Embracing Creative Isolation

Sep 1, 2018 | Wellbeing


Our wonderful advisor Robyn Saurine a visual artist, yogi and self-confessed empath. Here she talks candidly about the struggles of the creative cycle, working in isolation, and how to not only help your mental health but help your fellow creatives along the way.

Working on creative fabulousness is a process of ups and downs as we artistic creatures pursue the act of researching, making and expressing. At times it can be hard to motivate yourself and procrastination becomes a regular cycle of beginning a project, getting stuck, finding a solution, moving in a new direction and finally seeing that your work is “done”. Being a multidisciplinary artist I walk within this cycle most of the time. I’ve learnt to recognise and embrace the spirals in a way that enables me to not fall down the rabbit hole of anxiety and depression.

The Motivation vs. Procrastination Factor
Beginning a project often starts off as thrilling as you follow a line of enquiry. That is until you hit that initial road bump. It’s at this point that the stress of expression takes its first toll. You begin to procrastinate and think things like “I’m not any good at this” or “I can’t finish this now. How will I make some money?” Once these thoughts come into play you may begin to feel worthless, stuck and wonder why you embarked on a creative career in the first place. If these notions continue, you become stumped and the progress slows or you’re paralysed from finishing it at all. In fact, a piece may sit in your studio for days, weeks, months and you may even begin to think of it as your nemesis. You question your abilities again, take a few courses to help improve your technical skills and continue to procrastinate about finishing the work. After a while, the passing of time helps move you into action where you either have an epiphany to finish the work, repurpose it or discard it.

1 is the Loneliest Number
The high price of rent and the fact that most creative practitioners are paid below the national average means we’re often working out of our homes in isolation from others. Unless of course, you count social media discussions as part of your interaction with society. During this time your brain may disengage with the normal flow of life while you focus on your craft. Sometimes this is a great way to really get your head into the space you want to create from. It also comes with its downside which can be that you lose the ability to interact with people socially, get stuck in your own head thinking about the problem you are solving, and, start that lovely cycle of questioning your worth. Sometimes this cycle ends when you finish a collection, piece or solve the problem your working on. At other times it doesn’t. The cycle becomes part of your artistic process and little inklings of mental health instability begin.

When Exploring Your Craft Disturbs Your Wellbeing
Many talented artists begin exploring a theme which is of a personal nature (and most of them are of a personal nature when you are creating!), which in turns triggers unresolved issues and can send them into a downward spiral of mental illness. This happened recently to a good friend of mine who was exploring how to represent eating disorders in sculpture. The closeness of this issue to his personal experience and the anxiety of openly expressing this to the viewer caused a collapse in his mental health to the point where he took himself off for professional care. Cases like this are not random with actors like Jim Carrey discussing how he ironically sourced humour to play some of his roles through his depression. Even in my practice, I find that I need to be particularly selective and careful about the topics that I explore. I am an empath and working through emotion is part of the process I use to become fully engrossed in my subject matter. In turn, the subject matter can sometimes engulf me and take me on a rollercoaster of crazy ups and downs. At times this is needed during my process and at others, it just triggers my autoimmune illness. It’s basically all a fine line of balance and knowing my triggers.

Becoming Aware of Yourself Is Key
Well now that you’re thoroughly depressed with all the doom and gloom written above, let’s discuss little ways you can help yourself and potentially others to manage your mental wellbeing.

When you’re in your creative process, start to notice how you are responding to your work and the environment around you. The first and most important step is to ensure that you are aware of you and your unique responses. In whatever way feels comfortable document e.g. draw, collage, journal etc. what triggers you to start spiralling downward. Every person has their own distinctive triggers and it’s important that you are aware of yours so that you can empower yourself to make the choice to spiral down or change direction. Maybe go sideways or up instead! For example, in my process, I may begin really excited about a commission, collection, theme or collaboration. That is until the first hurdle hits. This is when past Robyn would just fall in a heap of “why me’s” “this is so hard” or “why does this always happen to me?” I used to let these thoughts continue until I thought I was worthless or not talented enough to be creative. Falling into a wallowing hole of my own self-pity.

Nowadays I remember two things:
1) You need to be relaxed to create. It’s just a problem that needs to be solved. If you’re stressed out you can’t think straight your mind can come to a grinding halt. Changing your attitude takes time and it may begin with stepping out of your surroundings by taking a walk outside, socialising with a close friend and LAUGHING, going to a restorative yoga class, or sitting/lying in nature soaking up some sun.
2) Get yourself out of the way. That is if you can be true to yourself and your passion then things will always work out. Just maybe not in the way you think. Being open to possibility is the key. If you can trust the process of life, amazing transformations can occur. For example, you may find your tribe, increase your collaborative capacity or develop a stronger sense of self.

The Creative Industries Are Stepping Up
Over the last few years, the creative industries have conducted studies into the mental health of artists. For example, in 2016 the Victoria University in collaboration with Entertainment Assist released a report on their analysis of the Australian Entertainment and Creative industries. The findings revealed that the even though the workers in these industries are passionate and committed the levels of anxiety and depression are 6 times greater than the general population, suicide planning is 4 times greater than the general population and, suicide attempts are greater than double the general population. While this study zeros in on entertainment professionals the findings are applicable to the overall creative community in my experience. Given these results, there are creative organisations who are raising the bar to assist in improving the culture of support in the creative industries. Like the Arts Wellbeing Collective Pilot created in 2017 investigate tools and strategies from positive psychology to help improve understanding of mental health issues, their prevention and treatment. Or the Big Anxiety Festival held in late 2017 which brought together artists, scientists and communities to question and re-imagine the state of mental health in the 21st century.

Other organisations that are also throwing their hat into the ring to support creative artists mental health are:
Bridging Hope Foundation
Mental health and the arts are the focus of Bridging Hope. Their aim is to be the conduit between friends, families, colleagues, artists and mental health professionals to assist with a “culturally vibrant and healthy society”.

Why I love them…. They support local and emerging artists in a variety of ways such as supporting studio spaces in Sydney and partnering local universities to support emerging artists to create healthy and happy communities from the ground up.

Support Act
Formed in 1997 Support Act is a charity, they provide grants in the form of financial support. They were established by the music industry, for the music industry.
Their website says it all: “We’ve helped get artists and music workers back on their feet when they have hit a rough patch and just need breathing space.”
Basically, I love them as they are genuine and a helping out artists who are in real need!

Mentally Health 2018
Acclaimed as the first major Australian study into the mental health and wellbeing of creative industry workers. The study is spearheaded by a partnership between Never Not Creative, UnLtd and Everymind. The aim of this study dedicated to reducing mental ill-health and suicide.
Why I love it… The first step is getting up to date results across the industry. Below is a link to the survey. Check it out and have your say!

And as always, there is the wonderful support you have from your family, friends and the mental health support organisations in Australia; Lifeline and Beyond Blue.

Basically, just do you. You are awesome as you are. Keep the passion alive, be grateful for what you do have no matter how small and, focus on your goals. Anything is possible. And remember most creative practitioners feel inadequate, worthless or depressed at some point during their careers. Reaching out and building up your fellow creative will not only increase their confidence but will also begin to build a support network around you!


First major study into the mental health of Australia’s creative industry launched

Working in the Australian Entertainment Industry: Final Report



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