Welcome back to our monthly series Ask Angella, where we do exactly that.
If you’ve ever had a potentially sensitive creative question, we want you to throw it our way so that we can hand it over to Angella: our resident art writer, expert, and all-around kind, funny and wise human being. Here’s the question we’ll tackle this month:
“How do I stay curious when I’ve been doing the same things artistically?”
Did you know there’s three different kinds of curiosity? According to this guy, the way we wonder about the world can be set into three categories: diversive, which is an attraction to novelty; epistemic, a deeper search for knowledge; and empathetic curiosity, putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. Let’s focus on the first kind. Like coolhunting (looking to trends) or urban exploring (adventuring to abandoned places), it’s the activities that shake up our day to day that have the power to inspire us. Diversive curiosity can lift you out of your rut if you let it: maybe it’s just a matter of noticing something new on your regular walk to work or taking a different route home.
Get some distance
Do something else! Go somewhere else! Walk down a new street, take a different train, go out and see a movie. Make a list of all the museums in your town and go to the one that seems the least interesting. It may seem counterintuitive to leave your work desk while trying to mix it up, but the distance will give you vital perspective you didn’t know you needed. Activating previously unstimulated parts of your brain will likely yield unexpected results.
Seems obvious but it’s a good place to start. Have you ever stopped to consider how paint gets made or the history behind the building your studio is in? The world is full of open and inspiring secrets, you only have to ask. When’s the last time you went to a museum? Or read an article on a topic that you aren’t particularly interested in? Sometimes all it takes to jumpstart your brain is to (and I swear I say this in every post) go outside.
In a world obsessed with work and producing content (ahem), boredom is often framed as the enemy. But boredom is more generative than you think. Among the vast panorama of human experiences, boredom is actually a meaningful experience, according to Wired. “Boredom might spark creativity because a restless mind hungers for stimulation,” writes Clive Thompson, “Maybe traversing an expanse of tedium creates a sort of cognitive forward motion.” When your brain is left to its own devices (pardon my pun) it lapses into what is called a “seeking state,” meaning it’s looking to find ways to stimulate itself which is ultimately, a creative process. When’s the last time you sat still? Maybe when you finally get around to trying meditation, you’ll inadvertently come up with an idea you’ve never before imagined.
Leave your phone alone
Repeat after me: it comes from within. If this is too hippie guru for you let me put it to you plainly: leave your phone outside your work zone. Don’t touch it. Set a timer and plug it in in another room. When I need to focus deeply, I give my phone to a trusted friend and ask them to hide it from me, out of my sight so that I’m not even tempted to touch it or wonder about it. Technology may help you expand your scope of influence but it will surely rot your brain if you let it. When it comes to work, respect your own space and ditch the smartphone. Do it—right now. Put it away.
Are you a painter who always uses gouache? An illustrator who hasn’t touched a pen outside of a stylus? Consider picking up a new medium or tool to innovate your process. Or try getting back to basics. When was the last time you simply drew shapes? Or went to a life drawing session? What would happen if you tried drawing animals rather than human figures? Or using black and white when you’ve always stuck with color? Give yourself simple tasks that are just outside your norm, step by step. Easing out of your comfort zone may lead you to places in your imagination that you didn’t know were there.
Get used to being uncomfortable
Trying something new comes with requisite discomfort and you can’t grow without growing pains. An invigorating experience naturally comes with a little bit of irritation but it won’t last forever. It’s a better alternative to not coming up with anything at all, right? If you’re prepared for a little bit of uncomfortability while reinventing the wheel, you’ll be able to handle the discouragement or confusion that comes with trying something new. But you’ll be fine, you’ve got this!