Exhaustion

One of the biggest draw backs to visual art for me is that it is a solo endeavour. I’ve always quietly envied musicians who jam together, making art can be rather lonely. I’ve tried being part of art groups, but it doesn’t fit me. Feedback in the middle of the process derails me. I actually went for about 8 years completely unable to make any art. Regaining it has taken a lot of time and patience and unpicking knots I’d become tied up in. So the process is rather fragile and necessarily done in a studio space by myself. In addition, one of the things I value most about my art practice is the absorption, where I tune everything else out for a time and become totally focused on my work. This is difficult for me in a space with lots of other people constantly interrupting. Crafts is a whole other ball game, doing cross stitch while nattering away is achievable and enjoyable. But making art for me must be a private process.

The business of being an artist, like any sole trader, has the spectacular downside of also being an individual journey. There’s no one there to look out for you except you. I’m constantly amazed at how many people think being an artist is really easy. Paint stuff and sell it – how hard can it be? Running any small business requires phenomenal dedication and a broad range of skills across many different areas. For an artist, they require not only creative artistic skills, but business nous, accounting skills, the ability to organise, to liaise with other people, maintain networks within the art industry, and learn many other skills that don’t often come easily to creative types. All against a background of constant devaluing (what’s the point of art anyway, it’s kind of useless) and the ever present risk of not being able to afford the rent.

I was at my last day of SmART training yesterday, and I’m exhausted. Not enough sleep, too much output, not enough places to talk, not enough downtime all combined to leave me on the verge of collapse. My whole body shook gently all morning and I spent the day trying not to cry. Dissociation kicks in and I have to work hard to focus and stop my vision blurring. Emotional exhaustion means the shields I keep strong emotion behind start to fail. Raw nerves are easily scraped. Intensity makes people distance in discomfort or move too close. I miss the team approach of shared work, even while I hate the politics, gossip, power dynamics, and personality clashes. I miss having a supervisor to turn to on days like today. My tolerance for any form of positive psychology is depleted to zero. My ability to believe things will all work out is zero.

This cynicism and emotional burnout is deeply uncomfortable to experience in a social setting. It’s actually an adaptive response. My life has burned down on more than one occasion. Losses, trauma, and chronic stress come out of nowhere like bush fires. Going into shock about it isn’t a survival trait. After the first time, you look for signs it might be happening again. Of course, that process can become self fulfilling. Hard balance to find. It hurts just as much each time, but seeing it coming you can at least brace yourself. So, days like this I find it’s best to be alone, in a space where no one will try to cheer you up, explain that life is what you make of it, or need you to hide the disturbing evidence of your chewed up heart. Trying to be ‘okay’ all the time only deepens the exhaustion. I give up on accomplishment or connection, pour a glass and have a black celebration.

Tomorrow is another day.

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