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How Do I Deal With an Artistic Crisis?

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Photo: Alex/Flickr/Creative Commons License.

ARTS SHRINK is a bi-weekly column designed to answer questions from artists and arts groups related to their arts business and practice. The Arts Shrink brings two decades of experience as an arts consultant, teacher, and mentor to the table as she responds your questions.

Dear Arts Shrink:

I'm in an artistic crisis! I can't work. My arts business (as you call it) is tanking. I don't know what to do. Any thoughts?

-L.A. Visual Artist

Dear LA VA,

Before we get started, the Arts Shrink in me wants you to know that even though things seem dire now, you will get through this. It will be okay.

And you're not alone, I'm quite sure that there are hundreds of other artists struggling with the same challenge -- at this very moment. In fact, this issue is so pervasive that I will devote three posts to my response -- a "crisis trilogy" of sorts.

While there are innumerable responses to a question like yours, I've dug deep into my own experience with crises, and I've had more than I care to remember, and also researched what other people I respect are suggesting so I can give you the best advice possible, darling LA VA.

Part 1 -- Today... Is About You

As obvious as it may sound, take a moment to acknowledge that you're in a crisis and that all or many circumstances may be beyond your control right now. Being a control enthusiast myself, I know how scary this can be. A really smart person I know once likened a crisis to a free-fall; everything out of your control and spinning at warp speed around you. Since you're not in control anyway, why not give up for today? See what happens when you're not orchestrating your life. Observe. Take notes. Just for today; and tomorrow if you feel like it. Don't worry, I'll give you the tools you need to start getting back in control in my next post.

One more word on free-falling: The nature of the free-fall itself will allow you to be at your most instinctive -- grabbing onto what (and who) is most important to you and letting other things (and perhaps people) that are no longer relevant to your life, fall away.

Get Physical -- As much as you may want to spend the day curled up under the sink, its best to get moving -- get some oxygen deep into your lungs. It doesn't have to be complicated. Take a walk or a run. Go to the gym if that's something you do. Breathe. And while you're at it, think of all the things you have to be grateful for. Visualize the people, animals, and things that are meaningful in your life. Gratitude is a powerful thing. Think of 20 things you're grateful for, 30 if you can. Take notes.

Limit Your Use of Social Media -- Now is not the time to compare yourself to others. Personally, I have found that spending too much time reading about the fantastic lives and careers of my friends and colleagues, as presented on Facebook, makes me feel boring and inadequate. If it makes you feel similar, take a break from it. Even if it's just for today. Here's a good post by Maria Konnikova -- "How Facebook Makes Us Unhappy"

Spend Time With Your Clan -- In my opinion, clans are extremely important. Your clan is made up of people (or a person) who get you. And you get them. It may be your family, but not necessarily. I've known some members of my clan for over 30 years, others I've only known for a couple of years, and I may meet a new member today or tomorrow. Clans are organic and can change and morph over time, just like people do. Clans are the same as tribes, if that's a more familiar concept for you. Here's an interesting post by Beth Cougler Blom, "Six Reasons Why it's Important to Find Your Tribe." Now is a good time, LA VA, to spend time with yours. Take notes.

Practice Spirituality -- Whatever this means to you; now is a good time to connect with it.

So today, let you be your art project. Observe yourself as you engage (or don't engage) in familiar or unfamiliar activities. By observing and taking notes on yourself you are laying some very compelling groundwork for your next art piece (or play, or song, or performance...). No matter how painful it might be to actually be you at the moment, know that "crisis" is a turbulent passage and, fortunately not one that you'll be in forever, so take advantage of what its offering you and document it so that you can draw from it down the line -- or now if it inspires you.

Part II on Artists in Crisis.

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