If you put yourself in a position where you have to stretch outside your comfort zone, then you are forced to expand your consciousness. Les Brown
The term is used quite loosely to express that feeling of freedom, when time seems to stop and we do our best work. I’ve experienced this feeling in a variety of disciplines. Sometimes when acting, I seem present in a way so that I seem to be feeling not only my feelings but the people on the stage and even the person in the seventh row. I feel connected and make all the right choices. The same happens in painting or in writing. It just seems to flow out of me. I think people confuse this euphoria with another similar feeling.
Being in the zone is not the same thing as being zoned out. There are similarities, for sure. Time seems to stop. We rely on our intuition. Our brain seems to be on auto-drive. But instead of producing our best work, we are basically day dreaming. It is mindless wondering, we seem more distracted. We are pretending to do rather than actually doing. Have you ever found yourself reading a book and even though your eyes move sequentially down the page, your mind is somewhere else? You can’t remember a dang thing you read! This mindless state is not where the artist longs to be but often we accept it in lieu of being truly in the zone.
Why do we settle for this? I tell my students our intuition is only as good as the information we put into our mind. That’s why I work hard to get them (and me) to focus on conscious choices, rather than just letting go. “How light is this value next to that one?” “How does this pupil connect with the corner of the mouth?” “how soft is this edge?” “How can I paint this shape with one stroke? What would my brush have to do to make that happen?”
Being in the zone is actually very mindful. I call it a super consciousness. We daydream because we stop doing. By doing I mean, being intentional. “I am connecting this eye on a line to the chin.” I am getting this value darker than this one.” “I am adding blue to this color so it is the same as the one I’m seeing.” I’m not thinking about the laundry or whether or not I have any talent.
If the painting you’re working on makes you think of a poem, that’s great! I suggest putting down your brush and writing down the poem (or better yet, write the poem into your painting). The painter must think about shapes, values, hues, edges, etc. Poetic thoughts live in the left brain. That is the place where concepts take form, for ideas to happen. Yes, the left brain is where creative thoughts evolve, contrary to what most people believe about the left brain. When painting, or acting in a scene, or singing, or writing, the left brain serves a different purpose. It must now become the parent, asking questions of the right brain, like those above. The left brain doesn’t judge during the creative process. The left brain gently goads the right to focus on the business at hand.
When the left brain becomes occupied with structure, then the right brain is free to create, taking us beyond our perceived abilities, and launching us into the intuition. You want to zone out, get drunk. You want to get in the zone, tune into a base of knowledge, assimilate it, master it. Fail trying. Push yourself, make mistakes and learn from them. Then, and only then, can you ever hope to be in the zone.
Sometimes all you need is a little piece of knowledge to get the juices flowing. Learn something new each day and enjoy letting it take you deeper into your work. If the new idea confuses you at first, don’t give up. Practice. Have faith in the idea that got you excited enough to want to try it.
Remember one of my favorite definitions of art: “Art is the thing that happens while you’re trying to do something else.”
For more inspiration, get your copy of “The Point of Art – Second Edition“