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Prevent Artist’s Block By Balancing the Four Roles of the Creative Process

by Dan Bailey on July 30, 2010 · 6 comments

A number of years ago, I stumbled across a fun little book called A Kick in the Seat of the Pants. The book’s author, Roger von Oech, who runs a consulting firm that helps companies stimulate creativity and innovation in their businesses, defines the four main roles to creativity as follows:

The Explorer: The role that searches for new information.

The Artist: The role that turns information and resources into original ideas.

The Judge: The evaluative and critical role.

The Warrior: The role that puts the creative ideas into action.

When it comes to innovation and creativity, these roles can either be occupied by the same person, or in the case of organizations that have separate departments, they are often filled by different people.

As self employed photographers and artists, we wear all four hats all the time. When creating new imagery and coming up with original ideas about how to make, present, market or sell it, we fill all four of those roles. We are the research department, the creative department, the critique session and the worker bee, all rolled into one. This usually works well for us, because we have an intimate, firsthand connection with and personal control over our photography projects from start to finish.

However, what happens if you get hung up on one particular role, or if you start to lose balance between the four roles? What happens when, for some reason, you experience an artistic block, or if you suddenly become too critical of your own work, or if you can’t seem to find the motivation to move forward with your ideas? Your process slows down or stops completely, and you find yourself unable to fully exercise your creativity.

It takes enough mental effort to be creative AND run a business, and so it’s only natural that eventually we’ll all experience those slowdowns. After returning from what I considered to be a successful recent photo assignment last month, I went through a two day period of being extremely judgmental about the job that I did. I got down on myself thinking about the photos, angles and perspectives that I didn’t capture during the assignment, instead of focusing on what I liked about the photos that I did shoot.

When it comes to my other creative pursuits like my guitar playing and songwriting, I sometimes find myself full of what I think are great ideas, however, I can’t seem to motivate myself to actually record them. There is probably some sort of imbalance between my Judge and Warrior. During those times, I get through the block by mentally building up my Warrior’s confidence as I plug my guitar in and boot up Logic Pro. Usually that’s enough to get me started, and once I get going, I’m fine.

I always seem to have a strong judge, but fortunately, with photography, my warrior sense is usually strong enough to counter any overly self-critical instincts that I might have. I do find that sometimes my Explorer tends to be a bit stronger than my Artist, which often needs strong visual motivation or a new source of inspiration to get things going in that role.

Creativity, innovation and the ability to bring it out of your mind and into real life requires a strong sense of balance between those four roles. If you personify those roles, as Roger von Oech has done, it might help you sustain that balance and work efficiently within your creative process. It might also help you work through any temporary blockages that you might have. Those blocks are natural, though, so just remember to go easy on yourself when they do happen.

Question to readers: In evaluating your own creative blocks, which roles are the ones that tend to break down or that cause imbalance in your own creative process and how do you get past those blocks?

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Dan Bailey is a professional adventure, outdoor and travel photographer based in Anchorage, Alaska. Follow his own blog at danbaileyphoto.com/blog and see his daily updates at facebook.com/danbaileyphoto.

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