Managing FOMO

Dear Artist, “Fear of Missing Out,” according to psychologists, is pandemic and getting worse. For us creative folks, FOMO is not just a social disorder, it can be a career killer. More prevalent in younger people than older ones, it’s that terrible feeling that you’re missing out on something that might be better or more fun than what you’re doing right now. Since the cellphone revolution, checking and texting can be based on a thin hope that something really wonderful is coming up. In life and art, it can be a false hope that keeps us checking. And it’s not just technology. Artists regularly move to the Big Apple hoping to take a Big Bite. With so much going on — openings and exhibitions every night, MOMA, Guggenheim, etc., to say nothing of the theatre scene — there’s little time for work. Many artists function better in dull places like Sedro-Woolley, WA. Addictive FOMO is a malaise that strikes close to home and particularly in the studio. If you think you’ve caught it, here are a few thoughts and findings: Temptation preys on our extroverted nature and our optimistic outlook. Introverts and pessimists tend to be less troubled by it. To be truly productive, creative folks need to withdraw to privacy and self-sufficiency. In a beloved art-cave, work can triumph over outside distractions. In other words, the artist needs to look eagerly toward a satisfactory outcome of work-in-progress. Even quasi-satisfactory outcomes are superior to being stuck in traffic or watching pole dancers in a noisy cabaret. One’s art needs to be personally elevated and seen as its own reward. When this happens, a marching band out the window cannot budge you from your self-appointed rounds. Luckily, as we get older, we tend to be more settled and less likely to have our heads turned. The golden years can be highly productive. But we’re all on the horns of a dilemma — connectivity and temptation are here to stay. FOMO researcher Sherry Turkle says, “Our current relationship with technology fosters immaturity.” It’s been my observation that the greatest generator of quality work rests within the development of personal character. Some of us need to grow up.

‘The connected dog’
Dorothy is not going to miss out on anything.

Best regards, Robert PS: “We just don’t know until we check.” (John M. Grohol, PsyD) Esoterica: Here’s a compromise system that accepts the current situation and goes a long way toward managing addictive FOMO. Not wanting to miss out what’s going on in the world, you might try one of those tiny clip-on battery radios with earphones. As you move around your work area and beyond, the passive info goes with you. (I’m currently using the marvelously informative programs on CBC AM, 690 kHz, also available on satellite.) While it might sound like giving in to the devil, it’s a good example of 21st Century mind expansion and multi-tracking that, while not diminishing creative focus, simply and effectively retards the temptation to step out the door and join the band.   The introvert fight by McKenzie Bass, Merrifield, MN, USA  

mixed media
by McKenzie Bass

I am less of a train wreck when I am careful where I focus my attention, what influences I allow, and how my energies are dispersed. Admittedly, it is difficult daily choice when the entire world seems intent on insisting I am missing out. You may be one of the few championing the introvert fighting private battles and celebrating secret beauties in their studio, through their art. Thank you. It’s how I deal with what’s out there. How I let the world in on my contemplations without unveiling the mystery. In that way, I suppose I am universal and connected. Part of the conversation without being ruled by it.   Others are missing out by Peter Brown, Oakland, CA, USA  

“Geometric Abstractions #9”
oil painting
by Peter Brown

Some of the best ever horse paintings, drawings, were made in Chauvet Cave 35,000 years ago. We art people, by definition, are troglodytes. We are still doing this human thing of using pigments to make static images. And yet we compete with film and video. We all must make a web page. This is so sad. For 35,000 years, a real artist is challenged to make a static image which captures a viewer. A piece of art that defies motion and change. My worry is not missing out. My worry is that other human beings are missing out. They are looking at ever changing digital images. They cannot see an interesting static image. Most people cannot see anything. When most people cannot see, the artist is a dead man. There are 3 comments for Others are missing out by Peter Brown
From: Anonymous — Sep 25, 2012

Well spoken…a sad statement, but I believe you are right. With the onslaught of technology, fewer people appreciate the time and effort that goes into creating good artwork.

From: Catherine Reed — Sep 28, 2012

I’m very concerned that young people have difficulty observing or studying anything that doesn’t interact with them. This is a major issue for science as well as art.

From: Marvin Humphrey — Oct 05, 2012

I often feel that I’m a “party of one” wherever I am…enjoying the visual delights around me.

  Technology allows isolation by Catherine Stock, France  

watercolour painting
by Catherine Stock

Plato said the first stage of life was physical, the second work, and the third contemplation. The description of my blog, The Tramizal Diary, reads “I gave up New York in early 2005 to see if I could live happily year round in a small village in southwest France. I hoped, by getting away from the constant bombardment of big city distractions, to be able to focus on my own creative work. I see this blog as a bit of a record of this time in my life.” Needless to say I see myself as entering, if not already in, the latter stage. I need to add however, that technology allows me work from my small rural village and keep in touch with the world and people like you. Don’t know if I would be as happy without my daily peruse of The NY Times, etc., via the Internet. There are 2 comments for Technology allows isolation by Catherine Stock
From: darrell baschak — Sep 25, 2012

This is a lovely watercolour Catherine.

From: Anonymous — Sep 25, 2012

Ta Darrell

  Sidetracking the ego by Jeanne Long, Minneapolis, MN, USA  

original art
by Jeanne Long

Before cellphones and texting existed I suffered from this disorder. It reached its peak one day as I caught myself standing in the foyer having just opened the daily mail wondering if the mail had come yet! I knew at that point I was an addict to looking for the next thing, a next of kin to Fear of Missing Out which causes one to constantly be thinking one should be doing something else. The cure as you said is to immerse in what work you do, not foregoing awareness, but forgoing thinking about oneself. The ego self is always wanting to build itself, but being both cunning and stupid it sidetracks itself by always chasing something “better.” This leads to scattered energies and disappointment. Picking something and sticking to it no matter how hard the ego complains turns out a product more enjoyable than any enticing distraction can provide. There are 3 comments for Sidetracking the ego by Jeanne Long
From: Nina Allen Freeman — Sep 25, 2012

I love this painting!

From: Sheila Minifie — Sep 25, 2012

Nice portrait!

From: Sarah — Sep 25, 2012

This portrait is just filled with life.

  FOMO on socializing by Fleta Monaghan, Asheville, NC, USA  

original painting
by Fleta Monaghan

My FOMO takes the form of missing out on painting in the studio. I am having to work hard to pry myself loose to become more social! This resolution is on my list for the coming year — to make a real effort to go to openings, pay my colleagues visits, etc. I don’t want to miss out on social events that could be career boosters, while I don’t want to leave the studio!! I do love to stay connected via electronic devices, love my mp3 player for radio and books on tape while painting, and Internet radio music can be programmed to my whim. I have observed that some are just born introvert and this is such an asset for an artist, that self-imposed isolation is a wonderful experience, and fulfills all needs. Extroverts have a more difficult time settling down to work. There are 2 comments for FOMO on socializing by Fleta Monaghan
From: Liz Reday, — Sep 24, 2012

Amen to that! I am exactly at the same spot. Nothing gives me the fulfillment, excitement and pleasure more than getting into the thick of it with paint and a new or ongoing series. This next weekend I’m forcing myself to go to a Drum Festival, an Anthropology Museum and an Art fair. It has come to the point where I have to schedule time to get away from the studio, otherwise it draws me like a magnet, and once inside, time simply stops. 20 hours later……..

From: Sheila Minifie — Sep 25, 2012

Me too! I’m such a hermit. A friend remarked that I’m obviously a recluse but that sounds too negative to me. A hermit in the east is seen very differently. Life seems too exciting at home (I’m single) and there I can focus on what I want to focus but I need a balance. I’m working on it…..

  Need to define one’s own success by Cathie Harrison, Roswell, GA, USA  

original painting
by Cathie Harrison

This post reminded me of a very memorable quote from an artist I greatly respect, Bunny Harvey. I had the pleasure of visiting with her and interviewing her in her Vermont studio many years ago. I was just beginning to explore what it meant to be an artist, a word loaded with assumptions and endless interpretations. Bunny Harvey shared her view that “For artists, success happens in the studio.” I have recalled this quote numerous times over the years and it has remained a profound statement for me. When we as artist look outward for signs of our success we sometimes lose sight of our real goals. The more time we spend looking on the Internet at websites, blogs and Facebook postings of the “successes ” of others, the less we’re spending on our own work. I’m as guilty of this as anyone. I love finding new artists on the Internet and seeing which paintings are awarded the gold medals and honorable mentions. I openly admit my envy of those artists who seem to spend most of their time packing and unpacking from their trips to Italy and France. From afar it looks like an amazingly beautiful and stimulating way for an artist to live. Then there are the artists whose measure of success is sales and few argue that they aren’t successful artists if they have a lot of sales. Gallery owners seek them out. Ultimately, I think we will save ourselves from the fear of missing out by defining success for ourselves and working toward that success every day. Robert’s letters always manage to help me focus on the real success that happens in the studio! There is 1 comment for Need to define one’s own success by Cathie Harrison
From: Rick Rotante — Sep 30, 2012

Nicely said.

  Isolation doesn’t always do it by Lillian Kennedy, Boulder, CO, USA  

“Jericho Vermont”
acrylic painting
by Lillian Kennedy

Cutting down on input doesn’t stop the gluttony I feel at the art buffet. In fact, I actually salivate when looking at the landscape or beautiful art. I try to narrow the choices, but still will want more and more. I want to put more into a painting (it all seems so splendid) and to paint everything. Currently, I sit in the woods in a cottage on a lake in Vermont — yet sitting here, I can easily succumb to a multitude of painterly distractions. I feel greedy to sink my paintbrush into the paint and taste the scene — then the light changes and I’m greedy for that new taste even though I’m stuffed with sensation already. No amount of isolation seems to take care of it, but calm, clear journaling and staying in touch with my deeper needs and goals steadies the appetite. There is 1 comment for Isolation doesn’t always do it by Lillian Kennedy

From: Catherine McLay — Sep 29, 2012

I really love your painting, Lillian! Lots of light, colour & contrast!

  Making the break by Laury Ravenstein, Port Coquitlam, BC, Canada  

original painting
by Laury Ravenstein

I have a busy life with a great husband, two almost grown daughters and my niece, who lives with me, three dogs, three cats and a horse. I also run a busy retail art supply store and teach many classes and workshops. I used to make art each day, but as the demands of my growing family and business increased, art-making took a back seat. I now get less than a few hours each week to keep playing and learning. Last week I decided to rent a remote cabin and leave it all behind for one whole week. I have some work to do that needs my full concentration. Scary thoughts surfaced. Can I still make art? Will I get all the way up to the cabin and sit alone staring at my canvases? Will anything be unique and artistically worthy? Whatever happens, I will be alone for the first time in years and the solitude should sooth my busy soul. I will also be grateful for my husband for taking over the burden of teenagers, my bosses for letting me go away in our busy season and my co-workers who are picking up the extra shifts and responsibilities. As hard as it is to disconnect from our world, leaving behind the TV, the computer and limiting cell phone calls to a minimum, I believe the constant static of our electronics and the constant demands of our full and rewarding lives can disrupt the artistic process and we sometimes need to make significant effort to reconnect with our higher power. There are 2 comments for Making the break by Laury Ravenstein
From: Karen — Sep 26, 2012

It sounds like a great idea, Laury! It will be a meditative experience, for sure…. and hopefully productive. Enjoy it! Love your still life, too. You will be fine!

From: Rick Rotante — Sep 30, 2012

I personally would like to know how it goes. Good for you. Please keep us posted.


Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Managing FOMO

From: Rick Rotante — Sep 20, 2012

Your current email, while interesting, is a bit limiting and doesn’t go far enough in scope. While I no longer feel I am missing out on the goings on in the world, I do feel the world is passing me by. What I mean is I am not interested in many of the “fads” taking place in music, art and/or technology. I don’t rush out or wait in long lines for the latest techno-gadget. In fact, I doubt most “in the know” techies, would be able to use the phone I still use today, which by all indications is considered stone age equipment. I have never been one to follow the crowd. It took me years to buy a microwave even after it became de regueur. I still don’t have own an Ipod, Ipad, or any of those items, nor do I feel the need to own them. These devices are a diversion for those, I feel, who don’t have a real interest in life. What I am more concerned about is working in a traditional method of oil painting; the new technology causing me to be passed by. The dreck passing for art is also beyond my comprehension. Being part of the “older generation”, I feel there is less and less interest and understanding from the younger generation in the work I produce, which is classical in nature. I feel that even though I work long hours and every day at this, I won’t get the recognition because my work doesn’t fit the “trendy” stuff being created. Also, again I sound like a broken record, but the economy still isn’t working in my favor. My FOMO is related to doing all this work and never getting it seen or appreciated. I wonder how others thing about this.

From: Faith — Sep 20, 2012

I immediately reinterpreted FOMO as the FEAR OF MOVING ON that besets many of us. Sometimes you have to change direction quite drastically. The FOMO as Fear Of Missing Out could be the motor to this change of direction, but it is more likely to impede it. For example, so many people live or are trapped in unsatisfactory relationships for much of their lives (for reasons including FOMOs 1 and 2?), or sticking to the idyll of continuing to paint in the style you feel at home with, to keep within the framework here. I think the FEAR OF MOVING ON is much stronger and far less creative than the overkill of information, the fear of missing out – not being in on that vital Twitter message – not having a thousand “friends” on Facebook or at some other interactive zone – the subjective need to be in constant contact with the world, to be a cog in the big wheel – is futile. The FOMO as fear of missing out is a notorious time-waster. It’s a never-ending game of Tetris. The blocks keep dropping and you have to catch them come what may, as otherwise you lose the current game. Try letting them drop and then using them as stepping stones to some new idea, new technique, new creative process. Rick: The economy only works in favour of those in a position to manipulate it in some way. That could include convincing agents that the kind of non-art you are talking about is of immense value. Even better if you can convince museum curators! I think it is a better idea to take stock of one’s own situation, be truthful about it, and then if necessary discard it for something more useful.

From: Darla — Sep 21, 2012

While living as a hermit in an art cave sounds romantic and enviable to someone who battles interruptions every day, don’t you think we need people to interact with? Being alone all the time can make you depressed and less productive. And as Rick surmised, you can get left behind as far as getting your work seen goes. I’m lucky enough to have artist friends to paint and talk with, and they are worth their weight in chocolate.

From: ReneW — Sep 21, 2012

Related to FOMO and more prevalent is IWIN (I want it now). Young people seem to want everything now. Fame, money and stuff; all are wanted now. Do you have your iPad 5 yet?

From: Eric Budd — Sep 21, 2012

We are currently living in an new age of distraction and we need new age tools to handle it.

From: Gail Harper,NY — Sep 21, 2012

…so germain to today.I would have answered that young folks are too engaged in social media et al.However, since owning my “tablet reader”… I become caught up in the FOMO you talk of here. I dispatched of my TV watching years ago because it easily took me away from the easel….and last year I gave away my TV altogether. Joke’s on me as I allow my time eaking away again. I have also become aware of my avid reading habit. On that subject….I could in fact have a worse vice. LOL

From: Lindsay Undem — Sep 21, 2012
From: Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki — Sep 21, 2012

I listen to CBC radio 2 when I am in the studio. No interruptions except for pleasant background noises from Sinisa playing with his toys.

From: Lucero Isaac — Sep 21, 2012


From: Marj Vetter — Sep 21, 2012

Had a dog that looked like that when I was a kid, named Perky, loved that dog. Had one serious flaw, he killed neighbours chickens!

From: Valerie McCaffrey — Sep 21, 2012

Not easy, but try going cold turkey with one device and/or periodical at a time. Start with the magazine or newspaper you read least and work up. The world really will go on without you knowing what it is doing.

From: Marti O’Brien — Sep 21, 2012

I am writing to you in a fit of pique….Although I enjoy most all of your letters…and do appreciate them being sent…I keep hoping that you will address the artists who are either just putting brush to canvas for the first time— are not renowned and often have no idea what you are saying in your letters..(terms, etc.)

From: June — Sep 21, 2012

One of my main FOMO problems have come about since I joined our local guild. I really look forward to the meetings and the demonstrations that take place there and the other opportunities. We work as a group and I hold a position on the committee. The social perks are fun. l feel I have learned a lot since I joined but I am often so active with the guild that I am doing less actual painting. I am on the telephone committee and I often think of this.

From: Hap Newsom — Sep 21, 2012

Gee Robert…Sedro Woolley is not Dull….it’s….it’s…..uh…SERENE!!! Yeah, THAT’S it!! it’s SERENE!!! Well that’s my story and I’m sticking to it!! Sling paint!

From: Lorne — Sep 21, 2012

Regarding the complaint by Marti (above) it is unjustified because that is what is great about Robert’s letters–he doesn’t speak down to the less educated and ill-informed who can’t understand anyway–he accepts that art is a lofty pursuit where even dedicated beginners can enlarge their scope if they are open minded and interested in mind expansion in many directions including obtuse terms and psychological areas. While I agree that a dictionary is sometimes necessary, subscribers who don’t appreciate Robert’s enrichment should just unsubscribe.

From: Norm Allison Gale — Sep 21, 2012

I am 23 and FOMO is a major factor. I know it retarded my growth in University. Girls are the biggest thing I’m worried about missing out on.

From: Liz Reday, — Sep 21, 2012

Rick, I get your angst. I live with 2 techies, thus have become lazy in manipulating gadgets. Fear of moving on indeed! As of tomorrow, I’m going to re-do my website, connect with online art publisher, send out j-pegs, re-write my bio, plan a blog (?) maybe even finally join Facebook (ugh). Faith, you hit the nail on the head. It’s time for me to wake up and smell the technology! I thought that if I buried myself in my studio and did the best work possible (and I’m happy with my new work) that it would be enough. But my gallery is not presenting my work (not using my j-pegs and taking their own photos for invitations) in the most top-notch way. The work may stand alone, but presentation is everything and it’s time for me to do it myself. The gallery is but a wall, we artists have to bring their own collectors and provide the razzamatazz. Time to stick my head out of the studio and go on a gallery walk, make up new business cards, print out postcards, etc. This is a pep talk for myself.

From: Rick Rotante — Sep 22, 2012

Liz- thanks for the feedback. The problem, as I see it, is the technology is all consuming. If I were to indulge in every new gadget that comes along, I would have no time to paint or create. As it is, I take time to update my wesite, teach, go to shows of friends, frame, contact galleries, enter shows as well as sit at the computer (at night) and try and see what is happening. I contribute to this site, write an art column for a local newpaper bi-weekly and create videos to sell at shows and demos. The technology changes too quickly to keep up. It is easy to lose sight of the target and get lost in ipodland or laptopworld. Artists need to focus on work and try and get others do the heavy lifting. And there is the rub.

From: J. Bruce Wilcox — Sep 24, 2012

Robert, I have never in my entire life spent time ‘watching pole dancers in a noisy cabaret’ because pole dancers are all girls. And stripping twinks don’t interest me… But I used to WORK mixing music in such a cabaret, and it was an interesting job that still influences my current reality. Right now I’m programming CDs with music from the last 50 years, for a show opening, and then the entire run of the show, for a friend of mine. But my point here is that you just can’t produce 24/7/365. And sometimes the brain needs a distraction to get it out of the hole it’s in. And SEX can help. Even if all you’re doing is voyeuring.

From: Darren — Sep 24, 2012

I’m a guy and I’m a pole vaulter. Is that okay?

From: Pyongan Moon — Sep 24, 2012

Seriously though, FOMO is real and it’s getting worse. There is some thought that all this jittery jumping around and distraction these days is due to the vast increase in microwaves in our homes and work areas. I’m not talking about the oven thing, but the smart phones, smart meters, Wi-Fi, cellphone towers, etc. As you read this, you are, I bet, not two feet from a transmission source. This may be what has happened to what used to be calm tranquility.

From: Christine Debrosky — Sep 24, 2012

Dear Robert, Thank you for that! I’ve HAD it with all of the hype, busy buzz, chest pounding and posturing that runs rampant on the social media sites. Painting is not a social activity. Period.

From: Svijany Zatec — Sep 24, 2012

This is the best news I’ve had in some time: “Luckily, as we get older, we tend to be more settled and less likely to have our heads turned. The golden years can be highly productive.” There’s hope for me.

From: Carolina White — Sep 24, 2012

For a “connected dog” Dorothy looks quite calm. Maybe FOMO doesn’t affect dogs as much as humans.

From: Karen R. Phinney — Sep 26, 2012

I just had a good laugh……Darren the pole vaulter made me “LOL”. And I do agree, social connections can swallow large chunks of time. I am now on Face Book and am astounded at how much time one can take “liking” posts and adding them. That said, it is a good way to get feedback about one’s work. Some I post, pass unnoticed and unnoted, and others get several positive comments. Good to get the pulse sometimes… but yes, I think for many young people, it is a trap of time and attention. I have nearly run over people crossing the street, absorbed in their smartphone or whatever, and who are so into it, they fail to notice that the light isn’t in their favour or that they are creeping along and holding everyone up. Inconsiderate and dangerous! I am glad I am not thus occupied! It is almost frightening how things have changed, and I think I agree with Rick about the tastes changing and there not being an appreciation of traditional technique and the effort it takes. Those of us who do, are getting older and in many cases, not buying as much art as we did….. the times, they are a-changin’!

From: Gavin Logan — Sep 26, 2012

To a guy carrying a pole: “Are you a pole vaulter?” Guy with the pole: “No, I’m a Czech, but how did you know my name vas Valter?”

From: Molly — Sep 26, 2012

The reason old folks are not waiting with bated breath for the next upgrade in technology is because we were raised in a different era. We grew up with radios and phonographs. Period. We spent time with playmates, family, and the great outdoors. I was a teenager when we got our small, b&w TV! Young people today think they are “connected” because of their social media. They’ve been fooled. They exchanged the real world for a artificial one. Art is a solitary pursuit and sometimes you have to wait until the pressures of family and/or career run their course. My favorite room is my studio (converted from my son’s old bedroom). He’s the one who, a few years ago, sent me a refurbished laptop and told me to join the 21st century. Now he gets emails instead of letters. Ah, Progess.

From: Willow Springfield — Sep 29, 2012

Optimism causes us to think that opportunities exist around every corner, and they don’t. Around many a corner is a blind alley.

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Pounding Surf

oil painting, 16 x 20 inches by Grace Schlesier, CA, USA

  You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013. That includes Tinker Bachant of Sautee Nacoochee, GA, USA, who wrote, “I listen to music on iTunes or ancient tapes on my ancient tape player. Out doors? I listen to the birds, the wind, the stream, or the quiet. I’m a throwback I guess…” And also Raymond Chan who wrote a regular letter that said, “I’m not distracted because I live in a place worse than Sedro Woolley where nothing ever, ever happens. There’s definitely no marching bands around here, but some people have left town to join the circus and I was glad to see them go.”