This article is by Keith Bond, Regular contributing writer for
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Have you ever been ‘in the zone’ while creating your art? You know, when things are just freely flowing. You experience ecstasy in the creation of your work. The artwork seems to be guiding you rather than the other way around. It is almost effortless. You are caught up in the moment of unbridled creation and time becomes irrelevant. Some describe it as an out of body experience. You are a spectator watching the artwork emerge. It is addicting. You crave these moments of pure creation.
We often hear of creative types who proclaim to do their best work while ‘in the zone’; visual artists, musicians, writers, etc. I have certainly had these moments and I suspect that you have, too. I also suspect that you are similar to me in that these moments are the exception rather than the norm.
I am about to break down an art myth right now. I may get a bit of backlash from it. But I will say it anyway. Being ‘in the zone’ does not guarantee great results and great art does not need to be created while ‘in the zone’.
First let me say that in the creation of artwork, there is nothing quite like being in that state of mind that we call ‘the zone’. It is pure joy. It is elation. It is liberating and awakens emotions and expressions that were previously unimagined.
Discipline is More Important
I know a lot of great artists; professional artists. I know artists whose work is highly accomplished, collected, and sought after. And there are many other artists who are in earlier stages of their career or are mid-career. These artists are likewise very talented. I have enjoyed conversations with many of them and I find a similar theme shared by those whose work continues to improve and amaze. It is more a matter of habit and discipline than those fewer moments of free-flowing expression.
I know it doesn’t sound as romantic. But the truth is disciplined work will yield far greater results much quicker than free-flowing expression.
I do believe it is important to have those moments in the zone. But more important is to continue to work and push yourself even if you aren’t in the zone; let alone in the mood. The artists I know who continue to work, even when they don’t want to, tend to be the ones who grow the most and excel the most.
I believe the reasons are numerous. I am sure that I don’t fully understand why. But here are what I consider the primary reasons.
Control and Decision Making
Great art is a complex marriage of accumulated knowledge (through experience), intuition, and experimentation. While working in the zone, intuition flows freely. Yes, you will unconsciously use that accumulated knowledge and may even unknowingly experiment while in the zone. But they are not deliberate choices you are making.
When working outside the zone, you are in control. You make choices. You know what you want to express. You decide how to express it. You decide, based upon your vast storehouse of knowledge and experience, how to develop your idea in visual form.
As I will explain below, you can still leave yourself open to intuition and experimentation by freeing yourself from rigid formulas. But, you are in control and can veto anything that doesn’t support your idea.
When relying solely on intuition or experimentation, you leave the work to chance. Yes, some will be wildly successful, but many will also fail. Do you want sporadic results or consistent growth?
Nurturing those Moments of Zone Work
Secondly, if you only create when you are in the zone, you will produce very few works of art. From my experience, reaching the point of free-flow expression comes after significant, diligent work. It is rare that it just happens the moment you pick up a brush. If you are disciplined enough to begin working, you will open your mind and heart to the creation process. As you work your way through the piece, ideas flow, decisions are made, and slowly but surely you are elevating yourself closer to that climax of ‘zone work’. If you wait for the zone before you begin, you won’t begin. The more disciplined you are, and the more you work, the more often you will reach this point.
On the Verge
I believe that the greatest work comes while on the verge of zone work. You are still in control, but intuition and expression are flowing freely. You can make informed decisions in your work and are still in control. You are conscious enough to be methodical and deliberate. But being almost in the zone, your work is intuitive and expressive. This is the state at which the marriage between the seeming contradictions work together in beautiful harmony; deliberate decisions, intuition, learned technique, experimentation, construction, and expression.
And, while on the verge, you are aware enough to learn from the intuitive expression. That experience now becomes part of your vast storehouse of knowledge. You have grown. You now have more tools at your disposal in the future.