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Balancing Mental Health for Artists

Updated: Mar 26

Maintaining balance in life is an ongoing task for all people. The balance between work and personal life, socializing and solitude, and spending and earning money - to name just a few - can present new challenges every day. Different groups of people, however, experience this balancing act differently. From writers to painters to musicians to dancers, artists of all kinds are no exception, and indeed have their own unique challenges in the face of such balance. 


It’s important to recognize that all people are creative in many ways, but not all people want (or even have access to) a career in the arts. Art of all kinds is for all kinds of people. Engaging with art on your terms, regardless of turning it into a profit, is just as valid as making a career out of it. For those who are pursuing a career in the arts, however, there are some common challenges to overcome.



workbalance for artists


Stresses and concerns particular to artists


Societal

In a society where bottom lines and returns on investments determine the worth of people and their work, creating art of any kind - especially as a career - can seem to others as a waste of time and money. This pressure to not only produce but to profit can leave artists feeling isolated and misunderstood. In a society where “time is money,” it’s common for artists to internalize these messages and deny themselves the necessary resources for their work.


Financial

Relatedly, artists often have difficulty finding employment that is flexible and reliable enough to support their creative careers. This is especially true in the early stages of a career, when money is not only being spent on living expenses, but on socializing, attending events, and a slew of  relevant supplies and services.


Socio-emotional

“Scarcity mentality” refers to a sense of fierce competition among peers - and friends - due to the limited number of resources (i.e. grant money, venues and their availability, available spots on tours, record labels, and publishing houses) and the infinite number of artists vying for those things. This imbalance of supply and demand can lead peers to blaming each other for lack of resources, resulting in bitterness, pessimism, and resentment. Unfortunately, this response often does more harm than good by both creating social isolation and distracting from the larger, more systemic issues of resource distribution. 


All told, the blurry lines between friend and colleague, confidant and competitor, can leave artists wondering where they belong and who they can count as true friends.


Improving the mental health and wellbeing of artists


Develop hobbies and interests outside of creative endeavors

The lines between the work and social lives of artists are notoriously difficult to discern. While this has its benefits, it can also lead to one dimensional sense of self, which carries high risk of burnout. Developing interests outside of arts altogether can offer a wonderful perspective on what sparks your curiosity and motivates you.

Playing sports and exercising, gardening, volunteering, and learning a new language are all great ways to stay engaged socially, cognitively, and creatively. You might be surprised at the benefits of these activities in your career and mental wellbeing.


Spend time in nature

Experiencing nature first-hand provides endless guidance on how to turn raw materials into dynamic and magical works that stimulate hearts and minds, a process that artists are perfecting every day. Beyond creative practice, nature can be a place to return to yourself and gain clarity on what’s important to you.

Some NYC nature destinations include Greenwood Cemetery, Central Park, Prospect Park, Fort Tryon park, and - perhaps surprisingly - trips on the MTA ferry.


Spend time with friends and loved ones outside of work contexts

Because it’s so easy to conflate work and personal life, it’s important to know where your boundaries for each are. Making time to be with friends outside of any work agenda or setting can do a lot for your sense of self and perspective on what’s important to you. Developing strong relationships outside of your career will inevitably benefit you when faced with career difficulties.


Remain open to job opportunities outside of your creative work

The late jazz pianist Geri Allen, began her 2016 Sync Up Conference Keynote Interview by quoting legendary drummer and bandleader Art Blakey, saying, “the measure of success is longevity” (New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation, 2016). While many artists understandably believe that a day job will infringe upon their creative work, few may take time to reflect on how a day job can actually increase their longevity in their career, not to mention teach them new things about themselves. In a field where nothing is certain, the financial security of regular employment can do wonders for the mental health of artists.


Seek out art outside your own discipline

Finally, engaging with art outside of your discipline is a great way to gain perspective as an artist and a human being. In terms of creative practice, you might ask yourself: What has this work shown me about my own creative practice and environment? What’s something new that this work has taught me? How can these insights inform how I approach my career and personal life?


And, perhaps even more importantly: How has this work inspired me to stay connected to my internal sense of wonder and curiosity about life?


By: Stephen Boegehold

Mental Health Counseling Intern



References

New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation. (2016, June 6). 2016 Sync Up Conference Keynote Interview: Geri Allen, The Art of a Career in Jazz [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rt3CFSukFqc



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