Are You Making Any of These 10 Common Mistakes That Can Lead To Artist Burnout?
By Thea Fiore-Bloom, PhD
“Burnout is rarely associated with creatives, but it should be,” said LCSW Gale Nienhuis.
As Nienhuis notes, unlike salaried 9-5 types we have a lot of feast or famine times that make for long, stressful gaps between paychecks.
“This pressure combo can leave artists especially vulnerable to a state of mental, emotional and physical exhaustion known as burnout.”
Causes of burnout vary among creatives.
But the following are ten general behaviors that artists, art business coaches, and therapists I spoke with agreed, pave the way to work-related weariness.
10 Things That Often Lead To Burnout For Heart-Centered Artists
Artist Burnout Cause #1
We Work Really Hard – On the Wrong Things
We get burnout when we work really hard on the wrong things; things that cause us to step away from our soul selves.
The “wrong things” are pursuits not directly connected to your most important values and goals.
The “wrong things” often involve daily “spray and pray” social media marketing often taught to us by art biz gurus.
Burnout can descend on us artists when we do too much social media marketing.
If you’re on the verge of social media burnout, I say pick the one social media outlet you actually enjoy working on and put the rest into cyber sleep for now.
If Facebook is making you break into hives, and you really only love Pinterest — just do Pinterest.
And if that venue isn’t getting you closer to your marketing goals, “86” it too.
When you’re burning out try going inward, not outward.
Get back in the studio and spend your precious time improving and enjoying your art.
Want a break from comparison-itus? Who doesn’t? Try a temporary social media fast.
Or maybe a permanent one.
Have you ever dreamed of saying goodbye to Facebook and/or Instagram?
That’s what I and lots of heart-centered artists are doing, and it can work wonders.
For the how-tos on this listen to my podcast: Bye Bye Facebook! How Artists Can Succeed Without Social Media.
Are you the type of artist who panics when not working on your online presence? I get that.
Consider shifting your focus off social media and tending your own garden – your website.
Darren Rouse, founder of Problogger suggests we invest the bulk of our online marketing time on the platform we own anyway.
Maybe pay less attention to likes or views and more time appreciating and getting to know the folks already on your own mailing list.
Maybe it’s a good time to re-vision your art newsletter so it matches your most important values?
Or maybe it’s time to talk to real, live, humans again. That is what tip two is about.
Artist Burnout Cause # 2
We Don’t Ask For Support or Feedback
“In 1987 I was in the 6th year of a financially successful pastel on paper series that used lots of gorgeous colors,” said artist Nancy Louise Jones.
“But one morning, in March of that year, I was outside the door of my studio ready to go to work and it hit me: I hadn’t noticed spring had happened.
I walked into the studio, stood in the middle of the room, and couldn’t move.
My whole body said, ‘I can’t do this. Not one more. I have to find something else to say. But for now, I’m worn out.’”
After Jones’ pastel burnout she brought in friends and mentors to look at her lifetime body of work.
One mentor suggested she restrict herself to a black-and-white palette and eventually add color back in.
That proved to be sound advice. Jones is now in the midst of a series of mythology-based watercolors, which give her great pleasure.
If your burnout seems centered around a temporary artistic dead-end, ask for help from older artists, hire an art coach you truly resonate with, or consider creating your own mastermind group to brainstorm new directions for your work.
(If you’re an introvert like me who can get isolated in your own studio bubble you might love this Charmed Studio post: Art Marketing for Introverts).
Okay, on to tip number three, it’s a doozy.
Artist Burnout Cause # 3
We Ignore Change
Burnout is a sign something has shifted.
Maybe you’ve changed.
The market may have changed.
Maybe technology has changed.
But denying that something has shifted only makes things worse right?
Maybe you secretly want to make a radically different kind of art that has nothing to do with your current art practice.
Perhaps you’re wondering “what would it be like to paint from my shadow side?”
Maybe you now want to write or sing or work in clay, but the shift terrifies you.
Ask yourself, what could I change that would make me want to leap out of bed again in the morning?
Journaling on your own tough questions can clear the debris off the bridge that currently blocks the way to your beautiful, enlivened future life.
Or maybe it’s not your mind that needs a massage, it’s your body.
Artist Burnout Cause #4
We Fail To Notice We Have a Physical Body
Sometimes even if you have managed to force yourself to stay strapped to your work treadmill, your body presses the auto-eject button, and out you fly.
“The incident a few years ago with my back, the MRI’s and the back brace, taught me my work may relax my mind, but it doesn’t relax my body,” said architectural miniature room box artist Robert Off.
“When you love your work as much as I do, you don’t readily think of it as being physical. But as I came to find out, it is physical. Now I make myself get up every 15 or 20 minutes and walk around.”
Off also started getting bodywork, always a good idea right?
An at-home YouTube yoga practice can also work wonders for getting and keeping artists and writers present and flexible.
On to tip number five. This is one is huge for women artists.
Artist Burnout Cause # 5
We Always Say Yes
“I was extremely burnt out years back and finally figured out the cause,” said artist Renée Stout.
“I was saying yes to every show I was offered, and doing everything for everybody.
In my early forties, I reached a turning point.
If I wanted to be a calm person, a peaceful person, I had to protect myself.
I decided to no longer agree to do every little show just because somebody asked me.
It may sound snobby, but really it isn’t—I was one person with no assistants, and I couldn’t keep doing that anymore, or I was going to kill myself in the process.
I almost got ill physically. That’s how I learned to say no,” said Stout.
Artist Burnout Cause #6
We Do Not Hire Anyone— Ever
Are you an artist who consistently sells your art but has only fleeting bits of personal time to spend with the people you love?
The hour may have come to buy time to spend with friends and family by hiring outside help to do a chunk of your non-art-related work. (Work, which if you were honest with yourself, you probably aren’t doing such a bang-up job on.)
You can find reasonable prices and good people on Upwork.com, Fivvr.com, or Freelancer.com.
Or check out The Charmed Studio’s Mostly Free Resources For Artists Page.
Hire people to spruce up important blog posts, refresh your web design, or professionally photograph your art.
Or your Calvary might come in the form of a referral from a friend for a trustworthy accountant for bookkeeping and billing, or a part-time studio assistant for prep, packaging, and social media monitoring.
Or maybe you know you’d be better off examing how you prioritize the time in your day? Maybe you feel you are spending too much time on things that aren’t important; and not enough time on the things that actually make you money.
If that’s you, I bet this Charmed Studio Post will help: How Do I Organize My Time As An Artist? If You Want More Money and Less Overwhelm, Check Out This Simple Solution.
Speaking of time and balance check out this next tip.
Artist Burnout Cause #7
We Isolate Ourselves and Forgo Balance
“When you start to make your living from your artwork, even though you love your process, you’re very aware that this is the thing your income is based on, so there’s that aspect of it that becomes a job,” said Stout.
“So what I had to do was find an activity that took me far away from creating art and got me out to socialize.”
Stout discovered roller-skating three times a week shielded her from deep burnout. “When I first started back to roller skating it hit me that I was just flying around the rink.
“Suddenly, I felt like I didn’t have a care in the world. Skating creates this balance for me. I’m getting out of my studio—it’s my social time, it’s physical exercise and just all-around a way for me to escape.”
What’s your escape?
Where do you find balance?
Tip #8 is about who you find balance (or imbalance) with.
Artist Burnout Cause # 8
We Endure Unhealthy Relationships
The problem isn’t always at work.
Sometimes there’s an area of your personal life that needs changing in order to get your energy back.
Maybe there is a work or personal relationship that is sapping your strength?
(You might get support from this Charmed Studio post on How Art Can Heal a Broken Heart or Ground You in Uncertain Times.)
Artist Burnout Cause #9
We Believe Suffering = Good Work
Have you let joy sneak out of your studio?
Is there something you create for fun that people respond to, that you don’t dare sell because it’s not “serious?”
Years ago Robert Off was asked to head a committee to put together a calendar featuring 12 local artists for a Cincinnati non-profit.
“One of the artists we all agreed to include was a nice, workaholic guy named Jack who painted countless, dark (and frankly not very interesting) Canadian landscapes in oil.”
When Robert Off entered the artist’s studio for the calendar inclusion viewing, he was shocked to find Jack creating a striking, lush, loosely rendered work from a live model.
He was using turpentine, and orange and pink oil sticks on a huge piece of inexpensive white paper thumbtacked to the wall.
“I asked him if we could use it for the calendar. ‘No! Those are just quick sketches I use to loosen up. They only take me one or two minutes to make.’”
“That’s OK, I said. It’ll be our little secret.”
“Jack ended up becoming one of the most well-known painters in our city.
And eventually his “warm-up work” went on to be carried in Chicago galleries.
Unfortunately, Jack died a few years ago,” said Off.
“But I smile when I picture all those old landscapes piled up somewhere, probably gathering dust.”
(My personal hero when it comes to making joy part of one’s art is ceramicist Beatrice Wood.)
Artist Burnout Cause #10
We Never Do … Just Nothing
“There are some days I allow myself to do absolutely nothing,” said Stout.
“I piddle about my house.
Maybe have a nice coffee.
I might get on the Internet.
Maybe read some magazines.
I think that what happens is when I take days like that, in some weird way on some subconscious level I’m getting ideas for artwork just looking at magazines.
Before it used to be ‘you’ve got to be doing something.’ Now I don’t feel like every day has to be about that,” said Stout.
Vacations help (if you can afford them), yet they don’t necessarily keep burnout at bay if you live stressed out for the other 358 days of the year that you are not on vacation.
Permit yourself “non-productive” moments in the middle of each workday to catch a moonrise or let yourself just stare out a window. (Daydreaming out windows is vital for artists.)
“Allowing for the regular experiencing of small joys like time spent journaling, or walking in nature, or doing nothing—may be the best way to clear your head, open your heart and have burnout eating your dust,” said Nienhuis.
So the bottom line is, take one sacred day a week off to love yourself, pet your dog, stare off into space, call your nieces or nephews, listen to a delightfully cheesy-unproductive audiobook or just quietly drool into a cup.
It’s the breakfast of champions.
Other Relaxing Resources
If you liked this piece or want more ideas on how you can best let go of stress and come back home to yourself and your art, check out these other Charmed Studio posts:
- How Tea Helps Artists: & Tea Lovers Booklist
- Top 5 De-Stressing YouTube Yoga Picks For Artists and Writers
- Best Books About Great Artists to Take on Vacation
- The 3 Biggest Mistakes Art Bloggers Make: Number 2 Will Surprise You
- Aromatherapy Toolkit for Artists: Prosperity and Peace
- Meditations For Artists: Reduce Your Fear and Ignite Your Creativity
Check out The Charmed Studio’s Mostly Free Resources for Artist’s Page to get a link to my favorite free meditation app.
This post is based on a piece by Thea Fiore-Bloom published in the Dec 2016 issue of Professional Artist Magazine.
Need this article on Burnout for Artists condensed down to about a minute? Can do. Video Version from our YouTube channel:
What has led to artist burnout for you?
Number 7 is my specialty, I forget to stop working, actually leave the house, and go walk with a friend on the beach. How about you?
Or what do you do that keeps creative burnout at bay?
Please share in the comments below!
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Sylvia Larkin says
Thea, I absolutely love this common sense article~ It’s reassuring to know that I am on the right track!
You are on the right track, you are following your heart and saying no thanks to what exhausts. Way to go!!!
Great advice, enjoyed reading a lot. My favourite points you made are about that we change and need to adjust to that constantly and I also think advice and feedback helps me the most. I would have done so many bad choices without the advice of others, so it’s awesome to have people around that you can ask for help 🙂
Charmed Studio says
Thanks for the kind words, the artists I interview are so wise and always bring in information I would never think to put in.
RE your comment: I look up to you for your ability to ask other artists on deviant art for information and correction. You take nothing personally and seem to grow more and more as a result! Awesome. Congratulate yourself for having the guts to ask others for advice like you do. To me It means you are open to evolving your art practice and fearless about hearing what isn’t working. You just take it in and change it, no drama. I want to be more like you when I grow up Scharle! :))
You always seem to find the recipe that works with a good pounding on that “nail on its head”! Self-care is the most important tool for me. Scheduling a bath, a walk, or down-time to just stare into space is my ritual. I always take Sundays as my horizontal day. I find myself revitalized for the coming week if I do that…
Charmed Studio says
Sunday as creatively sacred day of rest and realignment is such a smart idea. I need to enforce a day of rest in my week as well. A day to read Actual BOOKS-with covers on them, or go to a gallery to soak in the creativity of others, or nap. And thanks for the “nail on the head,” compliment. You sure know how to make a writer’s day!
Sara Paxton says
Some great observations here. I find a good way to avoid a lot these issues is to begin the day with some form of exercise – go for a walk, go to the gym for a workout, yoga class, whatever. Come back to your studio and a new energy for the day present. Plus a good coffee, and you”re set to go!
Charmed Studio says
Absolutely Sara, thanks. The gym can also provide community. I get great ideas and feedback about writing ideas from gym friends. People from all walks of life there. I’ve found great artists, writers, teachers, and business people to interview there for stories I’m stuck on. P.S. I am envious of you on the “a good coffee” front as you live in Australia. I lived in Sydney for a few years, and I miss the sublime coffee and coffee houses of Australia.