Disillusioned as an artist? - Five tips to get back creating what you love


Senellier half pan watercolour set with mop brush

I have been doing art for over twenty five years now and have experienced periods of disillusionment more than once. There can be many reasons that cause you to begin to lose the love of what you do, and it's never an easy thing to deal with. 

 Just lately I've seen a lot about people close to giving up art for good. I think things can become more stressful for artists now due to the pressure of the internet, so here are some tips that have worked for me.

Take a course
I wrote here about Domestika courses. I discovered them last autumn and they have helped me to get through some difficult times during that period, allowing me to appreciate art anew. No matter what level you are there is always something to be gained from seeing how another artist works. I don't think it's a bad thing to regularly revisit the basics either.

Most artists are interested in more than one media, and sometimes looking at a different skillset can give you a break, rekindle excitement in creating, and provide ideas to work within what you already do. In creativity everything kind of cross pollinates.

If you can afford it weekend or day workshops with professional artists are another good option. Over the years I've done a few with well known artists and it's given me encouragement, a different perspective on my work, and it's inspiring spending time among like minded individuals. 

Disconnect from social media 
Social media has had many good attributes for artists looking to share their work with the world. We are at tipping point now where it can actually do more harm than good. If you are not in the right frame of mind seeing a constant stream of work from other artists can be highly detrimental.

If you're feeling low the element of comparison with others can fuel this. There's also a big pressure to keep posting, keep churning out work in order to stay relevant, which adds to the feelings of overwhelm and exhaustion. 

Any time I've had a break from social media hardly anyone has noticed! I have a few close friends online I speak to regularly, but apart from that no one cares. That may seem negative, but actually when you think about it, it's freeing! 

We also become overstimulated with the sheer amount of content online, which can lead to fatigue and issues concentrating. Years ago the only art I used to see was either in gallery visits or from books, it was a much slower way of seeing things, you could take your time to look properly. We all know how fundamental looking and seeing properly is to art.

I'm currently having a complete break from social media and within a week I noticed I felt happier, more content, and most importantly my concentration is ten times better. If we can't concentrate we can't enter flow state, which is a beautiful place to be for an artist, and great for your stress.

Reconnect with yourself 
There are some who believe you shouldn't identify yourself with your art, however I think for many of us art is an extension, or expression, of things that are within us. Often we are exposing parts of our character within our art. Something deep within us drives us to create. 

There is too much noise in this world, too much distraction, and too much opinion. It's natural that will sometimes drown out our inner voice. This further becomes complicated if you're an artist who sells work, you can be pushed down a path of doing what sells, then one day wake up and realise you don't know what you're doing anymore.

What is it that excited you about creating? What message or feeling was it you wanted to convey in your work? What drives you to want to express yourself artistically? If you could do art without anything holding you back, what would it look like?

We often don't sit down and have a look at these questions and it's useful to do that to rediscover your passion and purpose. I find it a good idea to keep these things written down in a notebook so I can remind myself when I need to.

Take the pressure off 
I can only speak for myself, that very often disillusionment has stemmed from external pressures that I've somehow internalised. If you're competent at art you're likely to have had a stream of people telling you that "you should sell that". Added to that hustle culture is now everywhere in art. You have to hustle, have a side hustle, and hustle some more before bed.

Where in all this do people have time to rest, something essential to wellbeing, and also to experiment, something essential to artistic growth? The focus can easily end up becoming unrelenting pressure to produce finished, postable, saleable, works. Even our sketchbooks need to be pristine.

I didn't keep a sketchbook for years because I was worried about not drawing well enough in it! Now I realise what a mistake that was. I missed out on so many ideas, and also a sketchbook is now my place of refuge. If I'm feeling off, or down, I go to my sketchbook. I don't put any pressure on myself, I just draw for the enjoyment of making marks on paper.

Sketchbooks should be there to try out new things, develop ideas, play, and enjoy being creative. There shouldn't be any pressure with what you create in a sketchbook. If you are worried about messing up sketchbooks, I am one of these people too, you can get cheap softback studio sketchbooks, which have 20 pages or so, and just let rip in there. Do what you want without worrying about the result.

Another important point about pressure is you don't need to be selling art to be an artist. Artists create art. That's it. There is no small print that says it needs to be popular or earn lots of money. No one even needs to see it! It's what you feel about art that's important. I wrote here why you're not a failure as an artist.

Take a break
Something that is not talked about enough in art is there is a natural ebb and flow to creativity. It's difficult to maintain a high level of creativity for a long period of time. I often liken it to exercise. All athletes have an off season, where they reduce their training, or have a break altogether. This enables not just physical recovery, it provides a much needed mental break too. 

It's getting increasingly common to see popular online artists hit the wall, because they don't know to have some time off. Your skills will still be there when you get back to it. Like muscles there is memory there. The times I have had breaks from art, from as little as a week, to several months, at some point the desire to create again comes back, and usually strongly. There is no shame in resting.

To sum up
I noticed when I was writing this that all these things flow into one another. Creativity is complex, and often indefinable. I know for myself how I feel within drastically affects my art. It's annoying but I've never managed to separate the two, and I'm not sure I want to. I can't imagine being somehow detached from what I create, I don't think I'd enjoy it.

The lesson I've taken from that is I need to look after my wellbeing so I can keep doing what I love. That means being mindful of where, and with whom, I spend my time, nuturing my skills and inspiration, and enjoying art for the escape it is. I hope some of these ideas help you too.

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