Overcoming a creative crisis
Writers call it ‘writers block’.
Visual artists sometimes call it creative burnout, or creative crisis, or creative exhaustion.
The truth is that it happens a lot more than people admit to. Being creative can be a highly pressurised yet lonely way of life.
You are constantly questioning your talent, skill and potential for success. Where is my next inspiration or powerful theme going to come from? Is it worth completing this piece of work which I have laboured so long over yet now feels like it’s going nowhere or is just simply not good enough?
Will my core client base and friends applaud or be disappointed with the way my work is developing?
And then there is the constant pressure from galleries and agents to produce quantities of new work for a forthcoming exhibition.
No wonder artists sometimes experience creative crises.
Here at New Art Gallery we do understand these things. And so, based on our experiences and talking to fellow artists, we have put together a few strategies which might help if you’re ever feeling this way.
Understanding your feelings
Ask yourself just why you are feeling this way. And be honest with yourself!
Have you simply been working too hard for too long? Have you exhausted the particular theme which has brought you success? Is it time to move on? Have you taken too much to heart the negative opinions of others?
Sit quietly with a drink or a friend and try and think this through. And sometimes what seems inexplicable will become blindingly obvious.
Stop feeling bad about feeling bad
Experiencing creative burnout happens to lots of artists as we’ve said. It is not a fundamental questioning of your worth as an artist, and is no cause for shame.
So try and recall the times when you felt great about your work and how well people spoke about it. Replace the feelings of negativity with those memories.
Remember as the song says “the darkest hour is just before dawn”. Encouraging yourself simply to keep going with a piece or theme can often lead to victory and success when all seems lost and you feel like packing it in.
Never give in, never surrender!
Take a small break
Alternatively, taking a moment to step away from a problem piece and doing something entirely different for a little while is no admission of failure.
It could just be the rest your creative mind needs.
Some artists have several works in progress at the same time so that they can switch to another piece to get away from the challenge of the problem work.
Or simply get out of the studio for a walk, see some friends or family, or watch one of your favourite old films. Or buy the ingredients for a nice dinner.
You could even clean up and tidy the studio, or go to the gym – physical exercise has been proved to benefit the mind!
…or even a bigger break
Many artists work and work and work till they become completely lost in the process.
Which is fine until the mind and body can’t take much more. They are not an infinite resource, and months of pushing them to their limits can cause creative exhaustion.
By resting them you can often come back creatively reinspired and physically reinvigorated.
So consider taking a proper break. Maybe a weekend away, or a proper holiday somewhere you’ve always wanted to go to. Or a favourite destination.
Either way, self-care is vitally important to your success as an artist. It’s not selfish – it’s a necessity.
Have some fun
If being an artist is how you earn all or part of your living then the pressure to be seriously creative can become immense. Sometimes you need a break to remind yourself that creativity should be enjoyable.
Take a moment during the day to try something different.
Pick up your sketch pad and just draw what you see in the studio. Try out a medium which you’ve never used before, or play around with some plasticine sculpture – and see where this takes you.
Remove the pressure and just enjoy the process. The aim is to rediscover the joy which made you want to become an artist in the first place.
Friends in need
A creative crisis can make you feel very alone and can undermine your feelings of self-esteem.
And that’s just the moment where you should turn to your personal support group – otherwise known as your friends and mentors (and family too).
It’s so important to cherish a small group of people who will listen, encourage, and support you not just in times of crisis but on a general and day-to-day level too.
But this is a two-way street. You in turn have to be prepared to communicate with them honestly if they are to help you feel better.
Do you just need someone to listen and get things off your chest? Or would some words of encouragement and thoughtful advice be what you need? Or maybe you just need a good laugh and change of scenery.
Reach out and you’ll be surprised at how good people truly are.
A little ego-massaging never hurts
Privately, most artists are their own harshest critics.
So when you’re feeling a bit low and uninspired, it often helps to remind yourself of the good things you have achieved in the past.
Dig out those emails from delighted buyers and collectors, positive testimonials from your social media posts, or remind yourself of the prizes and awards on your CV.
You could even collect them in a file to read when times are hard.
And remember that what you do as an artist gives many people a great deal of pleasure and inspiration.
Dwelling on negative thoughts will only reinforce a creative crisis. Try to reduce some of the burden that’s been weighing you down.
Which, of course, we acknowledge is easier said than done. But here are a couple of starting points.
Mindfulness can be a big help in reducing stress. Think calmly and gently about what is happening in your art business and accept that not everything goes well all the time. Accept there will be good and not so good days. And times.
Tested ways of improving your positivity include setting consequences for when you express complaint or feelings of unfairness, and, conversely, actively practising gratitude.
If you’re feeling pressurised by the demands of clients, friends or family, then set some boundaries to protect yourself. It’s OK to say “no” sometimes!