How to Survive Existential/Creative Crisis: A Guide

I was reflecting on the nature of the gallery's social media presence today. Generally, aside from the snipes that Caleb and I take at each other, our tone is happy, positive, punctuated by exclamation marks - here I am, smiling, with this painting! A social media feed which leads, unsurprisingly and innocuously, to comments from observers like the one I received today:  

"Your job looks like so much fun. I wish I was an artist."

My current Instagram profile. I guess I do look kind of glower-y. 

My current Instagram profile. I guess I do look kind of glower-y. 

A compliment that was genuine and which I thankfully received BUT but. But. Despite social media appearances to the contrary, here is the truth. Fun in the studio is a rare and fleeting thing. If I could characterize the experience of being a professional artist? The truth? It's a doomfest of FESTERING DREAD. My Instagram profile should feature my face in its natural studio state: a glower. And my bio should be: Hello. I'm Sarah. I fester. 

Generally I can mitigate the dread (or at least reduce it to a simmer) with some well-structured deadlines and a good audiobook. But even then, on a good day, I constantly question the validity and quality of my work. My fellow artists, you know this angst-ridden interior monologue:

Is this project creatively worthwhile? Am I contributing to anything? Can this be better?

Is this a successful painting? (No, it's awful, you scurrilous fraud.) Is this crap? Crapcrapcrapcrap. 

Why am I getting WORSE?

It’s a doomfest of FESTERING DREAD. My Instagram profile should feature my face in its natural studio state: a glower. And my bio should be: Hello. I’m Sarah. I fester.

I know this is normal to the creative process. I am currently reading Ross King's recent book on Monet and it's gratifying (though not reassuring) that even the greats were viciously critical of their own work at late stages in their careers.

So festering dread and self-criticism are perhaps unavoidable. But full-blown crises (or blocks or ruts) are painful things to endure. For me, January is always plagued by an existential/creative (or creatively existential?) crisis. What am I doing? Is my career going anywhere? Will I ever have a single good idea ever again? Here's how I deal, some (most) days unsuccessfully, but for what it's worth, the crisis is usually averted.

Tips on How to Survive an Existential/Creative Crisis

1. Deploy the Whipping Boy

I mean, not really. Find someone with whom you can share your pain and suffering. I feel like I'm inflicting though sometimes, heh, hence the Whipping Boy reference. I call in reinforcements in the shape of Mom. She has a much more organized mind than mine, and can take me through a discussion of validity, worth, career-planning, etc., in a logical way. Plus she thinks I'm the bestest, so I can go back to the studio: shut up, inner monologue, Mom still likes me.

2. Structure the day.

Otherwise I would sit in front of the offending painting/project and fester endlessly. Until I got hungry and wandered off for lunch. And then I would come back and stare and fester, and then wander off for supper. Repeat. 

In non-crisis times, I take a looser approach to scheduling the day. I still adhere to a roughly 9 to 5 work schedule, but within that, my day structure is based more on lighting and whether or not a painting is going well. In crisis time, I schedule to the minute. 9-10:15, this task. 10:15-10:30, tea break. This sounds silly and too industrialized for this lone studio occupant, I know, but looming problems are best tackled with small, incremental steps, yes? 

3. Something new.

My best and freshest ideas usually come from trying something new. Unfettered time doing new things. This IS the fun part. New tools, new technique, exploring some kernel of a thought that has been in the back of my mind. I do schedule this time (3:20 to 4:45, play with paintstiks), but importantly it's something that is not affiliated with a current project or deadline. 

From today's scheduled-unfettered time. Some new paint I've been meaning to try. 

From today's scheduled-unfettered time. Some new paint I've been meaning to try. 

 

Please tell me, dear readers, if you have any other suggestions or personal techniques for overcoming existential creative dread. 

In the meantime,

Yours, festeringly,

Sarah