myself back to work," he said. "I just do it, like the Nike commercial."

Thomas Mann, a nationally known jeweler based in New Orle ans, typically needs nothing more than a hefty dose of caffeine.

"Sometimes all it takes is a couple of cups of strong coffee," Mann said, "to cut through the block and get the initial stuff going. And once that's going, then (ideas) come out like crazy.

"I can't help but recall the Goethe quote that says once the commitment is made, providence steps in (to help). You just have to commit yourself to doing it, to accomplishing it, and then you are supported by the cosmos, as it were. I've seen that happen to me hundreds of times."

Radio psychiatrist David Viscott has been treating actors with stage fright, opera singers who suddenly lose their voices and others with similar problems for the past 30 years.

Essentially, he said, a crafter's trouble arises when self-worth is dependent on the excellence of the product he or she makes, in the same way that a suitor's self-esteem depends on requited love. In other words, if my quilt is OK, I'm OK.

"The act (of creativity) becomes a symbolic measurement of worth," said Viscott, best known for his KABC-AM radio therapy program. "You have to have the (craft) object be loved, in the same way you have to be loved" by a person you desire.

Viscott, who will lead a seminar on creativity in Newport Beach this weekend, suggests that crafters avoid fine-tuning in the heat of creativity.

"If you're going to be an editor at the same time you're being a creator, you'll edit your creativity right out."

Having the confidence to make mistakes helps too, he said, although even artistic titans have endured self-doubt. According to Viscott, Beethoven, on his deathbed, was said to have asked a friend, " 'I did have a certain talent, didn't I?' "

Viscott will lead a seminar titled "Enhancing Your Creativity" Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. both days at the Four Seasons Hotel, 690 Newport Center Drive, Newport Beach. Topics include overcoming creative block, creative burnout, sources of inspiration and tapping creativity. Admission is $150 per day or $250 for both days. Reservations recommended. Information: (213) 651-0961.

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