What can you do when things aren't working and your future seems bleak and unmanageable? This is a question that comes up numerous times in most artistic professions. All of us have experienced this at one time or another in the pursuit of our goals - the dreaded stalemate or string of bad luck. Sometimes it seems that you make some steps forward and then suddenly, nothing is working. I've seen many artists experience a setback or two and want to throw in the towel and quit. Then, in a fit of anger and depression, they go online and look at successful artists with absolute contempt and wonder how the hell they did it. Instead of employing some reflection and accepting that all careers have challenges, they choose to feed the jealousy and begin a deadly cycle of self-pity and projection. If they keep this destructive behavior up, in a short amount of time they have the perfect recipe for depression, anger, and career suicide.
I began my profession in the mid-90s as an artist and I've read countless research about the links between creativity and mental illness. There's even a Wikipedia page "Creativity and Mental Illness" set up for it. If you want more of the scientific side of this discussion I suggest you do your own research. I'm an artist, not a doctor. I am, however, someone who has dealt with over 20 years of experiencing the highs and the deepest lows of this profession so my experience goes well beyond theories and speculation. I know too well how opening yourself up to rejection and criticism can erode your self-esteem and bring on the worst case of the blues and self-loathing.
Case in point - the only way to succeed in this profession is to confront your demons. As artists, we are all unique individuals and many of our problems stem from our childhood experiences. It's a sad fact that many of us didn't have the support we needed as children, either from our parents or friends. Some of you may be even dealing with a physically or mentally abusive past. Some of us may be just dealing with the difficulties of life and how it seems to put an oppressive hold on our desire to want to live a dream. So what do you do when you are in this situation? Every circumstance is different but the remedy is always the same. What is hurting you? Is it that you don't feel validated because a gallery rejected your work? Is it that you aren't making any sales? Did someone harshly criticize you or your work online? Whatever it is, that negative, external force is going to dredge up your past and reinforce what people told you about yourself.
When you're so invested in the bad around you, you become consumed and obsessed by it. For some, it becomes an identity, a mode to garner sympathy or pity. Some even become addicted to the attention. But is that a healthy way to build a more positive future? Hell no. Listen, I've been there - I've swum in those murky waters of defeat and at times, felt more comfortable there. It's often easier to allow the bad to wash over and accept that life sucks then get up and face our fears and failure. But here's the thing, everyone has adversity - you're not that unique. Everyone has some sad story to share and we can't measure or weigh it - it's far too personal. But whatever that trigger is that brings you to your ultimate low, whatever it is that allows the demons to rush in, you must acknowledge it and then decide not give over your power. When you choose to live in the depths of resentfulness and self-pity you see yourself as only a vessel for tragedy. Everyone becomes an enemy and the anger and jealousy grow at a feverish pace. It's the ego taking over and telling you that you're a victim. This mentality will derail you from doing anything worthy or fulfilling in your life and you must not give into it. Nothing good comes from it. Suffering is intrinsic to being - how you use it to your advantage makes all the difference.
No one wants to suffer. Most of us will go out of our way to avoid anything unpleasant. But as artists, we can always find something beautiful even in the most tragic circumstances. It's our job. We use our heightened emotions, our excess of empathy and unique understanding of the word as a vehicle - a way of expressing a universal pain and connecting. Face your demons and put them to work for you not against you. Most times, when we are the most emotionally naked and vulnerable we are the most tapped into our truth and greatness - take that pain and make it pretty.
We can either create a new life or affirm our tumultuous present. If you're a chronic complainer who's desperate for a new, more fruitful life, you must change your narrative. Sometimes you do things that make you feel strong and sometimes you say things that make you feel terrible. Why not try more of the former and repeat it for a few months to see how things change. Social media has given many chronic complainers a daily forum to vent about all the hardships in their life. You know them, the ones you usually 'unfollow' because their incessant bitching makes you roll your eyes so much you have a constant headache. I've seen many individuals make a job of airing all the depressing aspects of their life and then cry that no one is listening or helping. Here's the thing, no one cares. Yep, I said it. No one cares because we're all caught up in our own daily dramas. You'd be surprised how many hardships people face silently, respectively and honorably. The more you affirm how life is beating the hell out of, the less time you have to turn it around. Stop affirming, stop making tragedy your identity and learn how to see even the smallest blessings.
We are an aggregation of psychological entities (Jung). When that voice arises in your head that voice isn't yours. It isn't organic to your body. It was inflicted upon you from outside. Ask yourself who you are aside from those destructive influences of your past. Jung talks about detaching yourself from the voices in your head. You're a house where many conflicting personalities live. How can you get them to get along? Notice how you feel when you utter things that make you feel weak. When you feel well-centered and grounded how does that feel? That is your true self. That's your strongest self.
I've started working on producing a series of videos to help artists on YouTube called "The Truth About Being an Artist." Check it out, like the videos if you enjoy them and subscribe to the channel. I'll be producing two videos a week and they're great to listen to while you work in your studio.