Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Keeping It Fresh - Fighting Apathy

Over the course of an artist's career, you may find yourself getting apathetic about art.  WHAT?  How can that be?  Art is my lifeblood!!  We can hear the collective gasps.

But seriously, when you're doing art for a living, you can start feeling almost hostile to it.  But it's not like you're putting it off because you're procrastinating:

"Hey you painting, shut up!  Just sit over there in that corner, unfinished, and don't bother me until I'm done with this super-important game of Settlers online!"

It's more like you know the painting is unfinished, but you've stopped caring.

"Huh?  Oh yeah, hey painting.  Not done?  Wait, what's for lunch again?"

Obviously, this is not a good thing.  No one wants to find that you have stopped caring about what is supposed to be your passion in life - then it wasn't your passion in the first place, right?

Wrong.  If you're finding that the single thing that you've loved to do isn't getting you excited, it's probably because you 1) have not been rewarded properly, 2) are overworked, or 3) a combination of the two.

How do you shake this funk off and get on with it?  First, we should identify why you're feeling apathetic, and then we can talk about how to freshen up your mood.

If you're doing art (especially art you actually care about), but it's not gaining any traction, it's easy to get discouraged.  Maybe you're doing stuff you love but for a boss who doesn't care.  Or perhaps you've just designed the coolest building ever, but the client wants something boring.  Or maybe you've busted your ass to come up with a whole new body of work but people keep telling you that they like your older work better.  Whatever it is, if you've been working hard and were really excited about whatever you were doing, the biggest buzzkill is for other to not share your excitement.

You see, apathy usually is created as a form of self-defense.  Because you've been disappointed in the past, your brain tells you that you shouldn't try as hard, or that maybe you shouldn't try at all, because it doesn't want to get disappointed again.  Just like with most things, you are your own worst enemy.  The more you care about something and the more that care doesn't get translated into rewards (whether that's winning a prize or getting lots of compliments or selling a piece), in the case of apathy you start to get discouraged, and think "Well, it wasn't what I really wanted anyway."

A slightly different instance that might create apathy is known in some circles as "just plain exhaustion."  If you're being overworked, chances are that you're just literally too tired to create.  Whether you're being overworked in your art or a volunteer position or in a job, your body is trying to save itself from exploding in a huge ball of fatigue, stress, lack of sleep, and what is probably a bunch of caffeine, sugars, and other things that you stuff yourself full of to keep going without having to pause to eat a healthy meal.  Once again, your body is kicking into self-defense mode to preserve you: "Eh, it's not really that important to me.  Well, that frees up some time to maybe nap or actually eat something."

In either/both cases, the feelings of apathy are created as a means of self-preservation.  It's either fear or lack of energy that's causing your body and mind to literally avoid your art.  To be honest, getting excited about your work and doing it takes up a lot of emotional and physical energy, and your body is lacking either or both.

So how do you keep it fresh and re-energize yourself so that you can find your passion?  Well, we hope it's obvious  how to fix the second scenario - the one where you're running on fumes (if it's not - remember sustainability and take care of yourself!  Get some sleep!  Rest!  Meditate and destress!) However, for the emotional side of things, it really helps to take a step back and remember why you're an artist in the first place.

You're an artist because you love to create.  Sure, we'd all love to make a million dollars off of every creation we make, but really, you still go out there and create because you love to do it.  Deep down, we just want to create, but because we live in a world of media hounds and capitalism, these outside indicators of success (praise, money, etc) have grown to replace that inner joy you get from making something that you love.

External success are usually a good thing, but when the business end of art becomes more important than making art, we're losing a crucial part of ourselves, and we start to rely on that outside affirmation for the buzz that we used to get just from creating.  This is usually okay if you're getting all those outside indicators, but we feel like you shouldn't rely on it.  What happens if you stop getting praised, or sales of your work has slowed?  

So in the end, you have to treat creation like you'd treat a relationship.  After years, you may think you know most everything about your partner, you might fall into a comfortable routine, you might sort let yourself go.  Long-term relationships, like the one you have with your art, are all about communication and keeping it interesting.  The best thing is that you're not committed to your art like you probably should be with your partner - your oils aren't going to get jealous if you go dabble in some collage or printmaking.  Maybe you should try painting in a new style, or maybe you just need to take a small break.

The key to fighting apathy is really to rekindle that love you have for creation.  As your career progresses, there's a lot of pressure to "make something good" or "create something that sells," but you need to keep in mind that art should be fun.  Let yourself make something without judgment of whether it's good or not - just make sure it's fun.  Draw a stick-figure comic if you're a photorealist painter, or go take some photos if you're a writer, or write a short story if you're a woodcarver.  Just remember to have fun and to savor that feeling of creating just for creation's sake.  You'll remember why you picked up art in the first place.