In my experience, our business/ life model is one that is very prone to burnout. If you walk around an art show, you will always find lots of people who are tired, overworked, undercompensated, and questioning the wisdom in their life decisions to try to make a business as an artist. This does not apply to everyone in the art show world, but it must be a higher percentage of our group than the general population.
Over the last six years, Mark and I have been in and out of many burnout cycles. It is amazing how quickly we can go from enthusiastic and inspired to a space where the only thing that keeps us going is that we have to pay the bills and are not sure how else to make that happen in the short term. Often, these burnout cycles, have lead to a depression that colors our entire life outlook. The worst part is that it is hard to make anything really better from a depressed space.
Like most things, this life style is a double edged sword. Many artists will tell you that they are so sick of all of the hard work with very little payoff. Other artists will tell you that their work is so intrinsically rewarding that it doesn’t even feel like work, and they love what they do. Most of us cycle between the two more often than not. Here are a few things that I have found helpful for staying on the “I love what I do” side of the equation.
Surround yourself with loving supportive people! When I get isolated, I get depressed. When I feel connected to loving supportive people, I am much better at keeping things in perspective. It is not always easy, because the more work I have to do, the harder it is to find time for friends and nurturing healthy connections. I often feel guilty for spending time taking care of myself and connecting with friends, when I feel like I “should be working.” The reality though, is that I know I am not very effective when I am feeling alone and depressed. Laughter and connection are essential and powerful for staying human, alive and well.
Also, make sure you are doing things you love other than your art. For me, it could be dancing, cooking, hiking, writing, reading, or any number of things. While I really enjoy making jewelry, it is so connected to the drama of trying to make a living at it, that it is not always a reliable source of playtime. When I define my whole experience by something that I perceive to not be working very well, it makes all of life look very hard and frustrating. When I take time to do the thinks that make me smile, life has a lot more meaning beyond the current challenges I am facing.
Finally, make sure you are taking time to be an artist! It is easy to fall into the production trap as a studio professional. Many artists and artisans, myself included, find it very helpful to have a collection of designs or themes that we repeat. While this is a very valid strategy for making a living through our artwork, it is usually not as creatively stimulating as being in the design space. If you consistently allow yourself a little bit of time to work with new styles, you will find your work to be much more fun, exciting, and intrinsically rewarding.
I could go on all day about positive mental health strategies as an artist, but these are the three that I have found most helpful. If you have any others, please share them!