We’re creatives! We’re supposed to love what we do and never get tired of it, right? Wrong. You can love image-making with every fiber of your being and still need a break from it, and to ignore that need is detrimental to your mental health and creativity.
Why did you get into photography or videography? After all, it offers way less job security than most fields, so the only logical reason to enter it is if you love it so much that that outweighs the lack of financial security. But what happens when that love is suddenly imperfect?
We almost feel guilty if we’re not constantly enjoying ourselves, as if we’re somehow not authentic creatives for not being married to our art 24/7. After all, that’s society’s impression: the obsessive creative, right? And sure, one probably shouldn’t pursue a career in something like photography or music if they’re not strongly committed to it, but the expectation that one will never burn out or simply not feel like creating is silly, and it can be detrimental to that person’s creativity and mental health to feel obligated to maintain that aforementioned persona; after all, you’re deluding yourself more than anyone else. Of course, there’s also the business side of things, and as a professional, you might not be able to afford to close your doors for a month, but I think the theme here is less about quitting and more about simplifying and returning to that which made you fall in love with the pursuit in the first place; sometimes, in the natural course of our careers, we get pulled away from the initial impulse, only to suddenly awake and wonder how and when we drifted so far whence we started. That’s when we need to recalibrate.
I read all these articles about how important it is to constantly create, to consistently update one’s Instagram feed thrice a day, and to them, I lazily heave a heavy sigh of some combination of mild existential grief, rebellious spirit, cultural malaise, and simple annoyance. After all, to do this is to pander on some level, perhaps not of the level of crafting the content itself to the audience, but certainly in that it violates the creative impulse (or lack thereof), the sort of creative circadian (or likely more accurately, circa-mensian) rhythm, if you will. And that’s not to say I don’t get the point of these practices; they’re clearly designed not for the self-actualization of the creator, but rather for the practical application of finding and maintaining an audience with the eventual goal of financial success and for habituating the creative process. And that’s a perfectly fine thing to do — wise, even. After all, willfully being a starving artist may be romantic, but it’s also simply dumb.
The problem with this isn’t inherently with the act itself; it’s the fact that it can gradually (so gradual as to be imperceptible until its effect cannot be ignored) cause us to create less because on some fundamental, internal level, we are compelled to do so and more because we have fallen in line with some cultural expectation of production. The reason this feels so poisonous is because it externalizes the creative locus of control, and any breach of or attack upon that is infuriating to the creative, but its outright removal is no less than defeat. After all, so many of us get into these lines of work because what we have to say in our art outweighs our ability to conform to a more traditional career; that’s the trade-off. And so, when we sacrifice our voice to the point that it’s no longer saying what we want to say and rather saying what we think others want it to say, well, that’s a tragedy.
But, like I said (perhaps a bit brutally, but done so with the intention of salience), willfully being a starving artist is dumb. The truth is that while the ideological argument of the internal locus of control of the creative voice is pure in intention and inarguably leads to the logical conclusion of an unwavering adherence to one’s creative impulses, the world itself is not often receptive of that sort of individualistic extremism, and one must learn to compromise to some degree to simply pay the rent. And that’s tricky, because it first involves accepting the rather disappointing truth that even when one accepts the lesser financial security of a life in a creative field for the increased freedom, they’ll still have to sacrifice some of their vision; the freedom is rarely total. That trickiness is compounded in finding the actual balance, and merely the pursuit of said balance (and its constant maintenance) can be exhausting.
And then, what if you manage to strike this ever-elusive balance, but then, you simply become bored? That in itself is terrifying. The balance, while annoying, while disenchanting, while exhausting, can be attributed to — or really, blamed on — the need to survive on a basic human level. But boredom is a different beast and a frightening one at that, because it comes from within, and we know that. That’s what induces guilt and a paradoxically paralyzing need to soldier on as if acting as though we’re in love with the creative act at all times will make us so, as if we owe society that image of the obsessive because it somehow made room for us to fit our selfish pursuit of art into its otherwise 9-to-5 world. Don’t buy into that. It’s only selfish because you believe what some nebulous doctrine told you. Without creative pursuit, I venture to say life would have a most saddening dearth of meaning or at least of worthy introspection (Socrates had something to say about that). Nor is that to say the creators are somehow more important than the 9-to-5’ers. There’s a symbiosis, but we as individuals and as a collective rarely (if ever) allow it to be.
My point is that the guilt of boredom is false. After all, what is guilt? It’s the feeling of shame for having committed a transgression against some entity (which could include one’s self). Certainly, you have not transgressed against society; you owe them nothing, so don’t feel as if you’re lesser for not conforming to that mystical image of the artist. Have you transgressed against yourself? Only you can answer that, but I suspect the answer is “yes” much less often than you might think. After all, if you work hard and push yourself to explore, what higher standard can you hold yourself to? The simple fact is that we sometimes exhaust our creative output temporarily, we burn out from work, we hit blocks. And as if in the blink of an eye, that magical, almost ethereal feeling of creativity suddenly becomes a feeling of a most grotesquely mundane nature: boredom. But don’t let the feeling itself evoke blame. You are allowed to be bored. You are allowed to be burnt out. You are even allowed to be disenchanted. Hell, some of the most beautiful art ever created deals with the sort of existential questioning that arises from these very feelings.
I’m not saying one should turn a blind eye to the more practical career and financial consequences of stopping work temporarily. But I am saying you should give yourself room to breathe. You should give yourself permission to still love creating, but maybe not have it in you to do it robotically. Don’t step so far away as to lose your technique, your feel for what’s right. But do give yourself room to breathe.