deconstruction of ennui: to be creative is to oft be bored

Test Sequins 04

As I started exploring this topic of boredom & the creative life deeper by polling my Twitter friends, some very interesting trends popped out. I’ve covered a few already – but Kirsty Hall, an artist, purveyor of mad obsessive projects, and internet hand holder, let me know that boredom is part of her creative process.

The not so fun part.

And I completely relate. There is a part in creating anything of great worth that is quite boring. Stopping once you get there is what causes promising mediocrity. Pushing through that lack of interest is what creates something truly remarkable.

So I asked Kirsty to elaborate on her types of creative boredom. Here’s what she had to say:

The first phase is the ‘You Know What Would Be Really Good’ stage.

This is the boredom I get when I’m between projects and approaching the end of the ‘cooking ideas’ stage. I know that I’m ready to move onto the next project when I start hatching up crazy household plans. When my family find me randomly painting walls without warning or coming up with grandiose gardening schemes, they’ve learnt to order me back into the studio before I can cause too much mayhem. Otherwise I start saying things like, ‘we must strip this hideous wallpaper off RIGHT NOW!’ But then a couple of days later, I’ve had my latest art idea and the wall is left abandoned and left unfinished for several years.

It’s sort of like nesting when you’re pregnant. Needless to say, my poor family live in fear of the phrase, ‘you know what would be really good…’

The second sort of creative boredom is the ‘It’s All Shit’ stage.

This is when I’m working on a project and I hit the mental equivalent of a patch of black ice. I will suddenly be so bored and infuriated with my own work that I could just about scream.

It feels like the sort of tension you get before a thunderstorm and I’ll often be in a vile mood for a day or two. This is a sign of one of two things. Either the thing I’m working on really is rubbish OR I’m about to have a huge breakthrough with it.

I usually push through these patches because I’ve learnt that they’re a prelude to that leap in understanding or a new way forward with the idea. However, if I go into the studio and everything I touch turns to shit and I start wanting to throw things, I take a mental health day because I’ve learnt that it’s pointless trying to work on those particular days. Fortunately they’re very rare.

The third kind of creative boredom is the ‘Kill Me Now’ stage.

Because I make repetitive, process based sculptures that take months or even years to complete, there are moments when I would rather bang my head repeatedly against the wall instead of sewing one more bloody sequin on an apron.

This is when I start thinking, ‘why did I start this bloody stupid project?’. Because my process is so slow, I’ll usually hit it several times during the creation of one of my mad, obsessive projects. When it strikes, I switch gears – so I’ll take a break and do some gardening, drawing, knitting or reading for a couple of days or even a couple of weeks. I’ve usually got another art project on the back burner that I can pick up and of course, there’s always administration to catch up on, so the time is never wasted.

Of course, the corollary to these episodes of boredom is that I have whole stretches of time where I’m deeply, madly and passionately in love with what I’m working on and those come and go too. I think of my projects as being a bit like a marriage – it starts out all passion and joy but you go through rough patches and then the love deepens.

….. Exactly. Bottom line, working through boredom, lack of enthusiasm, even apathy is part of the creative process. Not because we need to beat boredom to create but because we have to employ boredom to create our best work.

Tomorrow, I’ll be wrapping up this series, exploring how to battle feelings of listlessness – often stemming from having too much to do as opposed to too little – when we don’t want or need them.

About Kirsty Hall

Kirsty Hall is an artist & purveyor of mad obsessive projects who blogs about art & chickens. She also runs an online business called SOS For Artists that helps creative people rock the internet. (image above by Kirsty)

13 thoughts on “deconstruction of ennui: to be creative is to oft be bored

  1. This really resonated with me. I certainly recognise these stages and think it is important to recognise them as part of the creative cycle and develop some strategies for coping. Chocolate helps with the “It’s all shit” stage.

  2. What a great post! I can really identify with these types of boredom, and it’s great to her how Kristy deals with them. Looking forward to the listlessness post as well! I am in the midst of a dry spell creatively and I am ready to get my mojo back!

  3. The “pressing on” part I think is where a lot of people call it quits. This whole Dip thing isn’t just one event either. It is a rollercoaster, and making the climb out of the pit isn’t just hard, it’s also boring. Boring hard work is like adding the insult to the injury. Injuries are forgivable, insults, not hardly!

  4. I so needed to read this today. Thanks for the really interesting series and the intro to Kirsty whom I needed to know about :-) I experience all of the above regularly and never quite recognized the patterns. Having it written out like that is both food for thought and validation that I am OK. I am currently in the second stage and slugging through the self imposed shit. This is partly due to having almost completed a difficult project in creating a new website. I think There is an after the party sort of ennui that always sets in when a big hurdle is jumped. Also there is a lot of must do work on my plate right now that is not particularly creative. I would far rather have to navigate this phase and even the kill me now phase that is sure to come than go back to working at a “real job” which brings me to my point I suppose. I recently had a conversation with a friend and we discussed the idea that being an artist is a JOB. Any artist that has been able to earn a living from their work whether writing painting or sewing sequins has to work and work hard. getting up each morning and hitting the keyboard or easel and not always having a good day. The upside is when we have good day there is nothing we can imagine that is better. It is a ride to be sure, but boredom, depression, ennui are part of it. I think recognizing this is where the beauty of it comes in. Again thanks for such a creative series in a not so pleasant topic!
    BTW I am cracking up at phase one above. Preparing for company this week my to do list includes cleaning up (hiding) the supplies in my dining room from the unfinished fireplace makeover I began last winter 😉

  5. I absolutely love the names Kirsty gave the stages! I tend to get stuck at the “It’s All Shit” stage. It might be in anticipation of the “Kill Me Now” stage because if I don’t have faith in the work I’m doing, I’m not willing to endure the “Kill Me Now” stage. As I result, many of the things I produce tend to be things that can be accomplished before the “You Know What Would Be Really Good?” stage wears off.

    In the end, it might be a question of building your endurance, literally, for the boring, work-y part of creative production. It also helps to recognize the stages and see them for what they are. Having these fun names for them is really wonderful!

  6. this is why i have several pieces…sometimes in different mediums…going at the same time. Once i hit that boredom stage i go to the next piece and then eventually come back to it with fresh eyes and a renewed enthusiasm for it!

  7. This really resonates with me too, thanks for writing it all out so clearly. It also helps to see other people relating to it:-) I definitely need to work on the endurance and perseverance parts:-)

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