Creating Art by Making Nothing


I have been on break for the past month, in between semesters. While many ideas have moved through my head, I have done- well, made- nothing. When I hit these moments of what seems like creative unproductivity, I have a tendency to shame myself with disappointment. I wonder why I didn’t use my time “properly”. So what have I been doing the past few weeks? Reading. Reading, sleeping, eating and spending time with my loved ones.

While I am a fan of “the work ethic”, which is something both my mother and my grandpa strongly live by, I try to remind myself that work comes in many different forms. Now, I know how this thinking can be a slippery slope. There is always Artist A, who simply works when inspiration strikes and they cannot force it, but it just comes like magic. And there is also the Artist B, the person who works no matter what. Everyday they make an effort, even when it feels like squeezing water from a potato. Why? Because of work ethic and the need to create.

So what happens when your practice doesn’t fit either A or B? That would be me- somewhere in between. I personally don’t like waiting for inspiration to hit. Usually inspiration hits when I am playing and toying around with other areas of my practice. But my productivity doesn’t exactly look like Artist B either. I am not always drawing, painting, photographing, collaging or performing everyday. But the same gears I use inside to make those works continue to turn regardless. Perhaps most of my work happens in my head, first. My brain is like a cow, chewing on an idea for hours or days, and then that idea evolves into another idea, then another, until I put something down in my journal and think some more, or do research.

So these past few weeks, this is what I have been working on in my studio: I have been reading about the spiritual practices of different women of color writers. Okay, so someone is rolling their eyes, I’m sure. Here we go, another fluffy, woo-woo, spirituality, creating, goddess, earth, art, create, art, yoga, feelings kind of art discussion. Yes, this is that, but it doesn’t mean it’s any less valid. I use intellect and theory to justify the work I make in a modern context, which allows the work to expand and talk to other artists and their work. But its initial growth comes not from my head, but feeling, intuition, a hunch or curiosity: what if I do this and put this next to that…? I think many artists work this way, but don’t call it ritual. To me, it is ritual. It is self-designed, experimental ritual. It is a very personal process of creation that vibrates from within, to the exterior and back into the interior.

Ultimately, what I read, see, do and feel subconsciously infuses my work. It is like stacking food for later inquiry. So in short, these past weeks, I have been filling my reserves with food for the now and the future. I have to let myself run apart and crash together like water. Water is not always consistent, and that’s ok, it flows nonetheless. My artistic rhythm and flow is enough, just as I am enough. Give yourself permission to work how you work and trust it’s all for something. You probably won’t see it right away, but time and space from now, you will see. I am certain of this.

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