Time Off

Is your entire life devoted to your art? If so, forget about success. You don't have anything to worry about. You're already 100 steps ahead of most people who call themselves writers and painters and actors but spend very little time actually doing those things.

But has your art become your life? When you finish a project and send it in to the publisher, or when you finish a painting for finish recording an album, do you feel relief, or are you simply anxious that you aren't working on anything new? Perhaps this is a sign that you need to slow down.

Maybe you belong to a different group. You might find that you have ideas in your head but they don't come out very well on paper, or that you're excited in only a thin, intellectual fashion but you feel none of that passion while you're working.

Emile Cioran has a phrase that pertains to this situation with artists of all kinds. It is, ‘working against death.' An artist with a real sense of value in his own work is the opposite of the one who produces, gets discouraged and gives up for long stretches of time. There are lots of very fevered artists who spend inordinate amounts of time doing nothing but creating. They drain themselves completely dry in fear that one day it will all suddenly end and they won't be able to complete those major works they envisioned in their heads. Death becomes the enemy of their greatness, sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously. There is so much to do and so little time.

I have a few thoughts to consider instead of obsessing about this.

First of all, no one knows when they're going to die. Logically, if you knew, would that help your art? It would probably make your life a nightmare. If you knew you were going to die tomorrow, would that help you prioritize your art? Would you say to yourself, ‘Okay, I'm going to create the best piece of art anyone has ever taken a single day to create,' or would you focus on what matters and enjoy that last day?

It's more than likely that the reason you're struggling and obsessing about how much longer you have to complete a project is that you've been creating so long you forgot how to live. Everyone's life is different, but most people create because creation is a product of life. Sometimes, as we artists get older, we completely forget how to live and program ourselves only to work. We think we're adults now and that we need to treat our creation like a job. We associate the word ‘job' with that thing that helps us pay the bills.

Now, I admire a sense of discipline and one's having a high standard for their work, but what good will it do you if you alienate yourself from the world? You'll forget how to make art that anyone will relate to, because at that point, you yourself won't even relate to it.

The idea of the poor, starving artist who writes or paints all day in a studio in a big city and can't afford to go out or do anything is romantic, but in reality, artists who only create art are either unhappy people or geniuses whose lives no one would realistically covet in any sane circumstances.

Give yourself time to enjoy life. If you're a musician and you want to make music that produces extraordinary emotional effects, think about where those emotions come from. They come from everyday life. They don't come from the studio. If you're a painter, where is the imagery coming from? Are you spending time out in nature or observing the world? A poet who spends all his time in one room, nursing the thoughts in his own mind is the most boring kind of poet. Likewise, a novelist who only writes about the twists and turns of the shadows and of his various drives and hungers doesn't have much longevity.

I would hardly wish for this to sound like a condemnation of art in favor of life. You don't have to chose. Just allow room for both.

Here's another way of looking at it. You weren't born practicing that kind of art you create. You acquired it. What did you do before that? Maybe you learned it early in life, you'll tell me. However, as a child, you played, didn't you? You enjoyed yourself. You went outside and didn't come back in until your parents called you for dinner. When you started creating, it was probably something you enjoyed doing; simply another activity you used to fill your time with. In other words, your art was a product of your general enjoyment of life and the many things it is possible to partake of.

If you're stuck in a creative rut, or if you're afraid you're going to burn out, I would encourage you to take time off. It doesn't have to be long, but it doesn't have to be short. You decide. It can be an afternoon off where you decide you'd like to just go see a movie or spend all day in coffee shops reading. Go on a hike and get high enough into the mountains to where you can't hear traffic anymore. Remember what it is about life that inspired you so much that you ended up with this surplus of energy that resulted in your creating art.

You'll start seeing things differently and you'll build your energy to work back up. Sometimes you need to stop working so you can re-learn how to live. Excuse this hoaky phrasing, but after a while, you realize how much your life can be an art and how much your art can resemble life. They become intertwined and represent just many angles in your kaleidoscopic experience.

Don't worry about whether or not you deserve time off. Don't worry about what people are going to say, or what you're going to do. Just enjoy yourself. Learn how to store up and better distribute your creative energy. When you return to your work, you'll find that it goes smoother.