Brianne Gidcumb | March 2017

Navigating the Creative Desert

There are times in life when we, as educators, as artists, and humans, encounter a period that I’ll call, for the sake of adding drama to the subject, the creative desert. I am in the midst of one of those periods right now. In fact, I am so lost in the desert that when it came time to write this article, all I could think of to write about was my inability to write. What kind of barren mental wasteland is that? However, I have found that when I am burdened by something mentally, emotionally, or creatively, chances are I am not the only one, and there can be great value in sharing our struggles. So I’m sharing my struggle through this creative block with you, in hopes that it might resonate with someone and provide some mutual catharsis.

When the Well Runs Dry

Since I was diagnosed with leukemia four months ago, my mind has been consumed with doctor’s appointments, test results, reminders to take my medication, the physical toll of my treatment, the emotional toll of the diagnosis itself. All of this doesn’t leave much room to explore creative pursuits. I’ve found myself in a mental haze, a more forgetful, less focused version of myself when it comes to things as small as what’s on my to-do list. Creating something new and original? That’s too far outside my mental capacity at this moment in life.

We all encounter moments in life that consume our minds and hearts, that make the idea of creating something feel like an insurmountable task. Illness, broken relationships, deaths of loved ones, and even experiences that are far less catastrophic can knock us off kilter and leave us reeling, struggling to make sense of the life we are now living in the shadow of what we knew yesterday. It’s natural for creativity to take a back seat when you are simply trying to navigate each moment, trying to get through each day in one piece.

In a Creative Desert? Try this.

I’ve spent too many moments stressing about the demise of my creative impulse, and not enough simply enjoying what still remains, what still comes naturally, how I might shift my lens of creativity to serve where I’m at right now. Throughout these months of worrying about whether or not I’ll get that creative spark back, I’ve actually had some really beautiful creative and artistic experiences.

I’ve found myself picking up my ukulele and learning a quick song when I’m sitting home alone. I’ve turned to write about my illness as a means to deal with my new reality. I’ve enjoyed the incredible art my city has to offer- the Art Institute of Chicago, Hubbard Street Dance, Broadway in Chicago.

So here are the few tips I’ve compiled to deal with the creative desert.

  1. Don’t stress. You haven’t lost the artistic and creative spark. It is still there. You may have to see your creative spark through a new lens when everything else in life changes. You may be dealing with an extraordinary set of circumstances – have a little bit of compassion for yourself.
  2. Do what comes naturally. Feel the impulse to pick up an instrument, to draw or paint, to journal? Do it. Just as we need to give air time to what is weighing us down mentally and emotionally, those creative impulses deserve their air time as well. You may find pieces of yourself in those creative releases.
  3. Find inspiration. Go to a play, listen to music, find a gallery or museum. I’ve found myself inspired by works of art I’ve already seen in new ways. My capacity to respond to great works of art feels bigger. Even though I might never be able to paint or perform the same way these incredible artists do, their success is of value to my creativity. The inspiration they provide is a gift.

Wherever you are in the creative desert, and for whatever reason, know that you have company and that we will not be here indefinitely. I’d love to hear your strategies for dealing with creative block – please feel free to post your advice below! See you at the oasis.

About the Author

Brianne is a former music educator from Chicago and current graduate class instructor with EdCloset’s Learning Studios. She earned her Masters degree in Music Education from VanderCook College of Music and has over a decade of experience in the elementary general music classroom. With her experience in the performing arts, Brianne is dedicated to building connections between the arts and Common Core Standards, 21st century learning skills, inquiry and project-based learning. In addition to her work with EducationCloset, Brianne is a yoga instructor in the Chicagoland area. You can also find Brianne here: https://artsintersection.wordpress.com/