In Gary Chapman’s The 5 Love Languages, the concept of a “love tank” is explored in relation to these languages. Each of us has a tank that can be filled or emptied, depending on if we’re receiving or giving love. If people use the right love language with us, then our tank could fill to overflowing. However, if we don’t receive the right love language, there’s a possibility we might feel “empty” in our love tanks.
While the idea of a love tank makes sense, I think there are other tanks in our lives that serve different purposes. Specifically, I’d like to explore the idea of a “creative tank.” This can go by many names, but “muse” is perhaps the most common. When the muse hits a creative person, it’s all they can do to channel it into their art as fast as possible before it disappears. However, when the creative tank is empty, artists can find themselves with writer’s block or similar ailments of the creative juices.
What empties a creative tank?
This then begs the question, “How is a creative tank filled?” Before we get to this, let’s look at three of the ways a creative tank might become empty . . .
- Imposter Syndrome: Comparing your creative work to someone else is a recipe for disaster. Maybe they have slightly more natural talent where you have to work hard to keep up. Maybe they’ve been at it longer and thus have more experience. Maybe they’re just lucky and were “discovered” or “went viral.” Whatever the case, comparing yourself to another artist is a recipe for an empty creative tank.
- Depression: This can sometimes come from imposter syndrome, but there are also two types to be aware of. The first is existential depression. This depression usually manifests in the “I’m not good enough” and “Why do I even bother?” varieties and is generally linked to an artist’s creative persona. The second is chemical depression. This is usually the standard definition of the ailment, and can often connect to existential depression (and vice versa). When an artist feels there’s no point to their art, their creative tank is usually empty.
- Unhelpful Feedback: Every artist wants someone to experience their art and immediately love and rave about it. However, while some critics will try to give constructive criticism, most don’t have the tact or ability to share their opinion without affecting the artist in some way. The internet has made it easy to share our opinions of art and artists anonymously, so there are plenty of opportunities for an artist to become discouraged and drain their creative tank.
This isn’t an exhaustive list by any means. Sure, they might be the hardest hitting when it comes to an empty creative tank. However, sometimes a piece of art just isn’t working. Despite plans made for it or grand ideas that the artist wants to explore, the art is just resisting the process and making it difficult to be exposed. It’s in these instances when it’s best to stop and take a break. Stepping away from a project like this can be guilt-inducing since the artist will always have that nagging voice in the back of their head that says, “You should be working on that.” In the end, the art will suffer if it is forced. Time away allows for self-care, which is one of the best ways to fill the creative tank. It might take a while to get back to the project (years, even) but in that time, it could evolve into something better.
Art does not exist in a vacuum.
There are many influences on what we paint, draw, or write. Personally, I find an engaging movie churns up my creative juices and fills my creative tank. Not only do I think, “I could write something like that,” but I also gain other ideas that I can use for a variety of different projects. There’s no better feeling than coming out of the theater and being excited and ready to write! I’ve also had some similar experiences going to a live concert, art gallery, or just exploring the beauty of the outdoors.
There are times I consider my artistic pursuits my “second job.” After I come home from work, I can end up spending the rest of the evening before going to bed wrist-deep in my art. This can be exhausting by any means, so it’s essential to know when to take a vacation from this second job. Just like how I’ll be refreshed coming back to my day job after a week of vacation, sometimes I just need to set a project down and give it a few days to rest and relax. I can work on other projects during that time, and have in the past, but it’s better to work in a few breaks and continue working instead of working so hard on a project that you’ll end up hating it and burnout, likely to never pick it up again. The trick is not to feel guilty for taking a break. I know this is hard to do, but your art will always be right where you left it. Just make sure you’re not working up against a deadline, though.
Taking a break isn’t a bad thing.
Some artists can get revved up an seem to have unlimited energy for their projects. If their creative tanks are always full, that’s great! However, there is a point where every artist needs to examine a project that isn’t working and identify if the root cause is an empty creative tank. It’s much easier to take a walk, read a book, or watch a movie instead of spending the same amount of time banging your head against a creative wall. Inspiration can come from the most peculiar places, so it’s important to let your brain take a rest every once in a while so it can approach your art from a different angle. After all, the health (both mental and physical) of the artist should be their number one priority.
What about you? When is your creative tank empty?
What have you done to fill your creative tank?
Do you know an artist with an empty tank? What can you do to help them?