Yesterday, Shaun D. of Switzerland wrote, “I recently had a relatively successful solo show but now I’m having trouble getting back into my work. I want to continue but can’t proceed. I need some new ideas to get energy flowing again. I don’t want to start something completely new but want to enlarge or deepen what I was doing. Can you share some thoughts on this problem?”
Thanks, Shaun. You’re not alone. It’s called PSB — Post-Show Blues. I’ve spent a lifetime trying to either eliminate or lessen the condition. A show’s success or failure has little to do with the severity of the problem. While there are lots of causes, it’s often the fallout from stress in the period leading up to and during the show — and the psychic vacuum that follows. PSB is as old as Adam and Eve.
Many artists begin to feel empty and somehow vulnerable, asking the sad question, “Is that all there is?”
Artists need a “divorce” from their previous commitment so they can proceed with a new love. A quickie divorce is better than a drawn-out one. It’s actually possible to start the new love before the old one expires. That way you’re not stepping off into unknown territory after the event. So as not to become jaded, depressed or even impressed with yourself, make it a point not to revisit the prior show or pay much attention to its denouement.
It’s like moving to a new town and starting all over as a virgin. While you may be in pretty deep in one place, you need to be noting how you might do things differently next time around. There’s often an uncanny bombardment of ideas just when you’re winding up a show. Potential new loves are precious. You need to jot down their numbers.
Another common problem is separation anxiety. Some artists find it hard to part with what they consider their best work. This is a career killer and needs to be neutralized with the knowledge that works of art are always yours no matter whose walls they’re on — and they’re best off on someone else’s.
Our imaginations are wider than we know. Our capabilities are far greater than the length and width of a single show. When you trust where your feet may take you next, you will fall in love again.
Esoterica: Both of the painters quoted above rose to show again in variety and diversity. “I am pleased with the exhibition,” wrote Claude Monet. “It has been a long time since I believed that you could educate public taste.” Shaun, perhaps a clue to your particular dilemma is your wish to enlarge on what you were doing before. If you were to choose something quite different, the effects of prior explorations will creep back in anyway. The important thing is to grab your brushes and start again with your heart’s desire. Powerful love-boats are difficult to turn around or get stopped.
by Fred Hulser, Houston, TX, USA
The symptoms you describe are not limited to the art world in general or to exhibitions in particular. As a lawyer in a former life, I noted the after-effect of a major closing and it felt a lot like what was described. I called it “adrenaline withdrawal.” In the days leading up to the event, one is so focused and driven by a particular, time-oriented thing that bodily systems are affected, and when it is over, it is time to pay the piper. Depression is part of most withdrawal syndromes.
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Depression from repetition
by Murilo Pereira, Brazil
I am myself right now in some kind of depression because of the continuity of my work that seems only repetition and repetition. In the past ten years I was full of hopes and was totally enjoying painting and engraving… and then it began to decrease over the years and the results just now are nothing. Your letter make know I am not alone…but what can I do?
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by Paul deMarrais, TN, USA
A show involves putting your neck on the line and facing what, in my area, is usually indifference by a public not much interested in painting. Selling is the false god of success at a show. It is natural for an artist to feel that sales are the indicator of the quality of their work. Artists must take the route of the professional athletes who speak often of not getting too high or too low based on their performance at the moment. It’s ego management. A show is just a snapshot of what I can do at the moment. None of my critics are half as tough on me as I am of myself. I’ve learned to get off my own back. Painting has an inertia of its own. All of my slumps come to an end. The joys, problems and challenge will bring me back to the drawing board if I just let it happen. Forcing the action for me is a dismal failure. I am aware of the post-show blues syndrome and that awareness takes away the fear. Another day will come and so will another painting binge.
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Watch for the next spark
by J. Bruce Wilcox, Denver, CO, USA
Here’s the deal, Shaun. Energy moves in waves. Mounting your show was a BIG WAVE — but the wave has passed. It is completely and entirely natural to feel a bit un-nerved after an event — but it is un-necessary to be too concerned by it. If you have no further immediate deadlines to work towards, now is in fact the very best time to just step back a bit and catch your breath. There is absolutely nothing wrong with you or this phase you are going through. It too will pass. Distract yourself for a bit of a while. Do something else. Go look at art. Explore museums. Go to the country. Climb a mountain. Go on a photography spree. GET OUT OF YOUR HEAD. Rest up. Sleep late. If you’re like many of us you are presently judging YOU because of your burnt-out state. It’s OK. There’s absolutely nothing wrong here. You took on the responsibilities of manifesting a big show and it’s time to stop for a brief moment. If you’re purposeful about your creativity in general then this phase will soon pass and you’ll discover the inspiration and the next spark for where your pathway will lead you. Attn: Winslow Homer — Thank god somebody else thinks the way I do…
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by Eleanor Blair, Gainesville, FL, USA
After years of experience, I know nothing much is going to happen at the studio the week after a show. I may paint, but mostly I hang around the house and catch up on all the things that fell through the cracks in the pre-show marathon. That’s what I’m doing this week. Paddled my kayak around Newnan’s Lake at sunset, planted roses, cleaned out the wading pool in the yard, pruned back everything that died in the last freeze. I may go shopping tomorrow, or watch a movie. I used to feel guilty and lazy when I found myself caught in a week like this. Now I just relax and enjoy myself.
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by Annika Farmer, Mentor, OH, USA
To all the artists who feel “stuck” or “Is that all there is?” after a successful show, try a new perspective.
Whenever I get frustrated and feel that my work gets kind of “stale,” I try to paint on a different surface. For me it is like trying yupo paper, or gessoing my regular 300# watercolor paper, or painting on a smooth board instead of my regular cold pressed surface. Another thing that also works is painting using a completely new color palette.
Yet, another option might be to attend a workshop by another artist. That often gives a new perspective on the whole painting approach, because we all use different techniques, even if our subject matter is similar. There are many ways to get over that “bump” in the road. Keep painting.
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A trip or volunteer project
by Nancy Bea Miller, Philadelphia, PA, USA
I liken it to Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (no disrespect to PTSS sufferers intended) and call it Post Traumatic Show Syndrome. The trauma probably comes from the weeks or months of intense preparation and single-minded focus which is bang! suddenly over. The fit of lassitude that follows does eventually lift! Some people report a few weeks of PTSS, some a few months. It mostly depends on what else is happening in your life. Robert’s tips to combat this scourge were all excellent. Preparation (knowing it will happen and preparing for it) is key. Two suggestions: volunteer work and/or travel. Switching the focus off yourself, stepping back into the bigger world picture really helps. A short term volunteer project (help paint the walls of the local soup kitchen for instance) or if it is possible to schedule a trip (the more distant the better), either during the duration of your exhibit or shortly after it comes down… this abrupt change of focus can jolt you out of PTSS a little quicker than you might ordinarily be able to manage.
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Let the babies go
by Robin Shillcock, Groningen, Netherlands
We tend to forget that making art is not easy, not a trick you shake out of your sleeve. In Shaun D’s question and reply, it’s not so strange that once the battle has been won there’s a need to recuperate, to mark time. You need to take a deep breath before jumping into a new project. In my case ideas are always revolving in my head, pushed to the back when I need to finish paintings for an exhibition, but always on the verge of demanding my full attention. It’s automatic: an idea comes forward as soon as another has been realized, like a shark replacing one lost tooth by another. To start anew an artist needs the ability to let his babies go. I call it the “gentle art of letting go.” It is essential for an artist to master this art. Just as it is essential for one’s art and peace of mind to be able to keep several ideas bouncing through the air like a juggler.
PSB afflicts gallery professionals too
by Peter Brown, Oakland, CA, USA
I worked for many years as a curator/exhibit designer in a rather large (10,000 sq. ft.) city-sponsored gallery. We ran on a ten day turn-around schedule. I worked with a great crew of both hired and volunteer help. We would break down an existing show on a Monday, and then open a completely different show ten days later, on a Thursday evening. Needless to say, those ten “installation” days were intense. I often took a bedroll and slept in the gallery. We presented six exhibitions each year while maintaining museum standards. Some of the transitions were amazing. An exhibition of 400 ceramic pieces would segue into a show of 250 watercolor paintings, and that into an historical presentation of the guitar in America illuminated with the actual guitars.
My Post-Show Blues manifested itself regularly with a few days of mental and physical collapse. During the week after an exhibition opened, I often stayed home and took my comp time. Then the cycle picked up for the next exhibit. It was show business, and I was a much younger man.
Exhibitions the least important
by Jeffrey Hessing, Nice, France
Exhibitions and paintings themselves are the results of our work. The paintings are the traces that are left from an exploration into what I call the creative consciousness. The exhibitions, though useful and even fun, are the least important part of what we do. The process, the act of painting and the love of that creative act is everything. Post-Show Blues is largely due to an over emphasis on the results. Stop thinking and worrying about what to do next. Stop thinking, period. Go back to the pure pleasure of the creative act. DO anything, don’t look at the result; turn it to the wall. Make bad paintings. Just paint for the sheer joy of it. www.jeffrey-hessing.com
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Up, then down
by Delores Hamilton, Cary, NC, USA
My first — and, so far, only — solo show of 26 of my art quilts went up… and then I went down for 11 – 12 months after that. It was a successful show, but getting ready for it was overwhelming. Deeming several unfinished pieces worthy, I finished those, but not without spending an enormous amount of time on extreme quilting to make them special. I also had a number of designs in my head, so I created many new pieces.
I did set up a schedule for preparing for the show but forgot to include time for “catastrophes,” such as getting a staph infection in my thumb (the drug for this caused hallucinations). I’d never had postcards of my work printed, never developed a mailing list, and never advertised or marketed my work. The exhibiting space included a hanging system foreign to most quilters, requiring even more scrambling. Doing all that took more time than I expected. In fact, everything took three times longer than I’d allowed in my schedule.
After the show came down, I promised myself that before I agreed to another solo show, I would want at least 75 — 90% of the work already completed. And, for the next year, I strung beads for jewelry, the perfect art therapy!
A star no longer
by Barbara Boldt, Glen Valley, BC, Canada
I closed a very well attended Museum exhibit on January 15th, “Barbara Boldt, THE JOURNEY.” It was a “journey” back to my ancestors and their artistic talents, back to my childhood experiences, some of my early works from the start of my painting career in 1975, and a lot of current works.
My art is my livelihood, however this exhibit was not aimed at selling. It told my story. I spent 7 months working on this exhibit, then 2 1/2 months being available to be on site to talk and walk visitors through. Since the Museum is close to my home studio, it was not a hardship to attend. Public response was wonderful, yet the coming-down from this experience was emotionally and physically affecting me and still continues to this day.
My works are back home, where as many were still on display and in my storage. Yet, my painting has to be started again, new ideas, new works, new themes, whatever I will feel exited about, I will paint. I think it is very important to continue the ACT OF PAINTING, rather than being concerned about the marketing at this point. The effects of the exposure a successful exhibit provides, will keep working, I am sure. Considering the current difficult worldwide economic situation, one has to be content to keep producing and managing carefully.
Now we are not “the star” anymore. The show is over, we are back in our little studio without an audience! Yes, the easel is there, the canvas is bare, now what?!? I really understand this feeling, and it will pass! Now we are “back at work”! The work isn’t just the act of painting, we know that!
I will walk into the woods this morning and check out the trilliums!
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Wish I Were There
acrylic painting 16 x 20 inches
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 Dave Wesson of Osaka, Japan, who wrote, “You may well be finding the mailbox full this week more from potential divorcees (rather than advice-seeking painters) thanking you for walking them through their pending divorces!”
And also Laura Wambsgans of Santa Clarita, CA, USA, who wrote, “The divorce is final, I am going to start flirting and making love in puddles of paint!”
And also Sandra Donohue of Robson, BC, Canada, who wrote, “I haven’t regretted parting with any of my work from my recent show. However my husband was not happy about one painting I sold. It was of his nightshirt, and I didn’t realize how fond of it he was. I rationalized to him that at least he still has the nightshirt.”
And also Cameron Elder of Everett, WA, USA, who wrote, “That’s me! Sort of a hollow feeling and unable to really ‘get into’ or have a ‘fire’ about painting. It is nice to know I am not alone. That is the best part. I am not alone — that I’m ok, it will pass.”
And also Mary E Whitehill of Newburgh, NY, USA, who wrote, “I found that doing small inconsequential images just for relaxing soon fired me up with enthusiasm again.”
And also Timothy C Tyler , who wrote, “I find doing deep cleaning of my studio is very helpful to get me ready for fresh start. It’s important to get moving and creating.”
Enjoy the past comments below for Post-Show Blues…