Navigating the highs and lows: Adjusting to life as an artist, coping with rejection and lacking motivation in a new work environment

So here we are, a month after the conclusion of my degree. I have created a brand-new studio, have my work on display in two separate locations in Ipswich, have sold one of my diptychs, been shortlisted for an exciting exhibition this summer, begun new and intriguing works, seen some of my friends have their first solo exhibitions and much, much more! But with all this progress and success, I have been finding myself feeling anxious about the future. For the first time in three years, there is no longer a set end date for a submission or assessment, the overall goal of graduating is achieved, and I find myself standing at the gaping chasm of my art career, with no real idea what is going to happen. So, despite all the amazing achievements this year has brought so far, this week has left me feeling a little flat, and I thought it would be good to share my little wobbles and worries, as an important insight into the fact that apprehension, fear and uncertainty can affect all of us, even when things are seemingly going well!

Firstly, one thing that has become quite draining in the last week – quite simply due to the fact that this had been rare throughout university, as I did not focus on open calls or residencies – is the receipt of rejection emails. Now don’t get me wrong, it is never the email itself that is disheartening. Often you are given helpful feedback and well wishes for the future, what has been difficult recently however is the sheer volume of unsuccessful applications I have made, and opportunities I have really wanted that just haven’t worked out for me. Nobody likes being rejected and in the case of the arts it can also feel like a really personal rejection if it is your work that you submitted or a project proposal you spent many hours preparing. I have been guilty of falling into the little hole of focusing on these negatives, and it really did dishearten me and effect my creative energy this week. However, I know that what I need to do is focus on the positives and direct my energy to continuing to apply and branch out, despite the lacking success so far! Looking back at my previous blogs on motivation and time management, I have also noticed how much keeping busy and celebrating the small wins propels me forward!

The second thing which has been a bit of a hurdle for me recently is the very thing I thought would give me an enormous drive and motivation! My new studio space. As you will know from my post two weeks ago, I was extremely excited and thrilled to be creating a new studio in my own home! One thing I did not consider was how this would effect productivity and procrastination. As I have previously discussed, working environment can have a huge impact on productivity, and whilst at university, having a separate studio to work in was a huge help in my ability to focus on my physical work in a dedicated space for this. I had imagined – through my rose tinted glasses – that literally waking up in my studio everyday would mean I felt inspired and motivated from the second I opened my eyes until I flopped back into bed. 

How wrong I was.

Rather than me feeling compelled to work in this brand-new studio, literally embedded into my everyday life, the proximity has had quite the opposite effect! Just like ignoring the pile of laundry and procrastinating the hoovering, I have found it monumentally easy to dodge my work and run away from it to another room in the house, or to leave the house altogether! This has of course been extremely worrying. How can I possibly be creative if I am physically avoiding the space I have created to do precisely this? All of this, alongside my feelings of anxiety around rejection, have culminated in a realisation that I probably should have known a while ago: 

Life as an artist is very different from life as an art student.

As a student, motivation was instilled upon you by the looming grades, the structure of lectures and workshops, and your tutors literally encouraging your work! Now, as an independent artist, the task of motivation and encouragement falls solely to me. Which. Is. Terrifying. However, whilst being terrifying, it also provides an enormous amount of freedom. I am no longer limited to studio opening hours, I don’t have to worry about grades and deadlines – at least not in the same way – and I can literally create whatever I want, without having to justify it. It simply falls on my shoulders to dictate what time and space I use for this, rather than just relying on my on-the-spot inspiration!

So, while this week has been a bit emotionally draining, it has reminded me of the very things that made me excited to graduate: having freedom to work where and when I want, being able to balance work and life, being able to apply to far flung and exciting projects or residencies! Therefore, this weekend is dedicated to a little bit of planning; giving myself time to do all the laundry and hoovering I have been avoiding, as well as dedicated time to paint, write and submit applications. All in all, I am hoping that realising the adjustments I need to make will mean a more productive and less anxious week – and life – ahead, but watch this space, and hopefully this post will show you that it is easy to lose motivation, hope and drive, the important thing is not to unpack there! All we need to do is address the catalysts for these feelings and adjust accordingly… I hope!