Ask the Art Prof: How Does a Visual Artist Face Artistic Burnout?

Final Crit

“How do you face artistic burnout or times of no motivation?”

It’s inevitable for every artist to go through difficult periods, especially if you’re in an intensive working environment like art school where your life is so fully saturated with art all the time.  Being an artist is a dramatic roller coaster ride where you can experience everything from moments of exaltation to moments of painful failure.  If you’re not experiencing this, it means that you’re not pushing yourself enough creatively.

I went through quite possibly the worst creative crisis I’ve ever had in my career in the summer of 2012, when I couldn’t figure out these sculptures I was working on. You can read about it in this post. I don’t remember ever being so completely consumed by my lack of focus before.  I had experienced brief periods of no motivation, but nothing on this level. I wanted so badly to slap myself back into shape, but that desire only heightened my frustration with myself. Eventually, I did come out of it after several weeks, but it was an excruciatingly slow process that was unbearable at times.  And when you’re in the middle of it, you feel trapped like its never going to end.  Below are some concrete actions I took at the time that worked for me.

Studio View

1) Reach out to other artists.
This is one of the most effective strategies for staying sane if you’re having a tough time. Talk to your friends who are artists, explain to them what’s happening with your work.  If you have a mentor, call them up and whine your heart out.  Your artist friends and mentors will provide the support and encouragement that is so critical to have when things aren’t going well.  Try not to have a pity party for yourself and wallow in despair on your own, none of that is productive and will only allow you to sink deeper into destructive emotions.

2) Suspend your inner critic.
We are our own toughest critics.  Usually we are much tougher and more demanding of ourselves than anyone else around us. Throw away your ambition and expectations for yourself temporarily, knowing that when you’re ready, you can reinstate them.

3) Change your environment.
Taking a short trip can sometimes break up the monotony of your regular environment, and can often times stimulate some sorely needed inspiration.  A day trip to New York City almost always works for me. Even spending a whole day in a local museum can be incredibly refreshing and allow you to reset your brain.

More Armatures

4) Change media.
Switching to a different material can provide a different perspective on the same subject. It can keep your hands busy and get you thinking about your work in different ways. For example, if you’re working with two-dimensional media, change to three-dimensional media and see how that transforms your outlook.

5) Take a break.
Drop everything and hit the gym, read a good book, go pig out at a good restaurant, whatever works for you. This will provide the distance and time away from your work that you need. Many of us will hit a plateau with our work:  we know that we need to change something, but we don’t know what because we’ve been staring at the work for too long. Getting away from the piece will allow you to see the work with fresh eyes when you return.

6) Don’t give up.
One of my friends said this to me when I was in complete despair, and it was exactly the kind of straight forward, no-nonsense advice that I needed to hear at the time. Know that as much as it hurts when you’re in the thick of it, that this too shall pass. Ride it out as best as you can and try to have faith that in the end, you will persevere.

ART PROF is a free, online educational platform for visual arts for people of all ages and means. features video courses, art critiques, an encyclopedia of art supplies, and more.

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ASK THE ART PROF was a written column in the Huffington Post from about art related topics. Visit our Pro Development page.

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