by Carly Schorman
I can’t help noticing that it seems like a lot of people I know have been down in the dumps lately.
So many of the artists in my life seem overworked, underwaged, always tired, &/or battling the beasts of self-doubt and dejection. As a person who always dealt with the perils of depression, I’ve tried to shape out some important realizations that helped me along the way.
I also reached out to #TeamYabYum for some of their suggestions as well.
(1) Stop comparing yourself to other people.
Let’s start with the obvious here… Theodore Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy” and boy-oh-boy was he right. Everyone is on their own path and that path is not necessarily linear. In fact, as an artist, you’re not even on a path. You should be forging a whole new way. You should be out there with the bulrushes and horny toads and that creepy, lurking thing you worry might be the workings of your own mind or it might really be following you. Both are scary and you don’t know which is more frightening.
To be an artist is like committing yourself to a religion in a way (albeit a distinctly different way). You just have to keep moving forward with blind faith that there is meaning in the journey. And, in no circumstance, should you turn your head away from where you are going to see where everyone else is. It will only distract you.
(2) Don’t Anchor Yourself to Depression
I know, I know… the artistic temperament and all that other bullshit we’ve been fed about suffering and depth of expression. But there is a serious issue with romanticizing the Artist’s Nature that has been a detriment to all of us for far too long.
I’ll admit it, depression and mania both carry their own creative force – even if it’s just channeling out the flurry in your brainspace. And, while they feel like they might fan the creative fires, they burn through creative minds. You can’t create art when you can’t get out bed in the morning. Or when you’re dead. If we continue to romanticize mental illness amongst artists, we will continue to lose artists to mental illness.
And, since were being totally honest here, anyone who tells you getting to the other side of depression (or mania) doesn’t impact your creative process is either lying to make the process appear easier at the start or someone who hasn’t really been through the proverbial ringer. But that doesn’t mean you won’t be a better artist once you get to the other side. I certainly feel that once I retrained myself to write without the reliance of manic urges or depressive purges (or drugs) I don’t honestly know what I thought was so special about my earlier work. Maybe it was all that bipolar grandiosity swirling around in my untidy mind that convinced me I could only produce in that state. Depression is, after all, a dirty filthy liar.
Fighting to get a handle on your depression is a worthy struggle. You might not get to the place where you control it, but you can get to a place where it can’t control you. And that, my friends, is a place worth checking out. It won’t be an easy journey, but you won’t lose yourself along the way. And you just might start to unearth some of the richer complexities of your own mind. That could do wonders for your work.
(3) Follow Your Instincts
This suggestion comes to us from Mitchell Hillman and I totally agree. As an artist, you should should trust your gut when pursuing new projects or new directions. Always be open to innovation, but also learn to trust the artistic impulses that drive your creativity.
You can always see what works and what doesn’t when you get to the revision stage (and, yes, there always should be a revision phase), but when new ideas pop up, it’s best to grab hold and run with them.
Some will work and some won’t but you won’t know until you try. And boldly following through on your (non-criminal) creative urges is the surest way to uncover your true voice.
(4) Learn to Take Criticism
This one comes from our infamous YabYucker Chris Nunley and I think it’s important advice for any artist. Part of being an artist is putting your work out for public scrutiny and that means exposing yourself to criticism or, worse, ridicule.
It’s sorta like asking someone out on a date… with a poem… that you have to read out loud… in front of everyone you’ve ever known or ever will know… while standing in your underwear. It can leave you feeling vulnerable.
And then the comments start coming in or crickets (which might be worse). The internet makes everyone feel like their opinion merits sharing and then there are ACTUAL CRITICS who might join the conversation.
There are different ways to navigate the tenuous waters of criticism to save you unnecessary hurt feelings. Here are the two I suggest: (1) Use the constructive points of criticism to improve your work. Maybe someone will bring up some valuable critiques that you can use to make your next undertaking even better. If you don’t agree with the assessment, dismiss it outright. Fuck everyone else. (2) Totally ignore the criticism. Don’t read the comments. Know you put your best foot forward and you’ll keep striving to do even better next time. That’s really all you can do. Fuck everyone else.
(5) You Don’t Have to be a Hustler
We live in the era of the Artist-Hustler. I suppose, really, if you take a look at history, artists have a history of hustling. Troubadours trading tales for board, poets seeking patrons, painters selling portraits… it’s a tale as old as time.
Now fast forward to the 21st Century where there’s the internet in every home (not really) and social media to provide artists direct access to potential fans everywhere. Where does one draw the line between self-promotion and self-debasement? Everyone is telling artists they have to sell themselves in order to sell their work.
You can say to hell with that. Maybe you were born with that hustler-style and you want to make it big anyway you can. I get that. I roll that way, but plenty of folx don’t feel the same. But maybe you just want to focus on perfecting your craft and leave the rest to the hands of fate. That’s cool too.
Take a Bob Dylan approach to the business of music and just say no. Maybe you’ll be limiting your chances of breaking big. Or maybe investing the time into being the best artist you can be will serve you better than a thousand networking hours. Who can say? And, more importantly, who fucking cares? We’re all rolling the dice here. You have to decide for yourself where you want to put your energy.
(6) Self Care is Product Development
You probably know all the types. There’s the Bathroom Breakdown type and the I’m-Too-Big-for-this-Gig. There’s the type that disappears for a few days/weeks and sends the internet into a flurry (aka The Andrew Jemsek) and then there’s the type that builds it all up until they have a complete psychological breakdown on Facebook.
The thing is, life is hard. Making music is also hard and, oftentimes, thankless. And, if we’re being totally honest here, the world’s been a bit of a shitshow lately. It wears you down.
If you need to unplug for a few days, do it. If you need to skip a friend’s gig to catch up on some sleep, tell them you’ll make it out next time. If you need to lock yourself away in your bedroom for a few days and channel your feelings into some new songs, go for it.
Tell everyone you’re working on self-care in the name of product development. That’ll make you seem like you’re working toward a goal rather than slacking off. And that’s exactly what you’re doing. So, everyone calm down, Andrew will turn on his phone when he’s damn well ready.
(7) Know You’re on a Path Without End
The above statement sounds a little ominous, but it’s important for artists to recognize that they are on a journey that will last the course of their lives. True artists are always seeking to better their work.
And that is sort of inherently depressing. If you’re always seeking improvement, it means that every time you take a step forward, the work of your past feels lesser than what you are capable of. It’s a harsh cycle, but an important one.
It’s important to find a way to come to peace with yourself and your personal development as an artist. If you are continually looking to move forward, don’t be so hard on yourself if you’re not exactly where you feel you should be.
You’ll never get there. And, what’s more, you should never want to get there. Not really. Every time you attain new mastery, it’s time to move the bar again. The journey is the destination.
(8) Support Other Artists
Community-building is an important part of any artistic approach to the world. This is because artists are different. They place value on different things and fill their “free time” with different pursuits. And for this reason, as anyone with a family of “Normies” can tell you, artists tend to feel very isolated.
It’s important to seek out others like you so you have a support system that understands the things you hold sacred. The best way to do this is to head out into the world and find others like you.
Go to art shows or concerts and meet other people in the larger world who can appreciate the struggles and joys of the #ArtistLife. You might make connections that can help you find new opportunities to showcase your own work, but, more importantly, you might make some friends who are committed to their creative endeavors, just like you.
A little mutual support goes a long way toward making a “scene” feel like a family.
(9) Know Thyself
This is the most important axiom. Probably of all time. Not only will understanding the inner workings of your mind improve your work, it can improve your life. Know what upsets your delicate internal balances and, more importantly, WHY.
Maybe crowds make you anxious. Maybe vodka evokes your inner anger. Maybe you get sad when the weather changes. Whatever your thing(s) is, know it and own it. That’s the only way you can manage it.
Spend time in the confines of your own mind and start charting your character. If the terrain becomes too treacherous, seek out a friend or professional therapist to be your Virgil as you ascend the levels of Hell.
The more you understand about yourself, the further you can delve in that self-exploration in your work. That sounds like a win-win.