Artistic Output and Mental Health

  • I know that this is still, unfortunately, a bit of a taboo subject for some. I'm also unsure if this has been talked about before or even if this is the right kind of forum for it.
    The creative arts crowd seems well known for having an above average presence of mental health issues. Depression, anxiety, OCD, BPD... they can have a big effect on the quality, the content and the amount of work you put out.
    I'm wondering how those of us who want to make a living from art can deal with such big variations in the work that we do? How do professional artists keep to contracts and deadlines when they suffer through periods when they can't even pick up the tools to do the work?

  • SVS OG

    @christopherh I've thought about this I have an opposite version. I get annoyed if I can't do some artwork. I'm not a pro so I have a day job so I think it can make you a little anti social when you would rather spend more time improving your artistic skills than anything else. Then again is it just a commitment to your art.

  • I get past it by making sure I draw everyday whether I want to or not.

    Once you entrench art as a habit the effects of feeling depressed or unhappy with the work become less pronounced. Instead of saying 'I'm too tired/sad/depressed/anxious to pick up my pencil' becomes '9:00 is pencil time'.

    I suppose just following good design could cut down on those 'big variations', too. For something that seems so subjective it's amazing how taking a clinical/engineering-like stance can improve your art (not that I'm really good at that, I'm just sayin' is all).

    Though once in a while I'm sure there are a few professional artists who shrug their shoulders and say 'win some lose some' when it comes to art they're unhappy with and hand it over to the client anyways. It's kinda like my piano teacher used to say. The audience doesn't know you made a mistake unless you tell them (though, admittedly that applies to little things). I suppose what I'm saying is that even though YOU'RE unhappy with it doesn't mean the client's going to be.

  • I agree with what was said in an earlier post. Trying to just make it so much of a habit that you can't NOT do it. It's kinda like going to work or school- it feels weird not to do it. If you want to make illustration your job then treat it as such.

  • Sure, “just doing the work anyway” is something that can be effective if you’ve dealing with mild anxiety about not being good enough at drawing or something. But that sort of anxiety isn’t a mental illness, that’s just part of being human. 😛

    What it sounds like @christopherh is asking, is: “How does someone deal with a mental illness that significantly affects their ability to function, while working fulltime as a freelancer?”

    Sadly, I don’t think that’s always possible. If anyone reading this doesn’t understand why I might say that, then I’d encourage them to watch “The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive” by Stephen Fry. If you broke your hand, you wouldn’t be drawing until it healed. In a similar way, if you were experiencing a mental health crisis, your energies might be best put towards getting better.

    That doesn’t mean that a having a mental illness would necessarily prevent you from creating excellent, meaningful work, or even necessarily from working as a professional. An example of someone with clinical depression who earned a living as a creative writer was Ned Vizzini, who was one of my favourite authours as a teen and sadly committed suicide in 2013.

    I don’t know if I really have much advice, other than to be realistic about your limitations, and take care of yourself by working with a licensed psychologist.

    Not everyone can handle the same pressures or an intense schedule. If you have a mental illness, you may need to alter your art goals to accommodate your treatment. You may need to develop your drawing skills at a slower pace, by working in bursts when you are able to do so, and taking breaks when you need to focus on your health.

    A therapist would probably be able to help you deterime whether or not pursuing a freelance career would be a good idea when dealing with your specific illness.

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