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October 4, 2010 11:05 AM   Subscribe

I no longer derive joy from making art. Should I accept this as a fact and move on with my life, or rage against the dying of the light?

Over the past couple of years, I seem to be experiencing diminishing returns from practicing drawing and painting. What once gave so much joy, passion and meaning to my life -- I now dread it, and when I do complete something, I feel nothing from it. I have taken to accepting more freelance/commissioned projects, because doing art for someone else (and the fear of letting them down or missing a deadline) is all the motivation I have left.

Other things in life give me happiness, satisfaction and joy, so I'm not immediately jumping to the conclusion of clinical depression.

I've gotten pretty good at what I do, but I no longer want to do it. I'm faced with this question: do I accept that somehow I have changed and "moved on"? Or is there something I can do to bring the spice back to my marriage with art?
posted by overeducated_alligator to Media & Arts (14 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
i dont think this is something anyone else can answer for you.... however

i would encourage you to explore different forms of art. maybe push your painting and drawing techniques into an exploration of other media. drawing with a watercolor wash over the top, or making a sculpture and painting on it. make an animation of your drawings. etc.

saying this as someone who felt similar until an exhibition was offered to me and i was forced to come up with new material in a short time. in this way maybe we have a similarity, the ability to work more successfully with an assignment or deadline. anyway, i tried a bunch of new things, and re-gained some ambition and motivation.

there are so many forms of art out there, maybe you just need to evolve your techniques to keep yourself interested.
posted by white light at 11:12 AM on October 4, 2010

Best answer: You sound burned out to me. Instead of taking on more freelance, if anything I think you should take none. The still small voice of inspiration is more likely to be heard if you have nothing else going on, and you are more likely to indulge in any playful "just because" experimentation if you aren't besot with deadlines.

I stopped freelance writing for a year so that I could hear myself think, and maybe write down some of it. What followed was an astonishingly productive year, and while what I'm working on now has nothing to do with freelance or what came immediately after, I have that period to thank for it.
posted by hermitosis at 11:13 AM on October 4, 2010 [4 favorites]

Just keeping on, keeping on (with the freelance stuff) will not lead you out of this.

(says the procrastinating freelancer who has just proffered his 1207th AskMe opinion)
posted by bonobothegreat at 11:29 AM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

You care enough that you are considering not giving it up, so that's something.

And even though you enjoy others things, it doesn't eliminate depression. I still say it's worth checking out because the investment can pay off handsomely.

I may have missed it in the question, but what does your art have to do with spicing up your marriage?
posted by inturnaround at 11:30 AM on October 4, 2010

If it's not bringing you joy, don't do it, and certainly don't force yourself to do it. Try something else, perhaps a different media or something. Choose something unrelated to what you're doing now, and try that.

Following on from your mention of "marriage to art", consider this a trial separation. It's not a divorce (you can come back and do this particular artform again), it's just some time apart to see how you fare and explore other avenues. You might find something else that catches your eye, or you might find a rekindled excitement for your former lover.

Should you find another thing, you could consider following that, and forming a relationship with it. Or you might find that you're missing your paintbox so much that you want to go back to it. Don't think that because you don't enjoy it now means you'll never enjoy it again. It might be that you won't enjoy it again, which means that you're wasting time trying to force the issue.

Whatever happens, right now, it's not something that you want to do. Pay attention to that impulse.
posted by Solomon at 11:31 AM on October 4, 2010

I've been in the same place with fiction and poetry. For years my goal was to be "a writer" -- that purist, rigid artiste who must sacrifice everything in devotion to my craft. Anything short of that would be absolute failure. As years wore on, I realized my ambition to be "a writer" was an idealized, intellectualized image that had nothing to do with the art and craft of fiction and poetry. I didn't want to "write," and wanted to "have written" (if that makes any sense at all). I came to understand that there weren't any stories I wanted to tell or ideas I wanted to convey. Furthermore, I realized that I didn't have a voice. Being "a writer" suddenly seemed to have no meaning for me.

I've come to find creative expression in other areas--mostly through preserving and preparing foods, making beers, &c--and haven't looked back since. I haven't written a shred of prose or verse (aside from work, of course) for nearly five years and haven't missed it for a moment. In fact, I could care less about it.

It's been an incredibly liberating process, for me personally. I'm not trying to judge myself against any ideal. I'm not trying to hold myself against some undefined standard. I no longer continue to place value or self-worth in the quantity of pages or poems I've produced. I've moved on.

Now, having said that, going back will always be an option. I can return to writing whenever I like. It's not an all or nothing for me. Sure, the secret to producing good writing is practice, hard work and perseverance. It's like a muscle that needs exercise or it will atrophy. But it's something that I could return to later and get back into shape, should I feel the need to have it back into my life. But right now? I'd rather cure some bacon, ferment some cabbage and brew a batch of beer.

tl;dr -- Take some time, give it a break. You may find that you can't live without art, or maybe, like me, you'll find you just don't care anymore. As long as you find satisfaction in other parts of your life, what difference does it make?
posted by slogger at 11:32 AM on October 4, 2010 [3 favorites]

You might find this comment on an old AskMe question helpful.
posted by John Cohen at 12:36 PM on October 4, 2010

Best answer: For most of my adult life, I've been a photographer, and a hardcore one; I rarely went outside without a camera in my hand. If I lived for any one thing, it was that; no relationship, no other activity (not food or sex or any of that good stuff) ever provided me as much *consistent* pleasure and satisfaction as photography did. Even when I was struggling with it, I still loved the struggle. (And for a manic-depressive, that's saying something.) I thought I'd be buried with my 5D in my hands.

And then it all stopped. In my case, depression *did* have a lot to do with it; I was, and am still, dealing with a fuckton of grief and self-destructive impulses. But in moments of clarity -- when I still "feel like myself again" as much as I can, and whatever that means -- the pull just isn't there anymore. I kept taking photos for a long time after the griefs hit, but I think I was just going on autopilot, keeping myself busy doing what I'd always done in a twisted effort to keep myself sane, I suppose. I even photographed my husband's ashes being scattered in the Irish Sea (perhaps, on some level, to keep me from thinking about throwing myself in after them). I thought when the grief would wear down to at least numbness that the joy might come back to photography for me, but it just never did -- even at my relative-best times, and despite my best efforts, it still felt like being on autopilot. I could still do good, even great shots, if only because it was such an automatic process for me that I could do it in my sleep (hell, I practically was), but I just wasn't feeling it anymore. Eventually I stopped trying to fight it, and I haven't shot a single frame for two years.

Ever since then, I've spent almost all my time alone, not sure what the hell I was going to do with my life (photography wasn't just my passion, it was my source of income -- and I was all too aware how fortunate that made me in the first place, *and* lucky to be ABLE to walk away), but unable to form any real plans. I spent a long time trying to do several other things, both creative and not, but it was all the same; everything I tried felt like a meaningless diversion at best, a chore from hell at worst.

I'd long already figured writing to be on the "diversion" end of the scale for me. I'd tried to write a novel for *years* -- I suppose I saw creativity like mountain-climbing; I'd jumped around photography and some other foothills for fun and profit, and writing a novel had to be the Everest and people have written millions of the things so why not? And oh god did I try to make it work, for a LONG long time... and all I managed to produce were boxes full of unfinished chapters and half-assed outlines, and draft after draft that started well enough on sheer enthusiasm but crashed and burned as soon as the initial excitement wore off. I'd burned myself out on it without having anything good to show for it -- after I quit photography, writing always lurked in the back of my mind as something I could try Just One More Time, even though I thought I knew better.

But finally, one day I was going through my husband's things and I came across some unfinished chapters I'd written and had let him read a couple weeks before he died. At the time I'd disregarded them almost as soon as I finished, as one more failed attempt at something that I just was. not. meant. to. do and really shouldn't I have stopped trying long before now? But he'd liked them and made me promise him that I'd do something with them... and reading those chapters again a few years later, long enough for them to have completely gone out of my head and feel fresh, something just *clicked* for me. Not just the can-do enthusiasm that had failed to be enough for me before, but in a deeper, I know this is what I'm meant to do sense... the sense I *used* to have with photography, and had perhaps become so accustomed to for so long that I'd taken it for granted. The sense of belonging.

And I wrote my novel and I kinda sorta really like it and I dedicated it to him and I'm already thinking about my next one.

And I think -- no, I know -- that I couldn't have done it before. I was just a different person before, and the things I've been through in the past several years have changed me profoundly. But I DON'T think that has anything to do with tragedy or depression at all, necessarily; people just change, *period*. Certainly my husband's death, and other things, have changed me. But I've also changed by watching a good movie, or playing with my nephew, or baking cookies or walking in the Dublin rain -- all things that may not be as absolute as the One Big Thing with all its terrible everlasting clarity -- but I know the combined weight of all the hundred thousand little experiences and moments has changed me at least as much, even if I can't measure how. It's just part of being alive and having a brain that, every day, takes in some small thing that is utterly transforming and new, even if it's all but invisible. And if I change into someone who never takes another photo -- or ever writes another word, etc -- I'm okay with that. Excited, even, to see what I may find next.

Follow your bliss, as Joseph Campbell said; I have to believe there *is* always a bliss for us somewhere, even if it doesn't want to stay in the same place. :)
posted by Noah at 1:21 PM on October 4, 2010 [15 favorites]

It is my personal belief that the best art and creativity comes from limitations. The artist rages against the restrictions, tries to find ways out of and around them, and in the process makes something great. I don't know if you are solely an artist, or if you have a "day job", but perhaps you have got too cozy with your art. Perhaps you are free to draw and paint anytime you want, with materials you know you like and are very familiar with.

I agree with others, you should stop for a while. Possibly just telling yourself that you are NOT ALLOWED to paint or draw for [some period of time] will be refreshing at first, then gradually you will want to do a few sketches, but are not permitted to. It sounds silly, especially if its self-imposed, but give it a try. Or you can continue to draw and paint but only using unfamiliar materials. I prefer the former idea though.

If you don't have a day job, maybe get one. Doesn't matter what, just something to take you out of your routine and impose restrictions on when you can draw and paint.
posted by Joh at 1:40 PM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

When my art became my 'work' my joy became a 'job'. I lost all interest in creativity and expression. All I did was churn out 'stuff'.

Taking a break worked for me. I'm fine with concentrating on one thing for awhile. For example, I'll live-breathe-eat quilting for a period of time, then I'll go on to something else, maybe beading. I feel like it keeps my brain fresh and I get ideas for other projects.
posted by tar0tgr1 at 9:52 PM on October 4, 2010

Maybe take a look at "The Artist's Way" (it may be at your local library).

posted by mbird at 10:14 PM on October 4, 2010

I don't do art for a living. I am lucky enough to get to show things locally fairly often, but I haven't sold anything in years. People say they really like things and that I'm setting fair prices, but the economy is terrible.

I get really sad when I don't sketch or paint. It pains me. Especially when I know it will make me happier to do it but I just... can't. right. now. I'm doing my art thing for my own benefit. My mom is a commercial artist who used to do exquisitely detailed oil paintings and lovely loose watercolors. Now she does layouts for screen printing and finds her bliss in making intricately beaded tiny macrame projects. I find my bliss doing something completely different (colored pencil, acrylics, chunky wire sculpturey things), but they also use things I learned from her.

My bliss has little to do with my job, but it has been a hard summer for me with my art projects partially because of work. I started a new job in June that takes a lot of mental and physical effort. I really, really like my job, but I haven't been doing the sketches, etc. I need to do nearly as often because I've had to focus my efforts in other directions. Work, kids, whatever. My art group has been having drama, so I get no inspiration there. I just do what I WANT to do when I can manage.

I find that my good times with art happen in cycles. Sometimes it's days. Other times it's longer, sometimes months. I can't imagine doing it for a living. Trips to the library to get the right books or visiting other artist's shows or studios help light my fire.

It's not going to disappear from you. Perhaps you just need to take a little break. And then, when you least expect it, you'll catch yourself looking at a thing a particular way or doodling a lovely outline or picking up a piece of wire and making the perfect shape.

I can't imagine that mandatory art can be as fun (and GOOD) as when it's spontaneous. Don't sell your soul to make your living. Your soul is too precious for that.
posted by lilywing13 at 11:58 PM on October 4, 2010

Best answer: The day the antidepressants kicked in I sat on the floor playing Pastorius bass solos all day. I didn't even have time to get dressed. It was the first time I'd played anything for fun in years (and bass is supposed to be my 'fun' thing - it's not my main instrument).

That day, I retired from any form of professional involvement with music. For ever. 'Ever' turned out to be about two weeks - long enough to get the love of it back.

Mandatory art? When it was bad, I was forcing myself to do it. When it's good, it forces me. It's still mandatory...

posted by monkey closet at 1:26 AM on October 5, 2010 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks, folks. I think burnout is part of the problem here. In another AskMe, I followed this link:


And that seemed to have some answers, too.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 6:10 AM on October 5, 2010

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