Pray for Rain and Dig for Water! A Traditional Way to Overcome Creative Block

One of my students at www.Pontifex.University has been commissioned to contribute to an exhibition and has to create one painting a month for the coming year. She asked me if I had any experience of artist’s block when approaching deadlines, saying she was beginning to feel some anxiety about whether or not she would be able to paint at her best and this was inhibiting her. 

The best I could do was suggest the following to her as my personal approach to dealing with it. I can’t promise it will work for everyone but it has always worked for me, so it might be of help to some of you out there who a facing a similar situation too.

1. Stick to a routine: Schedule the time and paint, regardless of how you feel and just do your best. Put pen to paper, fingers to the keyboard (as I am doing now), or brush to canvas and make it happen. Painting engages the intellect and I find that usually my work isn't actually affected by how I feel very much. Also, the action of painting will induce a particular feeling more in harmony with the activity, and so it will be more enjoyable once I actually get going. Aside from scheduled breaks (which are a good idea), during your scheduled time never give up and go and do something else instead such as washing the dishes...or teaching yourself to juggle (which is what I did while studying for my finals at university - I learned to juggle but I'm not convinced it did much to raise my degree classification. This is where past discipline and practice help. The more ingrained the good habits and skills are, the better the quality of the work regardless of mood. In a totally different context, the South African golfer, Gary Player always used to say something that is nevertheless apropos: ‘The more I practice, the luckier I get.’ 

2. Set up an icon corner and pray. Create your prayer corner in the traditional form (Mary on the left, Crucifixion in the center, risen Christ on the right) and pray to it (look at the icons, stand, bow for the doxology etc).

 Here’s a simple icon corner I created for my courtyard garden where I live. The plants are fairly new so I am waiting for them to mature - and for the vines to climb up the frames - but its getting there.

Here’s a simple icon corner I created for my courtyard garden where I live. The plants are fairly new so I am waiting for them to mature - and for the vines to climb up the frames - but its getting there.

If you can sing simple monotone chant all the better. Pray some sort of prayer for guidance, but  I suggest the following:

In the name of the Father Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen
Glory to you O God , Glory to You!


Prayer to Holy Spirit: O Heavenly King, Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, present in all places and filling all things, Treasury of Goodness and Giver of life: come and abide in us. Cleanse us from every stain of sin and save our souls, O Gracious Lord.

Trisagion Prayer: Holy God. Holy Mighty. Holy Immortal Have mercy on us.(3)
Glory be to the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit, both now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen

All Holy Trinity, have mercy on us. Lord, forgive our sins. Master, pardon our transgressions. Holy One, visit and heal our infirmities, for the glory of Your Name.

Lord, have mercy.(3)

Glory be to the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit, both now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen

Our Father, Who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Thine is the Kingdom and the Power and the Glory of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, both now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

Lord have mercy (3)

Way of Beauty prayer: God be in my thoughts and words and deeds. Send your Holy Spirit that I many complete your will, grace responding to grace. May the beauty of my work inspire those who see it to love as Christ loved, that through worship of you and charity to others, all may know His peace and joy.  

3. A spiritual exercise for anxiety reduction: If you really have to deal with feelings of deep anxiety,  adopt the method of analysis of fears and resentments that I outline in my book The Vision for You. I have been doing these spiritual exercises daily for nearly 30 years now and there is no anxiety yet that it hasn't been able to dissipate.

If I was to summarize the approach, two sayings come to mind:

Pray for rain and dig for water! or

Work like it depends on you, Pray like it depends on God.

And finally, if none of that works, then try the secular method: stare at the blank canvas, or blank page, and think of a clever justification for it, as it is, as a work of art. Ideally, this will be peppered with pseudo-intellectual jargon. Then call yourself a cutting-edge Minimalist. 

The quality of the work is as good as the justification you create - and remember it doesn’t actually have to make sense, so you’ll get away with any old gobbledygook as long as you can keep a straight face as you do it. After, all, that’s what most other people have done for last 100 years.

 ‘ What is it? is a stupid question’  a blank canvas named by David Clayton (copyright 2018)

What is it? is a stupid question’ a blank canvas named by David Clayton (copyright 2018)