I know some phenomenally talented people. Being an artist in multiple platforms, I have found myself surrounded by wonderful dancers and actors, singers, painters, photographers, comic book artists, writers…the list of inspiring people goes on and on. I am lucky to have these people in my life.
Since creative individuals often flock to one another (I argue that we can smell our own kind!), I have discovered that many of them go through the same emotional issues that seem to come with the territory of being an artist. This usually involves what I call “Art-Drop”. If you aren’t familiar with the aspects of what a ‘drop’ is, it is basically the release of endorphins and a feeling of dropping into a darker or lonely place, usually accompanied by depression and sadness as it pertains to the situation.
Anyway, I see Art-Drop as a blanket term, a period of time after working in which that dark part of your mind creeps up, and you become tired and sad. Bitterness and anger are typical as well, along with a feeling of self-loathing and wanting to quit your art. Art-Drop is the dark time when a creator sees little to no self-worth and debates hanging up the canvas for good or throwing in the towel. Some people never get out of this funk, and alternatively some turn it into fuel for their creative fire, using it as a catalyst to improve upon their technique or tackle a particularly difficult project.
I feel that Art-Drop is a necessary component of being a creative person. If you are creative, you WILL at some point question your career. It is normal. It is inevitable. And it is something you can learn from.
From one Artist to another, I give you my top 10 things to remember during Art-Drop.
10. Art-Drop is inevitable and you WILL feel it. This is completely ok! It’s alright to recognize your frustrations, your anger, your sadness, your feelings of inadequacy and even self-loathing. Some people may disagree with me here, but really, there is nothing wrong with feeling your feelings, because they are YOUR FEELINGS. Right, wrong, or indifferent, most artists that I know feel things on a creative level very deeply and personally. It is a huge part of who they are.
9. Don’t let your Art-Drop rule your life. While Art-Drop waxes and wanes as part of a natural creative cycle, it is important not to let these feelings dictate every action. You need to establish a clear line between recognizing your feelings and letting them influence your day to day routine. Having a good cry over things is ok; avoiding going to your day job and refusing to eat is not.
8. Create your own ladder and acknowledge the journey upward. Goals keep us moving and give us something to work towards. They also create dreams and allow us a way to see the bigger picture. You need a ladder so that you have something to climb unless you’re a natural flyer.
7. It is completely ok to never reach the top of your ladder. Yes, you read that right. I know that as a creator, we all have grandiose dreams that loftily put us alongside the people we idolize in our field. Animators want to be the next Glen Keane, belly dancers want to be the next Rachel Brice and comic book artists want to be the next Stan Lee. Is it good to have a dream? Absolutely! But there is no shame whatsoever in not reaching that dream. Dreams are just that; dreams. Your life will not be a failure if you never make the cover of Time Magazine. The view from the top may be supposedly spectacular, but that doesn’t mean that the view from a more comfortable climb isn’t breathtaking as well.
6. Let the bitterness go. This one is integral to not only your own success as a creator, but to your ability to live a healthy and happy life. Bitterness WILL happen as part of Art-Drop. But you have to let it go. Stop pointing fingers at everyone else and accusing people. You are only hurting yourself and damaging your own image. Bitterness is not conducive to a good creative flow. Take it out on your canvas, but never on people. The instant you take your own issues out on the people around you, you have damned yourself. People will see the truth of your behavior, whether you want them to or not.
5. Accept that there is no shame in not making money or even breaking even. The phrase ‘starving artist’ exists for a reason. Now, I am not saying that it is impossible for artists to make money doing what they love. But this usually, unless you are EXTROADINARILY lucky, comes at a huge sacrifice. You may have to do portraits and boring photography sessions to pay the rent. You will probably have to take stupid gigs as an artist that you don’t want to do, or that do not interest you or challenge you. Doing your own work is creatively fulfilling, but the sad reality is that freelance or contract work is, for most, soul suckingly boring and tedious. Plus there is the added frustration of contract negotiations, overly-expectant clients…the list goes on and on. It takes money to make money too, so remember that! You’ll have to pay for rent on a studio to teach, or pay for print costs before a convention, etc. This is why many artists supplement their income with a day-job. Not making money is NOT a sign of failure. I tell people at conventions that are looking to get started as an artist that they have at least 10 years of shoveling shit before they get anywhere. And if you are in it for the money, you may want to consider a career change.
4. Focus less on others, and more on yourself. It is very easy to be embittered with the other people in your field. There will always be another dancer who gets all the publicity or another artist at a convention who sells nothing but fan art and makes money all weekend when you make nothing. This is part of the process, and while it may seem terribly unfair and defeatist, do not place your self-worth as a creator on what happens with others! Sharing a part of your creative soul with the public in any form is an experience that can make you feel vulnerable, so it is easy to blame your anger on others. Spend less time being mad at everyone else and more time learning from your own mistakes.
3. You will make mistakes. Learn from them. You will mess up a contract, or screw up a commission, or you will not get the aesthetic right on a painting that someone has asked you to make. You will stumble on stage or forget the words to a song. It will happen. Do not beat yourself up. Learn from the mistakes and use them, as Ze Frank would say, as healthy little fires to light under your ass.
2. Accept that Art-Drop will happen again. Just like our hormones ebb and flow from month to month or some people battle with anxiety and depression, Art-Drop is a very real thing and it recurs. Acknowledge that it is part of your natural creative cycle and do not fear it. Instead, embrace it and know that you can, and will, learn from it as it continues. When I do this, the drop itself lasts maybe a day and then I am on with my life! Never let the Art-Drop rule you. Use it. Make something from it.
1. You are better than your Art-Drop. Art doesn’t define you as a person. It is an integral piece of who you are. Work to live, don’t live to work. And never let yourself think that you are less of a person because your feelings tell you otherwise. You are a creator, and that in and of itself is amazing! You share a piece of your soul with people. That is REMARKABLE! YOU are remarkable. And no one, especially your Art-Drop, defines you. Only you define you. And you are spectacular.