I've been spending a lot of time thinking about how god-awful it can be to be an artist sometimes. I've been to art schools. I have plenty of artist friends, and the same conversation always comes up. In trying to be the best we can at our craft, we often drive ourselves crazy. I suppose the same could be said of any craft, but for whatever reason, it seems particularly prevalent in artists. Well... that, and I'm an artist and not a professional athlete, so I really have no business talking about that. What I CAN talk about are my own personal struggles, and I can relay the stories and sentiments of artists with whom I've spent time.
I always thought it was just me. By that, I mean I thought everyone else was content with everything they did, and that crippling self-criticism and intense self-scrutiny were MY issues. There have been plenty of situations where, regardless of my accomplishments, I've felt that everything I'd done to that point was worthless--- that all of my work was terrible, and that it was pointless to continue. When I really got a sense of just how common it is amongst creative types, I felt I had to do something or say something. I felt I had to start a conversation--- to create a sense of awareness, that everyone in this game experiences the same struggles. It doesn't matter how successful someone is, chances are they've experienced the same struggles and same obstacles as someone who's still stuck on the first rung of the ladder. I suspect the only difference is that those at the top of the ladder are better at pushing through.
There's a tendency for artists to judge themselves in direct relation to their work. It's completely understandable. For most of us, our work is the thing we're most passionate about in life. There's nothing wrong with that, but it can very easily become a harmful situation. When we convince ourselves that we are DEFINED by our work, we open ourselves up to a world of hurt. If we experience failure as artists, we often consider ourselves failures.
The reality is we are NOT defined by our work. Speaking for myself, while my work is incredibly important to me, it's no more important than my loved ones, my happiness, and my health. Sometimes I forget that and I feel powerless, hopeless, and depressed. I need to be reminded that my work is NOT the only thing that matters.
So what can be done? What's the point of this conversation? I'm not nearly smart enough to figure out how to "fix" this issue. The point of starting this conversation is to create a sense of community. There are too many of us who experience roadblocks and give up altogether. It's my hope that if we have others we can talk to, people who deal with the same struggles, the obstacles won't seem so insurmountable.
What I'm asking is this: if you're an artist, make yourself available. I'd like to get people onboard with this from all walks of life, possessing all levels of ability. The more people are behind this idea, the bigger the community, and the easier it is to maintain the conversation.
Thanks for taking the time to read this.