Be Smart About Art

Brain on fire with too many ideas?

written by: Susan Mumford July 10, 2016 1) RECOMMENDED-> Susan Mumford + Chris King's Blog 2279 views

Brain on fire with too many ideas?

from our Sunday reading series - a weekly blog post (subscribe here)

You’re not alone.  

Many artists and creative entrepreneurs have come to me over the years with concern that they should focus on one activity. Akin to a confessional, they start explaining how they have this, that and the other idea. It seems that they expect me to agree that they would be better off focusing on one thing.

The ‘confessional’ seemingly comes from a societal tendency to pigeonhole others. In an attempt to understand what it is that you do, many people unwittingly mentally file you into a tidy box. Never mind the overwhelm that can come with having many ideas, this societal inclination can make people think they’re supposed to stick to one thing.

Well, I have good news: for many creative beings, juggling multiple balls in the air is your natural way of being. How do I know? Because I’m the same. I’d be bored if there wasn’t a variety of projects. The trick is keeping on top of them and understanding how they fit under the overall umbrella of your career.

A painter I know with a strong studio-based practice also has an administrative job, teaches creative workshops and arranges meet-ups. Rather than viewing activities as being neatly boxed and separate, they can be of benefit to one another.

Consider his creative workshops, aimed at fellow artists. A paint supplier has expressed interest in providing materials. Although the artist wouldn’t have readily contacted the company to get complimentary materials for his individual practice, doing so as the founder of a network of artists was a no-brainer. This connection stands to directly benefit the artist’s own practice down the road, too, in getting exhibition sponsorship and the like.  

Also, being involved in a variety of projects can help you see the wood for the trees. By switching your mind from Activity A to Activity B, when you return to A, you’re set to look at it with a fresh, and arguably more objective, perspective.

Perhaps the biggest challenge with having a multiplicity of ideas is staying focused. Work out how each one fits into the bigger picture. If it’s not the right time to pursue something, record it in a way that you won’t forget the concept, and will be reminded of it in future. Prioritising what’s important, adding relevant activities to the mix, and balancing them is paramount.

The long and short of dealing with having a lot of ideas is not to ignore or drown in them, but to pursue those which keep your creative brain happy and engaged, that make sense for you. Only time will show how varying projects feed into one another.     

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user name

Hi Susan

Great blog post and it resonated with me too. I can hugely identify with the 'brain on fire' scenario as I've just started my final MA year and life seems to be moving at express train speed ! It's brilliant because it means there are lots of ideas percolating and of course doing something you love never feels like a bad thing but it can just sometimes be a bit overwhelming. I'd agree with everything Emma says and add also that there's value in finding the time to actually do nothing. I live on the coast so sitting on the beach and staring out to sea is my perfect solution for a crazy head !

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Hi Susan,
Never has a blog post resonated so completely with me!
As you know, I'm an artist and I run a business that supports creatives with their marketing and administrative needs.

Most of my team at MSPA and many of our clients also juggle multiple hats, both professional and personal too.

I agree that the variety can be helpful, but in order to prevent what I call 'octopus syndrome' (too many things not getting done properly) I believe in solid diary planning and 'protecting time' for my creative work. Also as a creative freelancer, it's really important to be able to be spontaneous sometimes. Just to say yes to last minute invites to meetings, events and openings that could stimulate my mind, feed into my work and expand my professional network.
If we can't take advantage of the freedom we've created by being out own bosses, it's a bit of a wasted opportunity.