empathy

A Message To All Struggling Artists

French artist Julien Malland, aka SETH, aka Globe-Painter globe art urban art

French artist Julien Malland, aka SETH, aka Globe-Painter globe art urban art

If you’re an artist, you probably remember watching a stranger out of the corner of your eye, dreaming up a story about them…the colour their soul would be on canvas, the angle of their jaw line in sharp focus against your camera lens, the words that would trip out from the tip of your pen about them… Until they come over and say hello – you’re positively floating in a cloud of happy creative energy, when they ask you what you do. ‘I’m an artist,’ you say and they recoil in horror at the absurdity of that and make their disdain known to you – ‘But you look so smart!’

If you’re an artist, you’ve probably been given well intentioned advice by your rich aunt who thinks the time is right for you to choose a different career path now, or the friendly neighbor who shakes his head cynically and cracks a smile that drips superior understanding each time he looks at you, or even distant cousins you didn’t even know you had who think it will be prudent for you to take up the fabulous job offer you got a month ago… Because, you see, you’re one of the poor starry eyed dreamers who believe in the magic of creation and stray from the respectable well worn path of a desk job and a fat pay check – and the fact that you earn plenty of money, and even if you didn’t, it wouldn’t matter to you, is of zero consequence – you’re an artist.


On most days, you bear the mantle with pride. It is easy to shrug off all their concerns, to laugh off criticism and wear your heart your heart on your sleeve minus the protective armour. But what do you do, on days when your output is so low that it might as well be nonexistent? What do you do when you can’t meet deadlines, and have no excuse for it except just not feeling motivated enough?

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  1. Accept  that birthing a piece of art is extremely taxing.
    You are an artist, but you’re only human. Your super power comes from your ability to turn the mundane into magical or vice versa, but that does not mean you have to do it every single day to prove your worth. Each time you create something new, you invest a part of your soul into it and while it cathartic, the process can also be emotionally draining. You need time to recuperate in order to be able to move on to something else. Sometimes, this period can last a couple of hours, other times several days. And that’s perfectly okay.
  2. Give yourself permission to suck.
    Okay, I stole that from John Green, but there is nothing truer than that as far as self liberation goes. Set realistic goals for yourself – you’re not going to finish reading a 400 page long Victorian novella and then organize and conduct a themed photoshoot on it within the span of two days. It’s just not going to happen. You’ll have good days, and you’ll have bad days, but that’s a part of the package. The trick is to figure out the right time to say “I quit” dramatically so you can down an entire bottle of wine and then return shamefacedly to your work the next day.
  3. Be pricey about your creations – it pays.
    This doesn’t include having a false sense of entitlement about money and popularity, but unless you set the bar a little high, no one will take you seriously. Don’t overcharge your clients or fanbase, but never let people take your creative prowess for granted. Being an artist, you’re already widely misunderstood because most people don’t realize that creative work requires time, energy and effort too. Just because you like your job, it doesn’t mean you should give your work away for peanuts.
  4. Turn undue criticism into art.
    We’ve all faced rejection, had judgement passed on us, and gone through phases of insane self doubt brought on by nasty criticism. Most of us are open to suggestions and indeed, speaking for myself, I love to hear how others interpret my work. But the problem with this is, you’re lulled into a false sense of emotional security, when you think you’ve mastered the art of resilience and bouncing back when suddenly someone says “I think this was rubbish,” or the less delicate “what a load of horsecrap, you really suck balls.” And down you plunge into the abyss of misery and self doubt.
    What most artists don’t realize is that this gives brilliant creative material to expand on. So you take the thing that’s causing you pain and beat it (or paint or write or design or photograph) into a completely different shape, and voila! it’s a new work of art! Of course, this will in turn get you more nasty reviews but you’re an artist, c’est la vie.
  5. Love what you do.
    This is perhaps the most important step, as far as creative work goes, because amidst taking on new challenges and widening your horizons and pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, it is almost too easy to lose sight of why you’re an artist. The answer, almost always, is because you love your work. If ever you find yourself in a situation where what you’re currently doing doesn’t feel right, stop. Stop before your annoyance at the task at hand grows and turns into hatred for your work at large. If you’re not one hundred percent satisfied with your creation, don’t put yourself out there. Because ultimately you’re your own worst critic – as long as what you’re doing makes you happy, as long as you believe in yourself, you’re good to go.

Tanvi Deshmukh is a nineteen year old girl from Pune, India, with an affinity for words and books, cats and coffee, Nepalese food and hippie music, and the colour green (along with Oxford commas). Currently pursuing her undergraduate degree in English, she loves poetry, volunteers at an NGO and plays the keyboard in her free time. Along with devouring books of all kinds, unless of course, she’s in the middle of heated discussions on feminism, patriarchy, gay rights, or what to name the neighbour’s new dog.

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