The word of the day seems to be the same word of the day as yesterday, as it was the day before and the day before that… that word, is uncertainty. As we stare the future in it’s cold blank face, a poker face that refuses to give us any real hint as to what’s gonna take place, I think it’s important that we all remember that we still have control over one thing, our thoughts. We still have the power to focus our intention, attention and on what we let things mean. We don’t have to feel as though we’re only playing defense and nothing else. That, after all, gets tiring. We can, however, choose to play some offense and let the chips fall where they may.
I’m no self help guru and I’m not gonna pretend to have the answers or try and sugar-coat things and say everything is fine, nothing to worry about… That said, I do have a few things to consider if you’re an artist and find yourself especially worried or anxious about the near future.
I know a little bit about being anxious about the future myself, having run an independent art gallery for twenty years all the while being a full time artist, one that makes dark and melancholic art in the Midwest. Somehow I’ve managed to survive the aftermath of 911, the market crash and subsequent recession of 2009 as well as numerous little micro debacles and disasters, like exhibits with zero sales etc…
While all of this hasn’t made me an expert, it has taught me a little something about mindset and a little bit about how to weather a storm while being proactive. Here I offer ten ideas for you to consider to get your own ball rolling. By all means, take this all with a grain of salt. If you agree with these tips, awesome. If you disagree with them, even more awesome, that’ll give you the opportunity to think up your own ideas as to how to best weather the current storm and set yourself up for success in the short term and when things begin to normalize…
1. Don’t panic.
Whatever your personal situation, from full time artist to those living pay check to paycheck and or subsidizing their creative pursuits with jobs that may be in a precarious situation, it can be easy to panic. While panic may be understandable, if at all possible, it’s a place we want to avoid as it often leads to more stress and worry and even bad decision making. If you start to feel a wave of anxiety setting in, take a deep breath. Realize that you’re not alone and that everything will in fact be ok. Starting to calm the fears and gain some emotional balance is a good first step.
2. Stay positive.
Thoughts are things. I know this sounds cliché and might not seem to be helpful in times of extreme stress, but in actuality, that’s when they’re the most helpful and useful. Your thoughts are like a flashlight in a dark room. Wherever you point that flashlight, that’s what you’re going to see and focus on, which in turn will only amplify what you already have going on mentally and emotionally and then physically. Emotions and thoughts have a way of feeding back on themselves, so, if you can find it in yourself to focus on the positive, and there’s plenty of it if you search hard enough, you can begin to build up an immune system to the negatives that take place in life.
3. Take a quick break and reevaluate.
If you have a plan and defined goals where your art career is concerned, now might be the right time take a look at that and see what goals or strategies need to be changed and what can remain on task. If you have short term goals (6 months to a year), 5 and 10 year goals, maybe don’t worry about the 5 and 10 right now, but reevaluate to see if your short term goals are achievable or even reasonable now. For instance, that solo show you had planned for the summer, well, it might get postponed or even cancelled all together. It’s best to consider these things now to avoid any shock or surprises later so that you’re better able to adapt as necessary.
4. Create a plan.
If #3 doesn’t apply to you, there’s a good chance that it’s because you don’t have any stated goals for your art and career, let a lone a plan as to how to achieve them.
Enough can’t be said about setting achievable goals. If you’ve never set goals for yourself as an artist, either by way of what you want to achieve creatively or professionally (exhibits, income, sales, etc), this is the perfect time. Trying to move forward, especially in this environment, without a road map and clear and achievable goals, well, that will certainly make things much more difficult. It’s hard enough to succeed in the art world, or any business, even in the most ideal of circumstances. Resources abound online for creating business plans and setting goals and strategies. With all this ample time just laying around, there’s no reason why not to give yourself a quick education on goal setting and building a business plan. In fact, a good business plan includes a section on threats and risks. The art world can be volatile and subject to many outside factors, such as economic crashes. Knowing what these threats are allows you the ability to prepare and have a strategy in place should they ever come to fruition.
5. Don’t stop.
For some of us, times of uncertainty can be a shock to the system, one that sends us to the couch with ice cream and the complete DVD set of X-Files for some serious binging and escapism. I would recommend that while dabbling in this might be a nice outlet for a bit, don’t let yourself get stuck in that rut.
This is the time that you need to keep working, keep making art and keep exploring your options. If you don’t have a website or if it’s out of date for instance, this is your opportunity to make it sparkle. If you’re not so up on Social Media or haven’t created a business page to link to an online store, again here’s your opportunity. Try and make your daily actions gel with your goals and strategies as created in #4.
6. Be flexible.
Times like these call for flexibility. Its the tree that bends in the storm that doesn’t snap and break. If you’re not used to or don’t like social media or tech for instance, well, maybe now is the time to learn to embrace it. If you make large expensive work, maybe now is the time to consider making smaller more affordable work with a wider audience base. I’m not suggesting you sell yourself out or do anything that would compromise your integrity. What I am suggesting is that you be open to adapting, if necessary, in ways that align with your values and again, gel with your goals and strategies. We are creative after all, so that shouldn’t be too hard.
7. Remember the why.
Why did you become an artist in the first place? Was it to be famous and rich or for a sense of security, or was there a deeper meaning to the act of creating? My guess is that while the money, fame and lifestyle of being a famous artist isn’t to be shunned, that there is a deeper sense of what making art means to you. Perhaps you’ve never really considered this before. Might I recommend that even before setting out to create goals and strategies, that you contemplate on what being an artist means to you at your core.
Remembering why you make art can help give you emotional and mental fuel as you push through adversity. It’ll also help fuel those moments of creative road block in figuring out your next move. If you’re finding yourself having to be flexible and step out of your comfort zone, well, knowing why you’re doing it and seeing the big picture will help make these decisions small potatoes and hopefully a cake walk.
Staying in touch with friends, family, patrons and collectors is important. Your friends and family are most likely your first line of people who will have your back should things get desperate. And if you need help, ask. It’s important that we all know we’re not alone. And in the case that maybe you feel as though you don’t have anyone, there are plenty of resources online, just make the call or send the email. And if all else fails, by all means shoot me a message.
It’s also important to let your patrons and collectors know that you haven’t buried yourself in a bunker either, but that you are in fact working, making art and that you’re focused on continuing to serve your customers.
9. Stay tenacious.
This is a reiteration of #5. Keep on keeping on so to speak. Remember that you own a business, and just because the outside world may seem to stop, that doesn’t mean yours does nor does your business. Keep making art and keep to your business plan and keep talking and reaching out. While you might not see progress in the moment, you are in fact planting seeds that will grow in the future.
10. Share the love.
This is a time to give and not worry so much about getting. Obviously it’s wise to shore up our own house first, but then be sure to make yourself available for others. There are people all around us that need our help in one way or another. It shouldn’t be hard for us to get creative in how we share our time and energy with others and make ourselves of service.
BONUS TIP: Be grateful, always.
We live in an extraordinary world. To exist in the first place is a gift. From this starting point, there’s only one place to go, and that’s up. If you can find it in you to be grateful in the most dire of times, well then, you’re probably more likely to be happy in general. Not only that but you’ll be better able to help those around you that need some extra encouragement. While certainly an inconvenience, the current situation we find ourself in can serve as a nice reminder not to take things for granted and to really embrace all this life has to offer.
I wish each and every one of you, your family, friends and loved ones a safe, healthy and creative next couple of weeks!
Note: If you found this article useful, be sure to tune into my podcast, Art Wunderful, on Monday at 7pm (HERE or wherever you listen to podcasts) as I’ll be discussing these tips a bit further. I’ll also include a few stories about the times I’ve had to weather a storm and what I did well, and what I didn’t do so well…