Do Artists get stressed?

There are times when I pine for my youthful days spent working at a local deli / fish market where my tasks were organized and specific week to week, month to month. The only big change being relative to what fish was in season. In some ways, it was the happiest job I can ever recall as my coworkers were more than decent and the work was relatively interesting and enjoyable. Would I trade it for the current job I have making art? Certainly not. A more stress free existence is something I would trade for and maybe it’s more attainable than it seems but right now, life is running on stress and caffeine.

To say money has been tight during this economically challenged summer is a truism of magnificent proportion. I don’t teach during the summer so my modest but steady teaching stipend dries up for three months and I rely on savings and also potential art sales to fill in that gap. Car troubles ate up the savings before summer even started and painting sales have been absolutely non existent so the money influx has trickled to a stop. I have never had a summer act so stubbornly. I do have the backstop of a teaching job that starts in September so while things are challenging there is an end in sight. But it does cause a daily stress that accumulates like dust choking a flat surface.

A funny thing happens to artists when outside stress builds, especially the financial kind, and while I have read of it in the history books, I never believed it to be true. Art making gets EASIER in times of financial strife. Logically, it actually makes sense. If you make art that people want, then you need to continue to make that art as people expect it and that puts great stress on your process. If you make something that people don’t want because they have no income to afford it then you are freed to make whatever you want! Honestly, as the summer has gotten hotter and the stress outside my studio rose with the temperature I found myself enjoying making art more and more. I cant exactly explain it but making art has become a release of sorts that doesn’t have any external or, by choice, internal pressure on it to be anything extra special or important. (I have intentionally taken a lighter approach in my own existential thinking this summer – thank god!) In fact, the past few weeks I have combined my love of old Star Wars figures with my current love of making paintings and the resulting paintings are turning out pretty cool! I never would have tried something so completely different if I was having a “normal” summer. Hooray for a poor economy!

I guess life does find a way to seek balance and it’s our job to see how that balance occurs. I remember times when the art went poorly and life was fun and entertaining. And also times when art and life took on the same shades of gray. That art is glowing and life is dull is just the reality of the moment and surely, most assuredly, it will change again.

And I’ll be surprised at that as well….

Comments 4

  1. deb wrote:

    A. Love the star wars, is it for sale? My son would love it also (he’s 17). I like to buy my kids real art for their walls so when they eventually leave home they will have the beginnings of a collection…

    B. funny how when no one’s looking you can get freed up and make what you want. I’ve been dallying around making books all summer (not real art) and then this week I starting a series of drawings which are astonishing me! hmmm

    C. yea! school has started again, and I picked up an extra class, and feel so wealthy right now having just signed my contract last night! I know comparatively speaking I still make no money but it feels like a lot to me!

    Posted 28 Aug 2008 at 8:30 am
  2. Philip Koch wrote:

    Two separate issues come up here. On one hand, creating work completely without concern for a market is liberating to the artist’s imagination. We all have to go there to be artists.

    But other side of that is that except for artist’s with trust funds or other external means of support, the tension and anxiety of being unable to provide food, shelter, and decent medical care eventually overwhelms the artist. I know SO many talented artists who have just become demoralized and quit making art.

    When sales are slow, it is a reminder that most artists are in the same boat with ordinary working people who in the face of a declining standard of living worry about the same things.

    So we have an irony of art being produced by people who stand, if only for a moment, outside of society in their creative bursts. It can be a triumph of personal magic making something remarkable happen in the studio, But artists over time are very much under the gun of economic necessity as are most people.

    My own personal answer is that artists have to be activists too. Self-employed artists badly need a single payer health care system, particularly if they want to have families. We need to see an expansion of art education to build a bigger audience for what we do and to offer more artists the opportunity to teach. We need a more government money for non-profit art spaces.
    And so on…

    Posted 28 Aug 2008 at 10:37 pm
  3. Jason wrote:

    I heard an interesting analogy about commercialism and art from , of all places, a Chinese official from an artistic mecca in China.

    He relayed commercialism to art as water to a boat. Not enough and the boat cant float. Too much and the boat gets swamped. A nice balance and the boat can float and safely traverse the seascape. Interesting way top think of it.

    Posted 30 Aug 2008 at 11:39 am
  4. deb wrote:

    Here’s to floating then!

    Posted 01 Sep 2008 at 8:26 pm

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