Being an artist I can tell you depression can be at times crippling to one’s creativity. As an artist, it’s no mystery many of us experience depressive moments since we utilize the deepest and sometimes most sensitive parts of ourselves with our imagination. It can be difficult to maintain a joyful disposition when exposing our dreams and ideas to the crushing weight of a critical and sometimes unforgiving reality.
It is an everyday war zone trying to protect one’s artistic spirit, being so open to new ideas from an almost dreamlike state of mind, when most people would rather criticize than appreciate your artwork, or the effort put forth. So again, it is no surprise that the artist is frequented with depression more often than one would care to admit.
According to Dr. Nancy Andreasen, a prominent neuroscientist, psychiatrist and leading expert on creativity, the traits in creative people “…can lead to depression or social alienation.” Creative people according to her studies are “highly intuitive, and that it may arise from unconscious or dreamlike mental states during which new links are created in the association cortices of the brain.” (Andreasen 2005, Andreasen et al 1995).
In other words, we’re wired differently. No shock there as most people with some level of artistic talent is usually described as being a bit of an oddball; be that of an author, painter, musician, actor or another form of expressed talent.
I can admit with honesty and without shame that I have experienced depression on more than one occasion throughout my life. Though I’m not contributing to every experience of melancholy to my creativeness, I will say that I’m sure being prone to expressing my artistic nature didn’t make matters any easier.
I am sensitive to criticism and not because I think of myself as some fragile being incapable of receiving constructive suggestion, but because I probably put myself out there more often than someone who is not involved in the arts, thus increasing the onslaught of constant negative input on something that I see as a piece of my inner soul.
I know most people aren’t aware of how seriously artist take their work, the time they put into it and the amazing amount of courage it takes to put it out there for the world to see. Imagine being completely naked, outside on a stage in front of thousands of people, in the middle of the winter and it’s as silent as the vacuum of space. You can’t see their faces, there’s no body language to judge and no one has given you any inkling to what you may expect.
Then you ask, “What do you think?” and all at once without warning tens of thousands of people are dumping out every preconceived judgment, positive, negative and indifferent at the same damn time. Then you start to wonder if it was even worth it because you knew what you were presenting had a purpose, but now you can’t really pinpoint what it was so you choose a feeling and ride it out. Positive, negative or indifferent.
Now. Do it again and again for five, ten, or twenty years and more.
Based on what we know of human nature I’m sure you can guess which one of those horses is ridden the most.
Yet no matter how many times the dark horse gets mounted creative people don’t typically stop.
Until of course the day it becomes too much. And trust me it gets to be too much.
This is when you will find your local or internationally famous artist taking a break. They may disappear without warning or make an announcement (you know just to see if anyone really cares). You see them making statements like
“I can’t do this anymore.”
“What’s the point, no one supports me anyway.”
“I’ve lost the motivation to keep doing this.”
“I just don’t like it anymore.”
Or something to effect of “Gone to lunch, be back soon.”
There are a few things that may be going on behind the scenes that either make or break the choice of continuing pursuing the artistic endeavor. I can’t speak for everyone, but I’ll list off some of the things that have crossed my mind while wallowing in the depths of an artistic “sunken place”, where deciding to continue with your passion or not is equivalent to killing off an important part of your nature and ego.
When your parents or family don’t support you.
“This doesn’t put food on the table.”
This is usually the first experience most of go through when the decision is made to share your art form with the world. You start with family first.
Now my friends were always supportive (as friends usually are), but it’s not their approval I wanted first. I knew they would support me with whatever I chose to do, but as a child I wanted my parents to be proud. I wanted my family to lift me up and help me achieve my dreams because no one loves you like your family right?
Well, that wasn’t the exactly the case. Coming from traditional working parents they didn’t see it from my point of view- my passion for lifetime achievement was inconceivable to them. Being an artist was just a hobby that hopefully I would grow out of and choose a solid, “normal” career field that was guaranteed to provide versus chasing a dream that they believed only very few ever reached.
It’s hard to keep going when in the back of your mind after multiple rejections you wonder if they were right along…
When everyone else doesn’t think it’s good enough compared to someone else.
“It’s OK, but you’re no Van Gogh.”
One of the worse things is to be told you don’t have what it takes. What makes it even harder is when they say you don’t have what it takes because someone else is better than you. These type of people make it difficult for you to create your own lane. You end up constantly comparing yourself to others and wondering if your work will ever be up to par with the greats. You write a chapter and then throw it out. You start a painting and then trash it. You design a dress and then call yourself stupid for ever believing it was grade A work. J.K Rowling has a gift. Van Gogh is a genius. Coco Chanel was ahead of her time. Me? I’m just an amateur…
They keep picking the other guy over you.
In the words of Peter Griffin this really “grinds my gears.” No matter how hard you work, no matter how prepared you are or how proper your approach is, there is always someone there that seems to make you pale in comparison. Even when I thought I had done everything right here comes Mister or Miss “I added just one more thing than you” that gets picked to go to the next level. I can’t tell you how many dark cloud thoughts run across my mind when this happens. Most people would say you’re hating, but if you’ve ever been passed up for a promotion you’ve been working years on for the new guy you’ll understand.
There are really only three sure-fire ways to break through any of this and unfortunately it’s not the golden ticket to the Chocolate Factory, but nevertheless, it is the only thing that matters.
Remember everyone was an amateur and even the greats are still criticized.
Use the depression to create.
I wish I had something else for you on this, but this is really all it is. Use the dark motions and turn it into art. Some of the greatest pieces of work were made when someone experienced some sort of tragedy and when they were made most people hated it. Edgar Allen Poe, for example, became known for being a bundle of ‘un-jolly’ rain clouds. Having experienced loss in his life his work tended to live on the shadow side of life. And lastly, don’t stop. It does, of course, consists of many factors, but you’ll never reach where you want to go if you stop. That much is purely evident. You quit and it’s over for good.
Keep learning, keep getting better, keep trying new things, keep up your networks, keep brushing yourself off, keep positive, keep making stuff, whatever it is and all of it, but always KEEP GOING.