Living the artist’s lifestyle is a wonderful way to use your time and energy. Spending your days sculpting, painting, drawing, or taking pictures leads to self-discovery and gives you a unique insight into life’s deepest questions.
However, life as an artist can quickly become overwhelming, and burnout is a major issue for both hobbyists and working artists.
To avoid artistic burnout, you simply must learn how to cultivate creative boundaries that are supported by sustainable art practices.
Understanding Artistic Burnout
Burnout is an incredibly frustrating experience for any artist — even though you love producing art, you find yourself struggling to make a single brush stroke or erasing every line that you draw. However, it is worth remembering that, to a degree, art is supposed to be difficult. As the French literary icon, Albert Camus states, “it’s not the struggle that makes us artists, but art that makes us struggle.”
However, burnout is different from the normal artistic struggle. The World Health Organization defines burnout as an “occupational phenomenon,” which leads to feelings of exhaustion or depletion. It may also cause you to feel mentally distanced from your artistic production and can cause a massive drop in productivity.
Let’s be clear, though; burnout isn’t the end of the road — it’s just a mile marker that shows you how far you’ve come and helps you redirect your energy. The key to overcoming burnout is to identify the cause of your creative stress and start setting boundaries that help you cultivate more sustainable artistic practices.
Social Media As an Artist
Social media is fatiguing at the best of times. Watching peers and world leaders quibble on Twitter is sure to produce a state of ennui.
As an artist, you have to understand that social media is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it helps you get your art out into the world, but, on the other, social media can distract you from your artistic practice and leave you feeling jaded. The key is to optimize your social media through analytics and insights. Using data to inform your posts will help you make quicker decisions, and cut down on the amount of time you spend managing your socials.
Social media is particularly vexed if you use platforms like Facebook and Instagram to sell your products. Folks from all over the world can buy your goods and comment on your posts, but not all patrons understand how much time and effort goes into artistic production. This means you’ll likely be bombarded by requests for work that are simply unrealistic and unachievable. Instead of stressing over these comments and messages, consider digitally maintaining customer service through automated services and prioritize patrons who are authentically interested in your art.
As an artist, you probably dream of the day when you can dedicate an entire room to your artistic production. In reality, most artists make do by doubling up living spaces or home offices as art studios. However, this can detract from the special feeling you get when making art and cause you to experience distractions.
To overcome distractions and improve your artistic focus, consider creating a dedicated space for an art studio at home. This doesn’t have to be a permanent fixture in your home, and you don’t have to empty your entire basement for canvases and sculptures. An art studio can be as simple as a desk reserved solely for drawing or an easel that you set next to a window with great lighting.
When putting together an art studio, try to focus on creating a private space that is distraction-free. Over time, you will be able to add better equipment and invest in finer materials. However, if your space isn’t private and distraction-free you’ll forever be answering emails and waiting for your family to leave so you can get back to your art practice.
Mental Wellbeing and Artistic Practices
As an artist, you might feel as though you have no right to feel glum or complain about your situation. After all, nurses and front-line workers have been through far more stress in the last two years than painters and photographers. However, this is not the right way to look at mental health, and burying negative emotions will only lead to further burnout and frustration.
Instead, you should take a proactive approach to your mental wellbeing. This is highly contextual and may require you to see a medical professional if you are suffering from conditions like depression or anxiety. However, for most people, taking a proactive approach to mental wellbeing might be as simple as sleeping eight to ten hours at night, engaging in short mindfulness activities, or sharing your stressors with a trusted friend.
If you’ve recently started selling your art, you should be aware that creating art for a living can be emotionally taxing and may lead to great anxiety or irritability. If this sounds familiar, try to maintain your mental health as a small business owner by keeping a consistent exercise routine and setting clear boundaries. Try to establish “non-working” hours when you will spend time with your family, and perhaps practice relaxing activities like yoga.
Tips to Get the Juices Flowing
Learning how to set creative boundaries is vital for long-term success as an artist. Still, no matter how disciplined you are, there will still be days when the ideas simply do not flow. While these days aren’t much fun, you should look at them as part of life as an artist and should remember that every artist, from O’Keeffe to Raphael, has struggled to get the creative juices flowing at some point.
On these days, it might be best to put down your pen or paintbrush and do something else. Or, you can use these days to create low-stakes art that becomes the catalyst for your next major work. Here are a few creative exercises you might try:
- Try expressing the same idea through a new medium. Pay special attention to what you “see” when expressing yourself with different materials.
- Journal about your burnout. Once you’ve re-read your notes, see if you can represent them in an artistic form.
- Focus more on feelings and abstraction. While larger projects might be sidelined for the day, you can still get back to the basics and work with core tenants of your practice like color, light, or lines to represent abstract thoughts and basic feelings.
These exercises are designed to get you in a “flow state” for work, so don’t feel pressured to produce finished, professional-level work. Instead, use them as a momentum builder to get you excited about your art practice again.
Creating a sustainable art practice is all about discipline and boundaries. You can help yourself maintain a productive art routine by creating a dedicated workspace and automating things like basic customer service queries. If you’re still feeling burnt out, try working in a new medium for a few days and re-focus on the basics techniques to get your creative juices flowing again.
About the Writer
Miles Oliver is a growing writer working to expand his portfolio. He has learned a lot about creative best practices as a freelancer and hopes to write pieces that may be helpful to others in similar fields!